Why do cats scratch?
As much as we love our cats, we could often do without their natural tendency to scratch furniture, curtains and carpets. Cats scratch with their front claws by dragging them downward from the vertical or backward from the horizontal surface. This action also known as “stropping”, loosens and removes the outer layer of the claw revealing a sharp new one underneath. The action also helps stretch the spine and keep the body in tip top condition for hunting.
It is also used as a form of territorial marking behaviour. Cats have scent and sweat glands between their toes. When scratching, scent is deposited alongside bits of claw to leave a strong message to other cats. If the area is used continually such as a tree trunk or post, the visual appearance of destruction is also a strong reminder to neighbours.
Excessive scratching can however be the result of cats who are not demonstrating territorial dominance and prowess, but are actually suffering high levels of stress and anxiety. This is particularly common in multi-cat households, or if you live in a densely cat-populated area. Even major building work within your home may trigger intensive scratching as your cat adjusts to the change.
What can we do about it?
A word about clipping nails
This might seem an obvious solution and certainly if your cat/cats never go outside then it may be a reasonable thing to do if you can! However they will grow back pretty quickly. A lot of cats don’t like having their nails clipped, so beware of getting scratched. If your cat goes out, you shouldn’t clip its nails as you could be taking away its ability to escape danger or fight back if attacked. Free nail clipping is one of the great benefits included when you join the Healthy Pet Club.
Top tips to dissuade your cat from scratching where you don’t want it to, and encourage it to scratch where you do:
- Never punish your cat. They really don’t understand it, and they are not doing it to be naughty. If it is stress related you may even make the situation worse. Use a pheromone spray and diffuser for the environment, if you suspect anxiety may be the problem.
- Wooden furniture or similar should be sanded if possible and washed with warm water and soap. This will remove the “territory messages” left by your cat's paws on the furniture. You can then apply a pheromone spray every day for a month to reduce likelihood of scratching this area.
- Other areas such as sofas, curtains and carpets, are not easy to wash, but might be worth doing if you can. Apply the pheromone spray as before (do a test on your fabric first!).
- You can dissuade the scratching by applying a low-tack double sided adhesive tape or film to the scratched area. This will provide an unpleasant but not dangerous experience the next time your cat tries to scratch there. Make sure you use something that doesn’t harm your fabric and is safe for your cat! You can purchase products specially designed for this purpose.
You can't stop your cat from scratching as it's a normal behaviour. However, you can redirect it to be more acceptable.
- Buy several scratching posts - at least one per cat. Scratching panels where looped carpet is attached to a board are also useful if they can be secured at the right height.
- Make sure your posts are tall enough. A cat likes to extend its whole body and front legs and pull down. This means most cats are going to need a post a meter tall. Don’t rely on the post you bought your kitten lasting a lifetime!
- Put your post near where you are trying to deter your cat from scratching. Also near a favourite bed as they often scratch just after waking.
- You can put a chemical onto your posts to attract them to use it. There is a new pheromone droplet which has been designed specifically for this purpose. You apply it directly onto the post daily for a week, and thereafter weekly to encourage your cat to use the post.
- There are all sorts of scratching products available from sisal panels to hang on sofas, to corrugated cardboard contraptions. Whatever you get, make sure it’s strong enough, long enough and secure enough to resist the scratching action – otherwise it won’t be a success!
- Always place it near the original scratched place in order to offer your cat a good alternative.
Please pop into your local veterinary practice if you would like any more advice or would like to purchase a suitable pheromone product as mentioned.