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Northampton Veterinary Clinic

Destructive Claws

A Gray/White Cat Lying Down on Hardwood Flooring Indoors

Scratching is a natural behavior for cats, but it can be destructive and is often a concern of their human counterparts.

Luckily, this behavior can be modified both humanely and effectively.

Why Cats Scratch

Like their wild ancestors, domestic cats use their claws for a variety of reasons. In some cases, scratching can be a territorial behavior, a way for them to mark their territory. Cats’ claws are also their first line of defense against attack from other animals. By simply extending their claws, cats can send the message to “back off” before more force is needed.

Mostly cats scratch because it feels good to them. Using claws is part of their normal exercise pattern. While kneading and stretching, they both strengthen and relax the muscles of their feet, forelegs, backbone, and shoulders. It also allows them to shed and sharpen their claws.

Choosing a Post

You should get two posts: one vertical and one horizontal. Vertical scratching surfaces should be at least three feet tall or long to allow the cat a full stretch. The surface of the two posts are important, too. Many commercial posts are made of carpet or upholstery fabric that is identical to what you’re trying to teach your kitty to avoid.

The best posts offer resistance and allow cats to really dig in their claws. The backside of carpet, burlap, corrugated cardboard, or a hemp-like material called sisal appeal to most cats. Many pet supply stores offer custom-made posts.

The best place to put the post is near the cat’s favorite napping spot. Cats will continue to scratch more conveniently located objects – like furniture – if the post is put somewhere the cat doesn’t frequently go. Cats most like to scratch as soon as they’ve woken up from a nap, and oftentimes after they eat or play.

How to Convert Your Cat to a Confirmed Post-Scratcher

Contrary to popular belief, cats can be taught new behaviors, or “trained.” They will learn to use the post through positive reinforcement, and some deterrence if necessary.

  • Make the post irresistible to your kitty by sprinkling some catnip on it, or placing some yummy treats on it. Tie a favorite toy to the post. Center the cat’s playtime near the post, and make the time spent there fun.

  • Do not do anything that may startle the cat when she is near the post.

  • If you see the cat eyeing the furniture or carpet, calmly lead her to the post, and praise her when she scratches there.

  • If you catch your cat in the act of scratching the wrong thing, do not punish her. Instead, distract her with a loud noise such as a clap. It’s important that the kitty doesn’t know the noise came from you. Otherwise, she will associate the bad thing with you, and not the scratching.

It may take a while before you can trust the cat not to claw the furniture while you’re away or asleep. To reinforce your lessons, deny the cat access to the wrong areas, or make them less attractive. Cover furniture with a material the cat dislikes (aluminum foil, plastic, sheets of paper with double-sided tape on them), or put the cat in a secure area of the house with no furniture she can ruin.

If you do confine the cat for any period of time, make sure to provide a litter box, water, toys, and the scratching post. You want her to be accustomed to using the scratching post even in your absence.