Your cat looks directly at you, gazing lazily as he hangs his body by his claws, which happen to be resting deeply in the side of your silk-covered couch. Or maybe he digs furiously into your expensive rug before luxuriously stretching — while still dug in! Why is he being so naughty?
He’s not. Stretching simply feels good to a cat, just the way you might feel good when you stretch. In addition, such stretches exercise the muscles in his front legs and also his spine, keeping him in tip-top shape for hunts. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t hunt; it’s a biological imperative that’s en-coded in his DNA. That’s why, when you yell at him for scratching, he has no idea what your problem is. He’s simply doing what a cat is supposed to do. If he lived outdoors, he would scratch on tree trunks, fence posts, gates… You get the drift.
And the scratching is not just about feeling good and doing his strength-training exercises. Cats are supposed to scratch for a number of other reasons, too:
- Scratching is one of the key ways a cat expresses emotions,
such as excitement or stress, or even confidence.
- A scratch says “this is mine.” Cats have scent glands in their paws, so scratching marks objects with his scent. He’s claiming territory.
- Scratching removes the outer husk of the claw — the activity is called stropping — and that exposes a new sharp surface underneath.
For these reasons, you should never punish a cat for scratching or even bother getting angry. It’s akin to someone getting angry at you for blinking. It’s an instinct that simply has to be given into. There are ways to help him learn to scratch a scratching post rather than your furniture, however.
Tricks for getting your cat to use his scratching post
One way to get your cat to use his scratching post more often — and furniture and carpet less frequently — is to treat him to a delicious morsel of food immediately after he claws the post. Contrary to popular belief, cats are trainable. The association between scratching on the post and the delectable morsel will nudge him in the direction of using the post over upholstery or drapes. For some cats, warm praise and an offer to play with a toy might go farther than a food treat. You know your own pet. Other ideas:
- Provide a horizontal scratching post as well as a vertical one. Some cats like to be able to scratch both ways. Many prefer sisal rope. Whatever material the posts in your home are made of, they should be nubby, coarse, or textured.
- Location! Location! Location! Keep the scratching post near the object the cat likes to scratch but shouldn’t — the side of the couch, for instance, or perhaps right by the front door if your cat is one of those who starts scratching excitedly when you come home. You might not like the look, but if you keep the scratching post out of the way, the cat’s not going to think, “Oh, yeah, it’s in the laundry room. I’ll hold out and run in there before giving into my urge.”
- Don’t replace the scratching post when it’s shredded and looks as awful as possible. Your cat likes it that way. It has his scent all over it.
- Make the “unauthorized” scratching post less desirable. Tightly fit a plain cotton sheet over the arm of the couch, for instance. That will make the couch a much less interesting place to scratch because the attractive texture will be gone. Another option is to apply double-sided tape. No cat is going to want his paws to stick while he’s trying to scratch.
One thing you should never do: force your cat to scratch by taking his paws and putting them on the scratching post. No matter how gently you do it, your cat won’t appreciate the experience. More important, he will not learn from it. His attention will be focused on getting out of your grasp, and you’ll have done nothing but create a negative association with the post.