By Dr. Al Townshend

Cats love to scratch. It is a natural and necessary exercise for the physical and mental well being of every cat. Unfortunately, the scratching can become destructive, and if allowed to continue, it can ruin the relationship a Guardian has with their feline companions. Understanding why cats scratch and their scratching preferences, is key to redirecting their instincts away from the furniture.

There are several reasons why every cat has an instinct to scratch something:

• Cats mark their territory visually, especially in multi-cat households, as a way of determining rank.

• Scratching also marks their territory with a scent. Between a cat’s toes are scent glands which produce an odor only detectable by animals like cats and dogs that have a much better-developed sense of smell than humans.

• The act of scratching removes the dead outer sheaths of the nail, keeping it sharp and ready for action.

• Scratching is an exercise technique which serves to stretch and tone the upper body.

Many cats prefer a particular feel-good texture when they scratch. Close observation can detect their favorite items to scratch. Some prefer furniture, while others are attracted to drapes and even walls.
Adjusting a cat’s instinct to scratch

Since scratching is a natural instinct, it is challenging to stop completely. Encouraging the cat to find another area to scratch is the first step.

• Covering the area the cat goes to scratch is a simple solution. Often, covering is not possible, or the cat can remove the covering.

• Double-sided sticky tape over the area changes the texture and discourages the cat from the area.

• The last resort, if practical, is to remove the item from exposure by the cat. Furniture can be moved to an area of the house that cat is prevented from entering.

Offering an alternative
It is essential to offer a practical alternative for the cat to scratch that is safe and appealing.

• A scratching post is an ideal alternative that can effectively redirect natural scratching. Finding a post that is made of a similar material the cat was initially attracted to can make the transition quick and effective. There are commercial posts available made with cloth, rope, rug material, and other materials commonly preferred by cats.

The design of the post is important

– Cats like a tall scratching post. It should be high enough to allow the cat to stretch the body out completely.
– It should be well made and sturdy. Most cats will scratch frequently and can apply significant pressure on the post.
– There should be a vertical and horizontal area with the scratching surface material.
Cats often have a preference to reach up to scratch or scratch standing. An ideal post will provide both.

• Cardboard scratchers and ramps are appealing to many cats. They are corrugated structures that are inexpensive and easily replicable when needed.

• Cat trees, perches, and condos are multipurpose structures that can also act as scratching areas. Many cats prefer higher areas ton survey their environment and prefer scratching in those areas.
Other suggestions

Nail Trimming
• A cat’s nails are continually growing. The longer they become, the more potential damage they can inflict on furniture and other cats.
Soft Paws

• These are lightweight vinyl caps that you apply over your cat’s claws. They have rounded edges, so your cat’s scratching doesn’t damage your home and furnishings. These would not be appropriate for cats that are allowed outside.

Additional Resources:
https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-behavior-problems-destructive-behavior