Scratching is natural behavior for cats. This is not exactly a revelation, since you probably have the evidence all over your sofa and the elegant dining chairs.
Though kitty's natural propensity for scratching may not be big news, it is a fact that you will need to take into account if you're to win the battle to keep the cat from scratching in places you consider undesirable.
Reasons for your cat scratching are numerous, and none of them include any bad intentions on the part of your pet.
Scratching is a territorial instinct by which cats place their mark on their domain. And it is more than the scratch marks – the cat's paws also have scent glands that leave their own scent on their territory - this is why they mark the most visible portions of the house. It's kitty's way of adding its own personal touch to your (and kitty’s) home - a version of interior decorating.
Scratching also serves to keep your cat in shape. The act of scratching stretches and works the muscles of a cat's front legs - a cross between a feline gym workout and kitty-yoga.
It feels so good to scratch if you happen to be a feline…
Give up the idea of reforming the kitty's desire to scratch and re-channel your energy into getting your cat to scratch where it is allowed.
The best scratching posts
Your idea of what is desirable and kitty's preferences may not coincide. The softest, prettiest and most luxurious scratching posts that you lovingly purchase may not make your cat as ecstatic as you are about it. Cats like rough surfaces that they can shred to pieces (with the exception of your expensive leather couch, which has its own particular appeal!). The scratching post with the most aesthetic appeal to your cat is often a tree stump, though this is a bit awkward in an apartment.
Whatever post you choose, it must be tall enough for the cat to fully extend its body (at least 28 inches tall). The scratching post must be secure because if it topples over even once, the cat would not go back to it. Similarly the cat would not use the post if it shakes … just think of all the fine qualities of your sofa when you choose a scratching post, except that it needs to be harder.
The reverse side of rugs also provide an attractive texture for clawing. You can place a piece of rug material over an area of the carpet where the kitty has already been scratching. However, make sure it does not move by placing it under furniture or stapling it.
Remember that an important part of scratching is the cat's desire to mark its territory, so a scratching post should be in an area that is used by the family, not hidden in a back corner of the laundry room. After a time you can move the post away to the periphery of the room, but you'll need to do this gradually.
Initially, put the post where your cat goes to scratch. This may be by a sofa, a chair or wherever your kitty has chosen as “its territory”. You may need more than one post to cover the favorite spots.
Getting the cat to use the post
Never make the mistake of trying to "show” the cat how to scratch anything, the cat knows perfectly well how to do it. However, you can encourage the process:
- Feed the cat and play by the post.
- Rub dried catnip leaves or powder into the post.
- Make all the associations with the post pleasurable and reward the cat with its favorite treat when it uses it.
- Have the cat chase a string or a toy around the post or attach toys to it, which will result in digging the claws into it. Eventually the cat will learn to love it and regard it as its own.
- It's also a good idea to put a post where the kitty sleeps. Cats like to scratch when they awaken, especially in the morning and the middle of the night.
- If the space permits, put several scratching stations around the house. The most important place is the area of the house in which you and the kitty spend the most time.
Your cat may be reluctant to give up its old scratching areas, so covering the area with aluminum foil or double-sided tape is a great deterrent. These surfaces just don't have a texture that feels good to scratch.
Remember too that your cat has marked its favorite spots with scent as well as the claw marks. You may need to remove the scent from the areas you want to distract the cat from clawing. You will find pet odor removers in pet stores and many supermarkets as well. Cats also have an aversion to citrus odors so use lemon-scented sprays or a potpourri of lemon and orange peels to make the former scratching sites less agreeable.
If the kitty still persists in scratching the furniture, try squirting it with a spray bottle. Another option is a loud whistle or other noise-maker. Just make sure to employ these deterrents while it is scratching, as the message will not get through is this happens after you have discovered fresh scratch marks. The point is to establish an aversion to the spot you don't want the cat to scratch.
Punishment? - DON'T DO IT!
Cats do not understand physical punishment. In addition to it being wrong to hit your cat, punishment simply does not work. The kitty would not understand that you're punishing it for scratching the couch and at most will compute that sometimes when you catch her, she is treated badly. This may make the cat insecure, which in itself may stimulate it to scratch more or develop other undesirable behavior problems (such as urinating in all the wrong places).
Eventually you will break the trust and security that is the basis for your cat's relationship with you, and you will find it very difficult to catch her for any reason at all. Cats have excellent memories and hold serious grudges.
Trimming your cat's nails
Though you should never declaw, you may defray some of your cat's potential for destruction by carefully trimming the razor-sharp tips of the claws. You will find this endeavor more easily accomplished by two people, one to hold the kitty and one to trim the nails. Though it enjoys other forms of pampering, the cat will not find a manicure soothing.
Trim only the clear tip of the nail. Do not clip the area where pink tissue is visible or the slightly opaque region that outlines the pink tissue. This will avoid cutting into areas that would be painful or bleed. The desired effect is simply to blunt the claw tip.
Do not attempt to trim all the nails at once. Trim one or two at a time, reward it with affection or food, and then let the cat do as it wishes. Cats are not strong on patience or restraint - as the creature theoretically higher on to evolutionary scale, that's your department. Eventually trimming will become a completely non-traumatic experience.