Cats scratch for two main reasons, to keep their claws in good condition and scratching releases a unique scent which is a marker for them as well as for other cats. Bored cats, or cats that like attention will learn that if they scratch the sofa they get more attention from the owner than using a scratching post and this will encourage them, even if this attention is being chased off!
Most scratching should take place outside where the cat is marking its territory, however, cats that don’t have access to the outdoors or who are feeling insecure will scratch more indoors. Indoor scratching for claw conditioning tends to be at one or two preferred sites. Typically this site is vertical with a vertical weave. A sofa is ideal for your cat but less ideal for you!
Cats that scratch in areas of access such as door frames and wallpaper in corridors, will be doing so for communication and security reasons. Other cats and stressors around the house can increase this behaviour.
When a new kitten arrives in the home, it is an exciting time for all but you have to have one eye on the future and persuading your new companion not to scratch the furniture can be successfully done at this age.
Start with your kitten in one room. Protect the furniture you don’t want your kitten to scratch with plastic sheet (which isn’t attractive to scratch). You can stick double sided tape down vertical arm rests etc (but be careful of damaging the fabric!). Install a scratch post (you can treat the post with Feliscratch to encourage use). If you catch your kitten scratching where it shouldn’t, wave a cat toy at it, move it to the scratching post and give it a treat to eat.
Once the behaviour is developed it is harder to stop. Using the same techniques as for kittens helps, covering the area with plastic and then placing the scratching post next to it is a good idea. (Feliway classic sprayed onto where the cat is scratching will deter use of that site, whilst Feliscratch sprayed onto the scratch post will encourage use). Placing food around the post and praising the cat and stroking it when it uses the post will encourage good behaviour. Once the post is being used, it can be slowly moved to a more convenient position. If the damage is caused to a doorway or other marking site, it is worth seeing if it is possible to find out what is bothering your cat and remedying this cause. Just covering the area won’t work because the cat will move its anxiety to another site. It can be difficult to work out why a particular area is being used, if it is around a window or external doorway then it may be another cat outside that is the problem. In multicat households the site may well be where cats frequently pass each other and your cat feels threatened in this area. Shouting at a cat will just make it more anxious and the behaviour worse.
Which scratch post is best?
There is an enormous selection of different scratch posts and toys. Rope, cardboard, horizontal, vertical. To a certain extent which post is best for you will depend on your preference, the space and room area of you have and, importantly, your cat’s preference. Whichever post you use, it is best to site it near your cat’s bed and/or on his or her regular ‘route’ around your house. The post must be stable and allow the cat to stretch up to its full height, including extended paws. A vertical weave is more comfortable for the cat to use as it won’t snag its claws in it. Some posts will dispense food when scratched, giving your cat a ‘reward’.
Feliway make a selection of products to encourage cats to scratch or avoid certain areas. They have a useful website; www.feliway.com