You were trying to train your cat to NOT do something that is actually a normal and essential part of being feline. Scratching is important and more complex than you may realize. If you view the cat’s motivation for scratching as just a willful act of destruction, you run the risk of damaging the relationship you have with your cat because he’ll become afraid to scratch in your presence to avoid physical or verbal punishment. Since he still has a natural need to scratch, the behavior will still be done but it’ll occur when you aren’t around.
Having claws is a vital part of a cat’s physical and emotional health. Declawing is a cruel and inhumane practice and is the equivalent of amputation. Pain can last long after the healing process and may even continue for the rest of the cat’s life. When your cat scratches on an object, it removes the outer dead sheath of the nail and exposes the healthy new growth underneath. If you look at the location where your cat likes to scratch, you may find several half-moon shaped nail sheaths. Scratching is how the cat sharpens the claws so don’t be under the misconception that banning your cat from scratching will keep the nails blunt. The nails will still grow but scratching will help keep them healthy.
In addition to conditioning the claws, it’s a very effective way for the cat to stretch his back and shoulder muscles. Imagine how good it must feel to be able to fully unkink those muscles after sleep in a tight little ball. The marks left on an object when the cat rakes his claws vertically create a visual sign for others who pass by. This advance warning system can reduce the number of actual physical confrontations cats may otherwise have. The visual mark can be seen at a distance. Scratching also creates an olfactory mark as the cat presses his paws onto an object to scratch.
There are scent glands in the paw pads that release pheromones as the cat scratches. Any approaching cat who comes close enough to the scratched object will be able to get valuable information about the cat who did the scratching. Scratching is also used as an emotional release or displacement behavior. When your cat is anxious, happy, excited or frustrated, he can release some of that built-up emotion by scratching. Think of the times you’ve seen your cat scratching on an object as you prepare his dinner or when you’ve come home from work. You may even have noticed him scratching after an encounter with a companion cat.
This ability to have an emotional release through scratching is healthy for the cat. Since scratching is so complex, and a vital part of feline life, you’ll need an effective training method to redirect your cat. You can’t just shoo him away from the sofa. The behavior modification technique begins by making sure you have a scratching post that that meets the qualifications: appealing texture, tall enough, stable, and placed in a good location. In general, the most appealing texture for cats is sisal. The rough texture makes it easy for cats to dig their claws in and get an effective scratch.
Carpet-covered posts are too soft and don’t meet the needs of most cats when they’re looking for a place to scratch. Additionally, many cats end up getting their claws caught in the carpet loops. The height of the scratching post should enable the cat to get a full stretch. If the post is too small the cat has to hunch over to use it and that doesn’t allow for a good back and neck stretch. Make sure the tall post is also very stable. A tall post needs a wide base in order to prevent it from toppling over the first time kitty leans against it.
When a cat needs to scratch he’ll look for the closest object that meets his needs. Keep the post where kitty likes to spend time. If you have more than one cat, you’ll need more than one scratching post. Although you can’t specifically assign a post to a specific cat, if you place the posts in areas where the different cats tend to spend the most time, you may find they may just claim the posts on their own. For cats who like to scratch horizontally, there are inexpensive corrugated cardboard scratching pads available at your local pet product store. If your cat has been scratching a piece of furniture, place the scratching post right next to it. This is a double-faced tape made specifically for this purpose. The product is available at your local pet product store. In the new book, Pam answers 150 of the most-asked questions on cat behavior and training. Pam’s books are available at bookstores everywhere, through your favorite online book retail site and also here on our website. Please note that Pam is unable to answer questions posted in the comment section. If you have a question about your cat’s behavior, you can find information in the articles on our website as well as in Pam’s books. If you have a question regarding your cat’s health, please contact your veterinarian. Your email address will not be published.