March 15, 2010

Start Your Cat Scratching Right

Get Your Cat to Scratch Where He’s Supposed To

In a Nutshell:

Scratching is one of the biggest behavior problems that keep cats and their owners from enjoying domestic bliss. But there are ways to stop this before it gets out of hand. You just have to understand why your cat does what he does.

Scratching for a kitten is actually just a means of climbing to higher ground. To a new cat owner it may appear that your kitten has Velcro paws as you watch him scale furniture, drapes, beds, and clothes hanging in the closet. Take a deep breath and be patient. This phase will pass. Even though your kitten may do nothing with the post other than climb up and over the top, very soon he’ll discover scratching behavior and you’ll want to be ready.

The training method is the same for a kitten or an adult cat: make it a game. Dangle a peacock feather or other enticing toy right next to the post. As your cat goes for the toy he’ll feel the irresistible texture of the post. With your own nails, gently scratch up and down the post. Often, that scratching sound can inspire him to join in.

If your cat doesn’t have a clue about what to do with the post, lay it on its side and dangle the toy all around it. As he jumps on the post or paws at the toy, he’ll discover the texture. He may then begin scratching the post in earnest. Once he has discovered its true purpose, you can stand the post upright again.

Never force your cat to scratch by taking his paws and putting them on the post. No matter how gently you do it, your cat won’t like the experience and it’ll cause confusion. His attention will be focused on getting out of your grasp and you will have done nothing but create a negative association with the post.

Make the games around the scratching post a regularly scheduled event for a kitten. Keep your training methods consistent so you don’t confuse him. Don’t drag the toy under fabrics such as comforters, chair cushions, and clothing or behind crapes, etc. That could encourage him to scratch there as he claws at the toy. Don’t run the toy up and along furniture. That will cause your kitten to extend his claws and climb. Never send mixed messages.

Oh No! The Furniture!

It can be done. First, though, you must have the right kind of post. Make sure you’ve followed my instructions and purchased or constructed an appropriate one. If you already have a post in your home that has sat for years gathering dust, don’t even attempt to retrain your cat to use it. If he had thought it was acceptable in the first place he would have been using it, so just get rid of the relic. (Or if it’s tall and sturdy enough, recover it using a better material.)

Next, look at the areas where he’s currently scratching. If it’s the sofa or chair, you’ll have to make the object unappealing. If the scratched area of the furniture is limited to certain sections, lay strips of Sticky Paws (available at pet stores) across them. Sticky Paws is a double-faced transparent tape made especially for this purpose. Plain masking tape can leave a residue behind. According to the manufacturer, Stocky Paws has an acrylic base so it won’t leave any residue when removed from the furniture. Sticky Paws is also water soluble.

BlkCat_Scratch_PostIf the cat has been working on the entire chair, cover it with a sheet. Carefully tuck it in all around and tape the bottom so he can’t climb underneath it. Place strips of Sticky Paws or double-faced tape at several locations. Now you’ve turned this great scratching surface into an unacceptable one. The next step is to put the new post next to the covered furniture. That way, when he goes over for is routine scratch and realizes that his usual spot has disappeared, he’ll discover something even better. You can further entice him by using a toy around the post to get his attention. Also, rub the post with catnip to ensure it will get his approval.

If you catch your cat attempting to scratch the furniture during retraining, don’t punish, hit, or yell at him. Scratching is a normal, natural behavior, so you can’t reprimand him. Just make the furniture a little more unattractive by placing something under on corner so it becomes unsteady. (Inform family members before they attempt to sit down!) By making the chair or sofa unstable, it’ll no longer be a secure scratching surface.

Some people have used deterrents such as taping balloons to the furniture, but I’m strongly against that because it’s too frightening. If your cat is timid or nervous, bursting balloons can make him even jumpier. Your cat may become too scared to even use the post. Other animals in multi-pet households can be frightened by the popping balloon sound as well.

Posted in: General Information