Cats need to scratch for a variety of reasons. It sharpens their nails and removes the outer sheath as the nail grows. Cats will reach up and pull with their nails in order to stretch the muscles in their legs and along their sides. Cats also have scent glands on the pads of their feet and use scratching to mark their territory.
Often it's not scratching that get cats into trouble, it's what they choose to scratch that's the problem. Providing an appropriate scratching post for your cat will save your furniture and your carpet.
The Scratching Post
It is important that your scratching post be tall enough for your cat to stretch out full length on the vertical surface. If not, she will find something taller, such as the arm of your couch. Acceptable surface materials for the post are sisal (rough-textured rope) or bare wood. Avoid posts that are covered with carpet. Cats are very sensitive to texture and will often use any carpet, on the post or on the floor.
Your cat's post should be in the room where she spends most of her time. If the post is in the back bedroom and your cat spends the majority of her day on the couch in the living room, she may not be motivated to search for the post when the couch is very handy.
When introducing a new scratching post to your cat, it's important that the post be more appealing than other objects. Sprinkling the post with catnip or placing tasty treats on and around the post will encourage your cat to use it. You may also use a toy that dangles, hold it above the post and play with your cat, encouraging her to climb the post to get the toy.
Cat boards made of corrugated cardboard and sprinkled with catnip also work well. They can be hung from door knobs and used in the same manner as the posts.
Saving Your Furniture
If your cat is already in the habit of using your furniture as a scratching post, a few preventive measures may be in order as well as introducing a scratching post. Trimming your cat's nails every couple of weeks will dull he nails and make it harder to puncture the material.
You may also check into Soft Paws, rubber caps that fit over the cat's nails and prevent destructive scratching. Soft Paws can be obtained from your veterinarian.
Placing your cat's scratching post in front of the area she previously used and sprinkling it with catnip will help to redirect the scratching to the appropriate object. Once she is using the post, you can gradually move it to an acceptable location in the room.
Use of Aversives
If all else fails, you may want to take measures to make your furniture or carpet undesirable for our cat. Placing two-sided tape or foil over the area will often deter cats from using the area. You can also drape a plastic carpet runner, upside down with the nubs facing up, over the area to deter the cat from scratching.
Shaker cans can be rattled if you find your cat using your couch as a scratching post. A shaker can is easily made by filling an empty pop can with a few pennies and taping the top. The noise startles the cat and interrupts the scratching. You can then redirect her to her post and praise her when she uses it.
With a little work, you will soon be able to redirect scratching to the appropriate places and save your furniture.
For more information about pet behavior and training, please contact the Michigan Humane Society Pet Education Center at (248) 650-1059.