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Destructive Scratching In Cats


Cat Care Society 
By Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D. and Kathy Macklem for the DDFL 1992 

Why Do Cats Scratch? 

It is normal for cats to scratch objects in their environment. Cats scratch because: 





  • It conditions the claws by removing the dead outer layer of sheath.

  • It is a way of marking territory by leaving both a visual mark and an odor scent (cats have scent glands on their paws).

  • It is a way of stretching the entire body and flexing the feet and claws.

  • It is used during play.

  • It may be that cats communicate dominance by scratching in front of other cats.

Because scratching is a normal behavior, and one which cats are highly motivated to display, it is unrealistic for owners to try to prevent their cats from scratching. Instead, the goal in resolving scratching problems is to redirect the behavior onto acceptable objects. How Can I Train My Cat To Scratch Acceptable Objects? 




  • You must provide objects for scratching which are appealing and attractive from the cat’s point of view. If your cat is scratching unacceptable objects, observe the physical features of these items:





    • Where are they located? (prominent objects, objects close to sleeping areas, and areas near the entrance to a room are often chosen)

    • What type of texture are they? (soft, coarse, etc.)

    • Are they horizontal or vertical objects?

    • How tall are they? At what height does the cat scratch?

    The answers to these questions will help you understand your cat’s scratching preferences. 

  • Substitute similar but acceptable objects for the cat to scratch on (carpeted, corrugated, cardboard, or sisal posts or possibly a log). These objects should meet the cat’s criteria you determined in Step 1. Place these objects near the inappropriate objects that the cat is already using. Make sure the object is stable and won’t fall over or move around when the cat uses it.

  • Cover inappropriate objects with something the cat will not find appealing such as double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, sheets of sandpaper, old bed sheets, plastic carpet runner with the point side up, or attach cotton balls with perfume, a muscle rub, or some unpleasant odor. Be careful with odors - you don’t want that nearby acceptable object to smell unpleasant!

  • When the cat is consistently using the appropriate object, it can be moved very gradually (about 1 inch/day) to a location more suitable to the owner. It is best to keep the appropriate scratching object as close to the cat’s preferred scratching location as possible.

  • Do not remove the unappealing covering or odors until the cat is consistently using the appropriate objects in their permanent location for several weeks or a month. They should then be removed gradually, not all at once.

Should I Punish My Cat For Scratching? 

Punishment can be used only if the cat is caught in the act of scratching unacceptable objects. If used by itself, however, punishment is not going to be effective in stopping scratching problems because it does not teach the cat where to scratch instead. 

If you do catch your cat scratching unacceptable objects, remote punishment is best, in which you do not directly interact with the cat. Ideas for remote punishment include making a loud noise, (whistle, pop can filled with rocks, or slap the wall), throw a pillow at the cat, or use a water filled squirt bottle. If punishment is interactive, your cat will likely learn not to scratch in your presence because punishment will occur, but will learn it is OK to scratch when you are absent, because punishment does not take place. NEVER PUNISH YOUR CAT IF YOU DO NOT CATCH HIM SCRATCHING. Punishment after the fact will not change the behavior. Instead, it may cause your cat to be afraid of you or the environment, and may provoke defensive aggression. 

Should I Declaw My Cat? 

Declawing is a decision only you, the cat owner, can make. Objective studies suggest that declawed cats are no more likely to bite or have litter box problems than are clawed cats. Consult with your veterinarian regarding risks and benefits of declawing surgeries. If the choice is between the cat losing its home or being declawed and NOT losing its home, we would much rather see the cat stay in its home and be a lifelong companion. If you do decide to have your cat declawed, we would make the following recommendations: -
If possible, have the surgery done whhen the cat is spayed or neutered -
Only declaw the front paws -
Keep your cat indoors 

How Do I Trim My Cat’s Nails? 

Before trimming your cat’s nails, get it used to having its paws handled and squeezed. Begin by gently petting the cat’s legs and paws while giving it a treat, making this a pleasant experience. Gradually increase the pressure so that petting becomes squeezing, as you will need to do to extend the claw. Continue with the treats until your cat will tolerate this kind of touching and restraint. This may take longer with cats that have rarely had their legs or paws handled. 

Apply a small amount of pressure to the cat’s paw, with your thumb on top of the paw and your index finger under the paw, until the claws are extended. You should be able to see the pink or "quick," which is a small blood vessel. You DO NOT want to cut into the pink portion as it will bleed and be painful for the cat. If you cut of just the sharp tip of the claw, it will dull the nail and prevent extensive damage to household objects and to skin. The nails can be trimmed weekly. There are several types of pet nail trimmers, or your own nail clipper can be used. If a nail clipper is used it is important to keep it perpendicular to the claw so as not to crush it (see below). 


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