You can live harmoniously alongside your cat with claws and still maintain nice furniture by understanding a bit more about your cat’s natural behaviors, and enriching your home with items your cat can scratch. Let’s learn more about your cat’s amazing body.
Why Do Cats Have Claws?
Your domestic cat has maintained their instincts of their wild ancestors. Cats’ claws are physically unique and serve several functions. The forelimb claws are retractable and allow her to expose or retract her nails as needed.
- A cat may expose their claws to hunt and use them to grasp and capture their prey.
- To defend itself during conflict with other cats or other animals.
- To mark territory, both visually (scratching inanimate objects) and chemically (via pheromones or scent).
Why Do Cats Scratch Inanimate Objects?
Scratching is a natural, normal, and necessary behavior for your cat. Your cat does not scratch to upset you or spitefully damage your furniture. Scratching is a form of communication and often your cat will scratch during times of stress.
- To renew their nail by dislodging old nail growth and exposing a new, sharper nail underneath.
- To mark their territory visually and with scent (pheromones) as a message to other cats and animals.
- To stretch out their limbs.
If your cat’s scratching or marking has increased, this may be a sign of stress, including a threat or restriction to their environmental resources (food, water, litter box, safe place to sleep, familiar territory, etc.). It is important to figure out the cause of your cat’s stress so you can address the issue and reduce the unwanted scratching behavior. A veterinary behaviorist may be needed to help resolve the problem.
What Makes an Ideal Scratching Surface?
Each cat prefers different scratching surfaces. To determine which your cat prefers, offer an assortment of scratching options, in a wide variety of locations.
- Size and shape – Most cats like to scratch vertically. They will need a sturdy post that is taller than their body length to fully stretch and give a good scratch. If your cat is scratching your carpet, try a horizontal scratcher.
- Texture – The texture of the scratching post is also important. Many cats prefer sisal rope; others prefer corrugated cardboard, carpet, or wood on the scratching surface. It is important to experiment with a variety of textures and types of scratchers to determine which is preferred by each cat.
Train Your Cat to Scratch Appropriately
Yes, you can train your cat to scratch certain, approved items and train them not to scratch others.
- Location is critical.
- Cats often stretch or scratch when they wake up, so place a scratcher near her sleeping area.
- Place a scratching post or pad near where your cat is currently scratching that is unwanted (e.g. in front of a couch leg, or door to the outside). The changes in scent can result in your cat re-marking that area.
- If your cat scratches somewhere other than the scratching post or pad, gently pick her up, take her to the scratcher, and then provide a reward.
- Provide rewards and positive reinforcement.
- As you redirect your cat to use the new scratching post or pad, reward her immediately (within 3 seconds) to reinforce this positive behavior.
- Find a reward your cat really likes (i.e. treats, catnip, interactive play and petting, or grooming).
- Introduce interactive play early in your cat’s life so she can learn how to play with you. Never use your fingers or toes, or the wiggling of hands or feet as toys during play. Although it may seem cute with kittens, as your kitten grows into a cat, she will believe this is an appropriate form of play. Scratching or biting can lead to painful injuries and infections.