Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I want to find a way to stop my cat from tearing up all my furniture. I have tried almost everything, I think. I am about to have her front claws taken out. Please give me some suggestions.
Siouxsie: Before we start, we ask those of you who are against declawing to please take a breath before posting a blistering response to the person who asked the question! She’s writing because she wants help to avoid declawing her cat! Although we are very much against declawing and we respect your feelings on the subject, we will delete nasty comments. If you have some constructive suggestions beyond what we offer, you’re welcome to add your comment.
Thomas: Holly, we can offer you some advice on how to keep your cat from scratching your furniture. We hope we can give you some insights (and perhaps even some methods you haven’t tried yet).
Dahlia: The first thing to understand is that scratching is a normal behavior for cats and that we need to scratch. Not only does it help us keep our nails in good trim, but scratching is a form of marking as well. It doesn’t just leave visible evidence of our passing, but we have glands in our paws that deposit scents when we scratch.
Siouxsie: Scratching is really important to us after we wake up. You know we curl up into pretty tight little balls when we sleep, and we need that good stretch that comes with scratching.
Thomas: Scratching is also what some humans call a displacement behavior. It helps us to work off strong feelings.
Dahlia: So now that you know why we scratch, you can hopefully understand why it’s so important to let us keep our claws.
Siouxsie: The problem here is that your cat has learned to scratch on things you don’t want her to scratch, so you need to redirect her behavior to more appropriate things like a scratching post.
Thomas: Make sure your scratching post is covered with something cats like. We prefer sisal or rope because that gives us a great surface to dig our claws into.
Dahlia: Another important thing about the post is that it needs to be sturdy and not fall over when we use it, and it needs to be tall enough for a good stretch. Your post should have a wide, heavy base and, as you can see in the photo of Thomas, it should be at least 36 inches (just under 1 meter) tall.
Siouxsie: Some cats also like horizontal scratching pads. You can buy inexpensive scratch pads made of corrugated cardboard or you can purchase heavier-duty sisal-covered pads.
Thomas: After you get a good scratching post, you need to make the furniture less attractive. Put Sticky Paws tape on the corners or the areas where your cat scratches. If she scratches the whole thing, cover it with a sheet and use Sticky Paws on the corners. Then put the new scratching post (or posts) next to the furniture she likes to scratch.
Dahlia: Get her interested in the scratching post by rubbing some catnip on it — that is, if she’s a cat that responds to catnip.
Siouxsie: Don’t put her paws on the post to get her to scratch it. Instead, scratch it with your fingernails. This will pique her interest, and if you keep doing it she’ll almost certainly come over and check it out. When she scratches, reinforce the behavior by telling her she’s a good kitty and giving her lots of praise.
Thomas: In fact, any time you see her scratching the post or scratch pad, praise her. And when she starts heading for her favorite furniture item, distract her by playing with a toy like a “cat fishing” pole. With your play, bring her back to the scratching post, and as soon as she starts digging her claws in, give her lots of praise and positive reinforcement.
Dahlia: This re-training will probably will take several weeks, so you’ll need to be patient and consistent. Don’t lose hope if she doesn’t get it as soon as you start working with her.
Siouxsie: In fact, don’t lose hope even if your cat doesn’t seem interested in the scratching post at first. As it begins to smell more like your home, she’ll get more comfortable with it, and as you keep tempting her by scratching your nails on it and directing her there with your play, she’ll catch on.
Thomas: We don’t know if you’ve investigated vinyl nail caps yet. They’re kind of a pain to apply at first, but if after several weeks your cat still hasn’t transferred her scratching affections to the post, we’d urge you to try the nail caps before you declaw.
Dahlia: For more detailed information on training your cat to scratch the proper surfaces, we recommend Starting From Scratch: How to Correct Behavior Problems in Your Adult Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett. In fact, this is a great resource for anyone with adult cats that have behavior issues.
Siouxsie: Good luck, Holly! Please let us know how things turn out.