Cats need claws and it’s in their nature to scratch. Unfortunately, many of the surfaces they use are furniture instead of scratching posts. Instilling appropriate scratching behavior is possible, but, it’s also easier said than done. Teaching your cat to use a scratching post is like any other trained behavior. It takes time, consistency, creativity, strategy and persistence.
Why cats scratch in the first place
Cats scratch as a form of communication. They also scratch as a form of stretching the muscles in their toes, shoulders, back etc. Even as an only cat, communication something that is ingrained deep within their biology. If your cat does scratch your furniture, you’ll probably notice that they usually scratch in an obvious place rather than in an inconspicuous spot in the back. They aren’t looking to hide their scratching. It’s basically a Facebook or Instagram post left for the next cat who walks by. Stretching is essential and the right scratching surfaces make for the most productive stretches. If you’re not providing it, they’ll find a surface that works for them!
Providing the right scratching posts
Right now you might be thinking, “I do have scratching posts but my cat doesn’t use them.” Like people, all cats are different. Although most cats enjoy scratching, they each have their own style. First, assess if your cat prefers to scratch vertically, horizontally or both? This is usually pretty obvious as your cat may be more drawn to your couch or carpet. My one cat, Mikita, likes both horizontal and vertical. The other, Dahlia, prefers horizontal scratching.
Once you have an idea, consider the materials your cat might like. Sisal is a surface that many cats find enticing. It’s commonly used on scratching posts. Cats can dig their claws in and get a great scratch. I’ve found sisal fabric posts to be more enticing than sisal rope posts. But again, every cat is different. Keep an open mind. Certain carpet covered posts don’t tend to be as exciting but if your cat loves carpet, it might be the one! Cardboard scratchers are also great and often more geared towards horizontal scratching. It’s easy to sprinkle some catnip and make it an experience. Vertical scratching cats sometimes like these cardboard scratchers for the lounge experience, too. When choosing scratchers, you might have to try a few surfaces to understand your cat’s preferences. Get creative! Hanging scratchers, scratchers built into furniture and full-wall scratchers might be just what your cat wants. If you’re crafty, making an incline or scratching wall could be really fun! The cheap, mini, covered scratcher at the grocery store is probably not going to entice your cat. Do some research. Your cat will thank you and it will be worth it in the end.
Providing enough scratching posts
So you found a surface your cat likes but they’re still scratching the chair in the other room most the time. Cats are busy. They have lots of Instagram posts to make, in every room in the house. They need multiple scratchers in areas they like to scratch. That might mean 3, 4, 5 or more scratching surfaces. It may seem like a lot but you can’t reason with a cat. Giving them several scratching areas will encourage them to make better decisions.
Placing scratching posts in the proper areas
Real estate is all “location, location, location” right? Placing your scratching posts in the proper areas is key! Don’t be afraid to move them around if your cat isn’t using them. Your cat’s preferred scratching locations will give you a lot of insight into where the various scratchers should be placed. If she loves the corner of the couch, put a scratching post there! If she loves scratching the middle of the floor, place a horizontal scratcher there. Once she gets used to it, move it to a better location.
Encouraging scratching in appropriate areas
Now that you have multiple scratchers in attractive locations, it’s time to introduce your cat to each one. This is a key step many people miss. Here are some great ways to make sure your cat understands this scratcher is for her.
- Play near and on the scratcher. Involve toys! Drag wand toys up and over the scratching post or horizontal scratcher. As your cat attacks the toy, she’ll start to get a feel for the scratcher texture.
- Bring in some treats! Place a treat on top or wedge one in the side. Even hold a treat against the scratcher so your cat has to reach to grab it. Often times they need to brace themselves to grab the treat. This is another great way for them to feel the texture. When your cat isn’t looking, toss a couple treats on or near it. When she visits later, she’ll be happy to see her friendly treat machine.
- Feed your cat’s meals at or near their scratcher. Positive association is very effective when training a cat to use their scratcher. By serving food near it, they associate it with something exciting. Personally, this is one of my favorite methods. We served our cat his meals at his post for several years. He is a champ at using his scratching post!
Rewarding for good behavior
Arm yourself with treats! If your cat scratches their post, give them a treat! Place another on or near it for good measure. Remember, rewards for positive behavior is more effective than scolding for bad behavior. If your cat is starting to scratch the couch right next to the post, calmly redirect your cat onto the post. They may, or may not, continue to scratch. That’s ok. Don’t give up. Spooking a cat can derail your progress very quickly. The younger you start the better, but creating new habits at an older age is totally possible. Be consistent in your message to your cat. Keep at it every single day because repetition works!
Keeping claws trimmed
Whether you’re teaching a kitten or an older cat to use a scratching post, chances are they’ll get their claws into furniture at some point. Keeping their claws trimmed will help minimize the damage done to fabrics. For some cats, nail trims are a breeze but for many, it can be an extremely stressful task. There are many methods to trim your cat’s claws. Some like wrapping them in a purrito, some take them to the vet or a groomer. We took a much slower approach. We started touching Mikita’s paws as he was relaxing or sleeping. Little by little we’d play with them, pushing out the nails and offering treats or neck scratches with it. Once we were ready, we tried trimming a nail. It wasn’t seamless at first but after consistent efforts and trimming one or two nails at a time, we’ve been able to work up to a full mani-pedi in one sitting! Again, the younger you can start working with your cat the better. Not every cat will have this experience, but it is worth a try. It can be possible to have low to no stress nail trimmings when you consistently work on their comfort.
Make your furniture uninviting
Once you have a cat, you look at furniture very differently. “Will my cat claw apart this tweed chair?’ Yes, yes, she will. You know your cat best, but, part of having a cat is accepting even well-trained cats might claw your new tweed chair. Velvet, microsuede and denser weave fabrics are much less inviting than tweed and loser weave fabrics. Of course, sprays, tape, and other products can be used to discourage, but the best deterrent is introducing and encouraging appropriate scratching post use. Cats are pros at repetitive behavior. Even though they seem to do what they want, they like guidelines and schedules. And remember, when it’s time to buy new living room furniture, make wise fabric choices!
Remember that they are cats
At the end of the day, we’re coexisting with a prey driven territorial carnivore that also likes to snuggle. Understanding their wild side will help us provide what they need so they can have a fulfilling life indoors. The more enrichment we provide them, the less they’ll get into things they aren’t supposed to. We could all probably use an extra scratcher in our lives.