Satisfying your cat's need to scratch

If your favourite sofa, wallpaper or even carpets are the target of your cat's scratching attention the first thing you should know is scratching is a completely normal feline behaviour. The start of solving a scratching problem is to understand why.

Why do cats scratch?

There are a number of reasons why cats scratch.

Sharpening and grooming the claws - this is usually done on a tree or fencing outside of the house but if your cat is an indoor cat the next best thing will be the target of their attention.

Territorial behaviour - in both a physical and scented sense. Watery sweat from a cat's foot pad can be used to mark a cat's territory. This is often the case if they are at conflict with other cats and also if they are feeling vulnerable or in danger.

Enjoyment and habit - there's no doubt some cats love to stretch out, scratch and play.

Boredom - there's nothing better to do so why not! Along the way you might just give him/ her some extra attention.

How can you stop your cat scratching?

The first thing you can do is respect the fact that scratching is completely normal and for this reason don't get angry or reprimand your cat for doing so. Finding an alternative place to scratch, regular exercise, mental stimulation and creating a sense of security can assist.

Providing an outlet for scratching

Direct the scratching, climbing and play to appropriate areas indoors. Build or buy a feline user-friendly scratching post giving special consideration to the surface texture of the post. Commercial posts are often covered with tightly woven material for durability, but many cats prefer a loosely woven material where the claws can hook and tear during scratching. Remember that scratching is also a marking behaviour and cats want to leave a visual mark. Carpet may be an acceptable covering but it should be combed first to make certain that there are no tight loops. Some cats prefer sisal, a piece of material from an old chair, or even wood for scratching. Be certain to choose a material that appeals to your cat.

The post should be tall enough for your cat to scratch while standing on hind legs with the forelegs extended and sturdy enough so that it does not topple when scratched.

Moving your cat's attention from your furniture to the scratching post

Placement is important when trying to entice your cat to use a scratching post. Because scratching is also a marking behavior, most cats prefer to use a post that is placed in a prominent location. If you're not sure where that place is start by placing it against an already damaged area in the house such as the sofa. It may be necessary to place the post in the centre of a room or near furniture that the cat was trying to scratch until your cat reliably uses it. After which you can move it to a less obtrusive location. Even once the post is moved it may need to remain in the room where the cat spends a great deal of time and wishes to leave their "message".

A good way to get your cat to approach and use the post is to turn the scratching area into an interesting and desirable play center. Perches to climb on, space to climb into, and toys mounted on ropes or springs are highly appealing to most cats. Placing a few play toys, cardboard boxes, catnip treats, in the area should help to keep the cat occupied. Food rewards can also be given if you observe your cat scratching at its post.

If your cat is really playing hard ball then very gently wipe their paws down the post to leave some scent on it. At the same time this demonstrates the desirable scratching motion. If you catch your cat in the act on your sofa or hanging from your favourite curtains, gently lift them and carry them to the post and encourage them to scratch the post. If your cat is intimidated by this process, stop immediately. The last thing you want to do is make him/her scared of the post.

Distractions to scratching

Boredom can be resolved by providing a regular daily routine of social play, object play and exercise for your cat.

Cleaning previously scented objects

If your cat is scratching with the purpose of marking a territory, it is likely he/she will want to refresh their marking at some stage. If it is possible to clean the scratched and scented object do so with a non-ammonia based product such as Biozet washing powder. Keep your cat away from the item as long as possible to reduce the odours.

Creating a secure sanctuary for your cat

If your cat has many favourite scratching sites then it is likely he/she is marking a territory and may be feeling vulnerable. Fear of other cats, conflict between other cats, household disruptions are all possible causes of insecurity. Observe your cat and look for events, changes, people and other animals that maybe the cause of their anxiety. Depending on the trigger for your cat you may be able to make changes to their environment to assist. High viewing platforms and shelves are fantastic for cats to seek comfort from events, people and other animals but not lose their vantage point. Strategically placed cat igloos can help provide a set of safe havens for your cat throughout the house. Or even restricting your cat to a few areas within the house and making those rooms secure may be of assistance.

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Behaviour

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