More to the point, why do they scratch your prized possessions? Understanding
your cat's need to scratch is more than just an act of charitably on your part. It's the
key to channeling Kitty's efforts to more acceptable areas.
Marking their territory
Scratching is a territorial instinct by which cats place their mark and establish their
turf. Through scratching, cats mark their domains with more than just visible signs of
claw marks. Cat's paws also have scent glands that leave their own special scent on
And this is why they mark the most visible portions of your house. It's Kitty's way of
adding her own personal touch to your (and her) home. Her version of interior
Scratching also serves to keep your cat in shape. The act of scratching stretches
and pulls and works the muscles of a cat's front quarters--a cross between a feline
gym workout and Kitty Yoga.
Hey! It feels good to scratch.
So give up the idea of reforming Kitty's desire to scratch. Rechannel her into
scratching where you want her to. You'll both be happier.
Provide your cat with an appropriate scratching post.
Since your cat brings you so much joy, you decide to buy her the softest, prettiest
and most luxurious scratching post you can find. You take it home and your feline
friend gives you a blank stare and walks away. This activates your parental
guidance mechanism and you decide to show her how to use the post by taking her
front paws and making scratching motions at the post. She of course struggles till
she gets free of you and then treats you with utter disdain for the rest of the day.
Never make the mistake of trying to "show her how" to scratch anything. You'll only
offend her. She knows perfectly well how to do it. She just reserves the right to
scratch when and where it suits her.
Remember, we said appropriate.
Bear in mind that your idea of desirable and Kitty's may not coincide. Cats like rough
surfaces that they can shred to pieces. (The exception of course is your velvet
couch, which has its own particular appeal.) The scratching post with the most
aesthetic appeal to your cat is often a tree stump, though this is a bit unwieldy in a
one-bedroom apartment. Whatever post you choose, it must be tall enough for her
to fully extend her body, and most important, it must be secure. If it topples over
even once, she won't go back to it.
Sisal scratching posts are ideal for releasing Kitty's primal urges. This is a material
she can shred to pieces with great satisfaction. Be sure not to throw it away when it
is shredded, since that's when she's just broken it in satisfactorily, and she will not
appreciate your tidiness.
A good post should be tall enough for your Kitty to fully stretch her body, usually at
least 28 inches tall, and should be very stable. An excellent example of an
exceptional scratching post is the Purrfect Post.
The reverse side of rugs provides a good, satisfyingly resistant texture for clawing.
You can place a piece of rug material over an area of carpet where Kitty has already
been scratching. However, it must be stationary. Secure it so it doesn't move by
duct taping the edges or placing it under furniture. You can also staple pieces of rug
to a wall or post.
How to get Kitty to prefer the post.
Remember that an important part of scratching is the cat's desire to mark a territory,
so a scratching post should be in an area that's used by the family, not hidden in a
back corner. After a time you can move the post away to the periphery of the room,
but you'll need to do this gradually.
Initially, put the post where your cat goes to scratch. This may be by a sofa, a chair
or wherever Kitty has chosen as her territory, and you may need more than one post
to cover her favorite spots. Security is a major factor in making the post appealing to
your cat. If it topples or shakes, she won't use it. It should either be secured to the
floor or have a base wide enough and heavy enough to keep it stable.
Encourage Kitty to use her post with clever enticements. Feed her and play with her
by the post. Rub dried catnip leaves or powder into it. Make all the associations with
the post pleasurable. Reward her with a favorite treat when she uses it. Have her
chase a string or a toy around the post or attach toys to it, which will result in her
digging her claws into it. Eventually she will learn to love it and regard it as her own.
It's also a good idea to put a post where Kitty sleeps. Cats like to scratch when they
awaken, especially in the morning and the middle of the night. If space permits, a
scratching post in every room of the house is a cat's delight. The most important
place is the area of the house in which you and Kitty spend the most time. I have
many sisal posts in my house, yet often in the morning my cats line up to use the
one in the living room.
If at first Kitty is reluctant to give up her old scratching areas, there are means you
can use to discourage her. Covering the area with aluminum foil or double-sided
tape is a great deterrent. These surfaces don't have a texture that feels good to
Remember too that Kitty has marked her favorite spots with her scent as well as her
claws. You may need to remove her scent from the areas you want to distract her
away from. You will find pet odor removers in pet stores and many supermarkets as
Cats have an aversion to citrus odors. Use lemon-scented sprays or a potpourri of
lemon and orange peels to make her former scratching sites less agreeable to her.
If Kitty still persists in scratching the furniture, try squirting her with a water gun or a
spray bottle set on stream. Another option is a loud whistle or other noise-maker.
You must employ these deterrents while she is scratching for them to be effective.
The point is to establish an aversion to the spot you don't want her to scratch.
Start them young.
If you are starting with a kitten, consider yourself fortunate. It's much easier to
initiate good habit patterns than to correct undesirable ones.
From the beginning teach your kitten the appropriate place to scratch. Use the
methods already described, especially playing around the scratching post to capture
her interest. Take advantage of your kitten's desire to play and attach toys to the
post. She will soon "dig in" to catch her toy and discover how good it feels to scratch
Do not take her paws and make her scratch the post. This is a major turn-off and
will only inspire a bratty "you can't make me" attitude. Even at an early age, cats
refuse to be coerced into doing what they don't want to do.
If she starts to scratch an inappropriate object, immediately place her in front of her
scratching post and begin petting her. Some cats will begin kneading when petted,
thus digging their claws into the desired surface and establishing this as a fine place
Cats are creatures of habit. Start them off with good ones.
Trimming your cat's nails.
Though you should never declaw, you may defray some of your cat's potential for
destruction by carefully trimming the razor-sharp tips of her claws. You will find this
endeavor more easily accomplished by two people, one to hold Kitty and one to trim
her nails. Though she enjoys other forms of pampering, Kitty will not find a manicure
Gently hold Kitty's paw in one hand and with your thumb on top of the paw and
forefinger on the pad gently squeeze your thumb and finger together. This will push
the claw clear of the fur so it can easily be seen. You will notice that the inside of
the claw is pink near its base. This is living tissue that you do not want to cut. Trim
only the clear tip of the nail. Do not clip the area where pink tissue is visible nor the
slightly opaque region that outlines the pink tissue. This will avoid cutting into areas
that would be painful or bleed. The desired effect is simply to blunt the claw tip.
Many different types of nail trimmers are available in pet stores. Be sure to get one
specifically for trimming cat's nails.
If by now you're rolling on the floor laughing because you know your cat isn't about
to let you trim her claws, here are a couple of guidelines that will help make this a
possibility: Patience and preparation.
Rushing into a full-scale claw trimming is a foolhardy move unless you're really into
operatic drama and traumatic events. As you well know, cats hate to be restrained.
And they don't like you fooling with their paws, which comes across as threatening.
After all, their claws are a major tool for survival, and Kitty may consider your
This is where preparation comes to the rescue. For approximately a week before
her manicure, begin making Kitty accustomed to having her paws handled. While
petting and soothing her, start massaging her paws, especially on the under side.
Gently press on the individual pads at the base of her claws. You may want to give
her treats to reward her for not protesting. (Or as in the case of my own cat, to
distract her from doing so.) The point, of course, is to make the process reassuring
so that she will eventually feel comfortable enough to let you handle her paws
Next, be patient. Don't attempt to trim all her nails at once. Trim one or two at a time,
reward her with affection or food, and then let her do as she wishes. Cats are not
strong on patience or restraint. As the creature theoretically higher on to
evolutionary scale, that's your department. Don't attempt to change your cat. Instead
make it tolerable for her. Eventually trimming will become a completely
Soft Paws®--An excellent alternative
If all of this is too time consuming and you have a strictly indoor cat, you have
another very desirable option; a wonderful product called Soft Paws®. These are
lightweight vinyl caps that you apply over your cat's own claws. They have rounded
edges, so your cat's scratching doesn't damage your home and furnishings.
Soft Paws® are great for households with small children, as they guard against the
child getting scratched. They are also extremely useful for people who are away
from home all day and simply can't apply the watchfulness necessary to train a cat
to use a scratching post. An important caveat here, however; they should be used
only on indoor cats, since they blunt one of the cat's chief means of self-defense.
Soft Paws® last approximately six weeks once Kitty becomes accustomed to them.
At first they may feel a bit strange to her and she may groom them excessively,
causing them to come off sooner. She'll get used to them quickly though, and
thereafter they will last longer. It is amazing how well cats tolerate the Soft Paws®,
most don't even notice they are wearing them.
Soft Paws® come in a kit and are easy to apply. Just glue them on. They are
generally applied to the front paws only, since these are what cause most of the
destruction to your home. A kit will last approximately three to six months, depending
on your cat. After applying the Soft Paws®, check Kitty's claws weekly. You may
find one or two caps missing from time to time, and these are easily replaced using
the adhesive included in the kit. To make application easier for both you and your
cat, follow the instructions on accustoming your cat to having her paws handled that
are discussed here in the section on trimming your cat's claws.
As a checklist, here are the pertinent things to remember:
1- Don't declaw!
2- Understand your cat's need to scratch.
3- Forget punishment--it doesn't work.
4- Provide a suitable place for your cat to scratch.
5- Make the scratching post attractive to Kitty-- i.e. use sisal posts.
6- Make the place she's been scratching unattractive--physical or scent related
7- Whenever possible, start cats young.
8- You may want to trim your cat's claws.
9- For indoor cats, you may try Soft Paws® as extra insurance, or an easy