Why do cats scratch?
Scratching (also known as stropping) is a normal behaviour in cats but can be a great source of frustration among cat owners due to damage to household furnishings. Cats can and will sometimes choose an inappropriate target, particularly if they have not been provided with a suitable alternative. Scratching behaviour is a common reason for cats to be surrendered to shelters.
I will repeat this, scratching is completely normal and we need to accept and accommodate this behaviour. Cats don’t scratch out of spite, or to upset their human family, they scratch because it is a part of who there are several good reasons why they do need to scratch.
Why do cats need to scratch at all?
- Scratching is predominantly to sharpen the claws and remove the outer husks of the claw.
- It feels good, as it is a way to stretch and loosen up leg and shoulder muscles and tendons in the cat’s paws.
- Cats have glands all over the body, including the paws. When they scratch, pheromones are released from the glands in the paws onto the object as a way to mark their territory.
How to stop scratching
You can’t stop scratching, nor should you, what you can do is train the cat to use a scratching post or tree and not your furniture.
The goal is to redirect the cat from the inappropriate spot (such as a sofa or curtains) and onto a suitable object (cat scratching post, cat tree). There’s a huge variety on the market which will suit all tastes and budgets. Most scratching posts are covered either in carpet or sisal. If possible, temporarily cover the object your cat is targeting with some thick plastic or double-sided tape, which will act as a deterrent while you re-direct his focus onto the new and appropriate scratching post.
To encourage your cat to use the scratching post, purchase catnip spray and spray this on the post, or rub some dried catnip on the post. Cats enjoy a scratch after a nap, so try placing the scratching post close to your cat’s favoured sleeping location.
Other ways to deter scratching:
- Fill a plastic bottle with water and use it when your cat starts scratching the furniture, this may work but it may just stop your cat scratching when you are around.
- Place orange peel around the area. Many cats find the citrus smell extremely unpleasant.
- If you see your cat making a beeline for a favourite piece of furniture to scratch on, gently pick up the cat and move it over to the scratching post. If the cat uses it, give him plenty of praise. Cats respond far better to positive rather than negative reinforcement from their owners.
- Cut the cat’s claws regularly to minimise damage caused to your furniture. For help on trimming your cat’s claws read here.
- Never physically punish a cat when you catch it scratching inappropriately. Physical punishment serves no purpose and more often than not has a negative effect on how your cat perceives you. A firm “no” and a spray with the water spray are more effective than smacking your cat.