Anyone with cats knows how much they love to scratch and how much damage they can do to your furniture in the process. As we discussed in the first two parts of this article, inappropriate scratching is one of the most common complaints of cat owners. We also learned why declawing cats is not a good solution for destructive scratching.
In part three, we will focus on how to stop cat scratching behavior. We will start by looking at some of the things that don’t work well, and then, we will provide you with some suggestions to help you stop destructive scratching.
What doesn’t work
Many cat owners try a variety of strategies to stop destructive scratching to no avail. According to the results of a 2017 survey, most punishment- and reward-based techniques used to stop destructive scratching and encourage scratching of designated items have no effect at all. According to this survey, showing your cat the scratching post by moving him close to it actually reduces the chances of him using it.
Another thing that does not work well is punishment. Many cat owners resort to punishment in order to interrupt or disrupt a cat engaged in undesirable scratching behavior. Common punishments include yelling, spraying cats with water, spanking, or loud clapping.
According to the 2017 survey of cat owners, punishment has no effect on scratching frequency. Most studies conclude that punishment is not only ineffective but that it can make the problem worse.
Cats are not likely to understand why they are being punished for doing something that is natural for them. This can lead to stress, which might make cats scratch even more and in new places. Spraying water on a cat is very frightening, and punishing or frightening a scratching cat is never a good idea.
As discussed in part two of this article, declawing once was seen as an effective solution and is still recommended and performed by many veterinarians. However, today’s science has shown that declawing cats is inhumane and likely to cause even more behavior problems. As awareness of the dangers of declaw surgery grows, more countries, cities, and states are regulating it or making it illegal.
Forcing cats to use a scratching post
Some cat owners try to make their cats scratch an appropriate surface by forcing them to use a scratching post. For example, they might try taking his paw and rubbing it on the surface. This is not a good idea because it will cause an aversion to the area.
Some people suggest that you should bring your cat to the appropriate object and give him the opportunity to scratch it. However, as mentioned above, the 2017 survey of cat owners concluded that cats used the designated scratching item less frequently if the owners placed them near it.
It is a bit of a mystery why this is the case. One possible explanation is that cats usually scratch as part of their routine when waking up, stretching, or after experiencing social tension. Picking up a cat and bringing him to a scratching post interrupts this pattern of behavior.
Knowing what doesn’t work is a good way to avoid wasting time and energy on ineffective methods, but it does not answer the question of how to stop destructive scratching. In order to address this question, we will focus our attention on telling you how to stop destructive scratching furniture.
Pheromones to encourage
Pheromones can be helpful in encouraging cats to scratch a designated item. A study published in 2018 tested a solution of a synthetic pheromone, Feliscratch (Ceva) by Feliway, for redirecting scratching behavior to a scratching post. The product also includes a blue dye that mimics scratch marks as well as catnip to entice cats.
You apply it in three lines to the scratching post to draw the cat’s attention. Studies show that the product works in stopping undesirable scratching in 74 percent of cats.
Pheromones to discourage
Pheromones can also be used to discourage undesirable scratching behavior. You can apply Feliway Classic to surfaces that you don’t want your cat to scratch in order to encourage other activities in these areas. Feliway Classic mimics the scent mark made by cats when they rub their cheeks or chin on something. Cats don’t rub and scratch in the same place.
Repeating the spray daily on these surfaces should decrease scratching by relieving stress and creating a sense of familiarity. A Feliway diffuser can be used as well if there is social tension or marking going on in your household.
Encourage the use of appropriate scratching material
Another key to treating and managing destructive scratching is to encourage the use of appropriate scratching substrates and to discourage the use of inappropriate ones. In order to encourage a cat to scratch a designated object, it is important to determine what his favorite surface is to scratch.
If your cat has a favorite scratching post, you should already know his preferred material. If not, you can figure out what his favorite scratching surface is by providing several choices. Most cats prefer sisal rope, which is made from natural fiber. However, some cats favor wood, cardboard, or carpet.
Scratching posts should be sturdy and solid so that cats cannot push them over and tall enough so cats can stretch their front paws and upper bodies. They should be 3 feet or higher with a 1 to 3-foot base. Scraping a new scratching post up and down makes it rough and inviting for cats. Catnip can also make your cat more interested.
Posts should be placed near sleeping areas, windows, entrances, exits, and places in the house where your cat has scratched. In multi-cat households, various types of scratching posts should be placed throughout the home to maximize choice and minimize competition.
If you have a new cat, you should observe him closely to determine what types of scratching surfaces he prefers. Kittens are more adaptable because they have not yet formed their habits. You should offer them choices and encourage them to use a variety of scratching posts.
After you have determined the best materials for your cat’s scratching posts and placed them around your home, your next challenge will be encouraging your cat to use them. Good ways to encourage scratching post use are applying pheromones and catnip or dangling a toy on the post.
Giving your cat positive reinforcement for scratching the designated items is another great strategy. According to an internet study, cats who are offered treats, praise, and/or petting are more likely to use the scratching post at least once a day than cats who do not get rewarded.
How to facilitate other marking behavior
Another strategy you can try is to encourage your cat to engage in less destructive marking behavior such as bunting. Bunting is a form of territory marking that cats use. It involves rubbing their cheeks and forehead on objects. It is sometimes called allorubbing.
To encourage bunting, you can purchase self-grooming arches or bunting combs. Pieces of cardboard can also be used. You should place bunting combs at your cat’s chin level in places where you have seen your cat engage in bunting.
How to limit damage to furniture
Scratching furniture is a hard habit to break, so it might be a good idea to apply some strategies that will limit damage to furniture in the meantime. Nail trimming and nail caps can be effective solutions. Most cats will be resistant to having their nails trimmed, but if you start when they are young, they are more likely to tolerate it.
If you use plastic nail caps, be sure to fit them properly and avoid using too much glue. Otherwise, they might prevent cats from shedding their nail sheaths naturally and cause problems.
It is also a good idea to cover the areas of your furniture where your cat has scratched with tape, scratch guards, cling film, or double-sided carpet tape, and to put the new scratching post near that item. Cats tend to go back to the same places to scratch because of the smell, so you can try transferring the scent from the old scratching place to the new one using a piece of cloth.
Summary and conclusion
While stopping destructive scratching behavior can take some time and patience, it will be well worth the effort at the end of the day. Remember, when cats scratch, they are not trying to destroy your home. They are simply engaging in natural and instinctive behavior.
The best way to stop your cat from scratching furniture is to provide attractive alternatives and encourage him to use them with positive reinforcement and pheromones. As a cat owner, it is your job to help your cat develop good scratching habits. With the right techniques and strategies, you will be able to save your furniture and satisfy your cat’s natural need to scratch.