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How to Stop Your Cat From Scratching

Posted by Joe Morton on

Cat Scratching
The perp is caught in the act. Pic from International Cat Care.

Is your cat scratching up the furniture or the carpet?

We can help!

Scratching is a very natural and necessary behavior for cats. While it can be directed toward an appropriate target, it can’t and shouldn't be eliminated. We can, however, give you tips on how to stop your cat from scratching inappropriately.

Why do cats scratch in the first place?

Cat Scratching 2One thing is guaranteed: if you don’t provide a surface for your cat to scratch, they will pick one themselves. They scratch for a variety of reasons, including sharpening their nails, stretching, marking territory, and stress relief.

All of these are important, and you can give your purrfect kitty ample opportunity to exercise these instincts in a way that isn’t going to damage your furniture or your relationship with your favorite lap-warmer.

Keeping their nails SHARP

When cats are scratching to sharpen their claws, they are actually dislodging the outermost layer of “old claw.”

Cats' claws don’t grow like people’s nails. On people, the nail grows straight out from the finger. On a cat, the nail grows in layers, like an onion, from the center. As the outer layer gets worn down, cats scratch to remove it. What’s left is the super-sharp new nail.

Marking their territory

Cats are very territorial little animals. In the wild, they want to ward off other cats in order to claim their home stomping ground and avoid fights. To do this, they create visual signs by clawing gouge marks as high up as possible. At the same time, they leave scent marks from the glands in their paws.

These two clues can help other cats know to stay away.

Emotional expression/release

Cats will also scratch to de-stress or express themselves. It is frequently associated with excitement or anxiety. Sometimes it is an invitation to play, and sometimes it is a way for kitty to work out their feelings about that neighbor cat coming into the yard.

But why are they scratching that?!

The biggest reasons cats scratch inappropriately are unsatisfactory surfaces and lack of training. “Unsatisfactory” could refer to the type of scratcher or the location of the scratcher. Pets on Broadway can help!

Types of cat scratchers

There are many different materials used for scratchers. In the wild, cats would almost always use trees. Domestic cats have a few other choices:

  • Cardboard pad - the trusty standby. Corrugated cardboard has great texture and is inexpensive. They are usually laid flat on the ground. Some can be hung from door handles or have an incline.
  • Scratching posts - go vertical! These are for cats to reach up and scratch. They should be tall enough for the kitty to extend fully up to allow for a full stretch. Posts are usually carpeted, wrapped in rough rope (hemp, sisal, sea-grass), or covered in some other rough material. Make sure they are sturdy enough not to wobble. That might scare kitty.
  • Cat Furniture - these are full on structures for your cat to interact with. They always have a platform to get kitty up off the ground and sometimes have a dedicated scratching portion. Even if they don’t have a specific area meant for scratching, most people consider the whole structure an acceptable place for kitty to scratch.
  • Mix and match - variety is the spice of life. Don’t limit yourself to one type. Your cat might like to have some options! It’s great to have a variety of types and locations...

Location of the scratcher

Whatever type of scratcher (or scratchers) you go for, location is important. Your cat isn’t going to go out of their way to scratch something just because you want them to. They are going to scratch whatever is convenient.

You should have at least one scratcher in the area your cat spends the most time. You could add more as you see fit, but that's where to start. 

Another idea is to put a scratcher very near the area kitty is scratching inappropriately. This gives them an easy option and will be a huge aid in training.

What to do about inappropriate scratching

We know why cats scratch, and we have an idea of proper things for them to scratch, but how do we get them to actually USE all the things you just went out and bought?

how to stop your cat from scratching 
Pic from Petcha.com

Training Kitty what NOT to scratch

It’s not too hard to prevent kitty from scratching the wrong things when you are around. A squirt from a spray bottle, shaking a can of pennies, or a short blast of compressed air (keyboard cleaner) directed at the ceiling will stop them immediately.

It’s a little more complicated when you aren’t home, but not by much. There are several great products to dissuade kitty.

  • Sticky pads - these are basically sheets of double-sided sticky tape. Cats HATE the way this feels on their paws and won’t touch anything covered in it.
  • Liquid Deterrents - there are several concoctions available in spray bottles that you can spray on the surface kitty shouldn’t touch. They are usually mixtures of botanical and oils that cats don’t like the smell of. To humans, they have very little smell or smell pleasant.
  • Electronic deterrents - the two main electronic deterrents are a motion-activated can of compressed air and a “static” mat. The compressed air pretty much scares kitty away, and the static mat delivers mild stimulation that kitty doesn’t like.
  • We carry all but the static mat at Pets on Broadway.

Training Kitty what to scratch

It isn’t enough to just deter kitty from the things she isn’t supposed to scratch. You have to also show her what IS appropriate to scratch. You make it unpleasant or inconvenient to scratch the wrong things and very positive and rewarding to scratch the right things.

When kitty is going after the couch or the carpet, use one of the above techniques to stop her. Then immediately take her to the correct scratching spot. Pet her, scratch the surface to demonstrate, and give her lots of praise and affection whenever she is scratching the right thing.

You can also add catnip where you want her to scratch to attract her.

Preventing damage

It can be difficult to train a cat to scratch the right thing 100% of the time. In that case, there are a few great ways to prevent her from damaging your furniture or carpet.

Trimming nails

Cutting back your cat’s nails is a great option. Not only does it prevent damage, it can also avoid discomfort and problems caused by incorrect growth. Some people are nervous about trimming kitty's nails, but it doesn’t have to be hard.

Here is a great article from the Humane Society about it.

Special Note: DO NOT DECLAW. Pets on Broadway and almost all rescue and advocacy groups strongly discourage declawing.

  • Declawing surgery removes the nail along with the last bone on each of your cat’s digits. The human equivalent to that would be like having your finger amputated at the last knuckle.
  • Declawing can have lasting negative effects on your cat. It can cause permanent pain to your pet since it alters the way their feet hit the ground. Declawing can even make them more likely to bite since they don’t have their claws to defend themselves. There are also risks of infection, nerve damage, and bone spurs. Commonly, cats develop litterbox issues after being declawed.
  • Just don’t do it. Declawing is so detrimental that it is actually illegal in many countries. That will most likely be the case in the US soon as well.

Click here for more info

Nail caps

Nail caps are nail covers (think fake nails) that prevent kitty from damaging anything they try to scratch. They work great for some cats and drive some cats bonkers. It’s worth a shot!

There you have it! Cats scratch inappropriately for many reasons. Fortunately, it can be overcome with a little effort, persistence, and patience. 

Need some more info or tips? Give us a call or, better yet, come on in to the store! We’d love to walk you through it all.