WHY CATS SCRATCH.
Cats scratch for three reasons.
a. To condition their front claws. You will notice that they scratch off the old claws which can be seen lying at the bottom of the scratching post. But this is the least of the reasons!
b. To leave a territorial message, which varies from â€œCat George was hereâ€ to â€œLook at me. I am scratching.â€ This is a visual message and also a scent message — from the scent glands on their paws. Other cats can recognise feline friends by the scent from scratching and they may be able to tell if the scratcher is in search of a mate. All this information is conveyed at a distance. The scratch is a kind of Post-It note left for others and also as a reminder to the scratcher, himself.
c. They have a need to top up an existing scent marked scratch area regularly with new scent. Therefore once they have a scratching place, they will continue to use it. This may be a way of updating the information conveyed by the first scratch!
THE EMOTIONAL NEED TO SCRATCH
If cats get anxious or stressed, they will scratch more or in new places. Using a water pistol on an already scratching cat will therefore make it even more worried. It may even turn from scratching to spraying. So NEVER punish or frighten a scratching cat.
Cats also use scratching as a way of asserting themselves and will scratch in the presence of another cat.
Finally some cats scratch to get your attention. They often will look at you as they start scratching. Saying No or shouting at it IS attention. If your cat is an attention seeker make sure you don’t ‘reward’ it. Walk out of the room when it scratches.
GETTING A SCRATCHING POST AND ENCOURAGING USE
Buy (or make) a scratching post or a scratching pad large enough for the cat to scratch at full height. If your cat likes catnip, try spraying the post to get the moggy interested. Praise it and give it treats when it scratches the right thing. (Avoid a carpet covered one since the cat may start scratching at carpets in general.) It is said that vertical stripes encourage scratching. Prime the scratching post by scraping a screw up and down the scratching area so that it is roughened up and inviting.
Some cats scratch indoors, because they have failed to learn how to scratch trees out of doors. Spray catnip on tree trunks, in dry weather, if the cat likes catnip. Reward the cat with treats when you see it scratching a tree. Even so, it will probably still need to scratch indoors as its main territory is indoors.
If your cat scratches in more than one room, install a post in each room.
DONâ€™T CHANGE THE SCRATCHING POST
If possible never change the scratching post. The messier and tattier it is, the more it is impregnated with the â€œScratch meâ€™ message. You may prefer a new scratching post. Your cat wonâ€™t.
Donâ€™t move the post. Cats like things to remain the same. If you MUST move it, move it about two inches every three days, making sure the cat is still using it before the next small move.
PERSUADING YOUR CAT TO USE THE POST NOT ITS EXISTING SCRATCHING AREA
Place the post in front of, or over the previous scratching area/item. This old area should be covered with a non-scratchable substance like thick plastic from DIY store, or tinfoil. When the new scratch post is well established, you can remove the plastic cover. If this goes smoothly you can then move the scratching post, a few inches every 3 days, to a better area in the house.
If the cat continues to scratch the old area, this is because it is more attractive than the scratch post. The old area still SMELLS like the place to scratch so the cat keeps topping it up. If you can do so, cover this area with something that can be transferred to the scratching post. Ie. a piece of cloth or newspaper which, impregnated by the scratch scent, is then tacked on to the scratching post. (Not carpet which may encourage scratching on other bits of carpet!).
You can also try putting Repel-all, Pet Behave training spray or oil of citronella on the old unwanted (to you) scratching area. Or rub orange peel on it. Tack cooking foil on the affected area.
PRODUCTS TO STOP CATS SCRATCHING
Easiest of all is a product called Sticky Paws sometimes found in some mail order catalogues like Scotts of Snow. Check with www.stickypaws.com. Or buy double sided carpet tape from a DIY or online store (www.stikatak.co.uk). This is what I use on furniture and it works. Much cheaper but not as nice looking a sticky paws. The sticky outside deters them.
You can also use self adhesive covering film, the sort sold at stationers for covering books, maps etc. This protects the furniture area though it is a less strong deterrent. It can be carefully adjusted and looks better than double sided carpet tape! IN the UK it is called cover clear and made by www.tenzatech.com. Or Fablon at www.hainteriors.com
Thereâ€™s a spray, Feliway, available from vets that mimics the scent mark made by cats when they rub their chin against something. Where they chin rub, they rarely scratch. â€˜Feliway may help to stop cats scratching the furniture. Use a single squirt on the affected area each day.â€™ says Professor Daniel Mills, professor of behavioural medicine at Lincoln University, which runs an animal behaviour clinic. â€˜But they need somewhere else to scratch.â€™ You will need to use Feliway every day for 21 days sprayed on to all unwanted scratch sites. A reader tells me that this works.
REASSURING A STRESSED CAT.
I have a list of things that stress cats, which may account for extra scratching, which is one my website. A plug-in device called the Feliway Diffuser from your vet gives off a relaxing (to cats) scent. It lasts about 4 weeks, and covers a 50-70 square foot area. This can help in cases of stress.
SPECIFIC PROBLEMS – WALLPAPER
Itâ€™s said that cats are particularly attracted to wallpaper with a vertical pattern — so avoid up and down stripes if possible! There are two methods of stopping cats scratching wallpaper other than simply covering it with netting or plastic. One is to bang in long nails into the wall above the scratches, and hang bits of string down so that the cat have to push their claws through the string. They donâ€™t like this but then itâ€™s not so good for the wall either!
The second method is to get double sided sticky tape or wire netting or Prickler wall strips and put these on the floor, where the catâ€™s back legs are while it scratches. (You canâ€™t really put this on the wall!) Thus the cat wonâ€™t be able to stand in the place and therefore cannot scratch. You MUST provide an alternative scratching area otherwise it will just scratch on wallpaper elsewhere.
SCRATCHING OUTSIDE DOORS
Cats scratch outside doors to get our attention. We then let them in. So scratching outside a door trains humans very well indeed. The only possible way to stop this will be stop rewarding the scratching, ie. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR. It will take two to three weeks minimum for the cat to learn that scratching doesnâ€™t pay off. I have to say that I donâ€™t think I could manage this, because I would weaken. This is going to take so much human self control that it will be difficult to manage. If it really matters to you, then buy some transparent thick plastic from a DIY store – the kind that covers carpets on heavily used walking areas. Tack this down in front of the door where the cat scratches. Then place double sided sticky tape on top of the plastic. Cats donâ€™t like sticky surfaces. And then start your three week programme of never ever responding when the cat scratches to be let in.
A Cats Protection supporter came up with the idea that you attach to the bottom of the door a flap of wood/plastic on a piano hinge which folds upwards and is kept up with some kind of turnbuckle. When the flap is up, you can move the door. But when you are shutting the door, you let down the flap so that it covers the carpet next to the door â€“ ie the cat will not have a carpet area to scratch. A secondary flap from the main flap turns outward to protect the area just at the side of the door, if needed. The Cat Magazine Nov/Dec 2001 p 22.
WALKING ON MANTLEPIECES ETC.
To stop cats walking on mantlepieces, make seesaws from pencils and cardboard sheet. Boobytrap one end with empty beer cans. The idea is to make the pencil the fulcrum with the cardboard on top of it. Cats dislike unstable surfaces. The beercans are there so that they fall off with a clatter when the cat jumps on the other end of the cardboard. Or try putting aluminium cooking foil along the mantlepiece. Cats dislike walking on it.
Consult Scratching or clawing in the house on www.fabcats.org