Cats have an inherent need to scratch, usually to mark their territory. Knowing this is natural, it’s best to provide your cat with scratching toys from the day you bring her home. This can help deter her from claiming your favorite belongings.
Why do cats scratch?
For the Predator, claws hold the prey while the mighty hunter positions himself to deliver the killing bite at the back of the neck. In play behavior, the claws grip a toy while the cat rubs against it or rakes it with his hind feet.
For the agile Climber, claws help cats maneuver up and along trees, bookcases and upholstered furniture. When he sinks in his claws, they help him shift his body weight to attain proper balance and secure footing.
For the Communicator, claws facilitate leaving messages for other cats by scratching on surfaces. The claws engrave a visual territorial mark, while the scent glands in the paw pads brush on an olfactory mark.
Last, but not least, claws are a first line of defense for the Protector. The one-paw swat is enough to send another cat out of preferred territory or to discipline the new dog. When a full-blown defense is required, she takes a position on her back with all four paws extended, claws ready for action.
Claws are indispensable! Yet, in many households, a cat and his claws are separated via surgical declawing — all for the sake of the sofa. While all cats need to scratch, few need to be declawed.
Teach what your cat can scratch
While you can’t stop your cat’s natural urge to scratch, you can teach her what to scratch. Offer her a variety of scratching toys, both flat pads and vertical posts, including a variety of textures (carpet, corrugated cardboard, etc.). Place them next to the furniture she likes to scratch or where she likes to play. Encourage use by attracting her with treats and play. When you see her using it, give her praise and more treats.
Teach what your cat cannot scratch
If you catch your cat scratching your furniture or another forbidden item, distract her and bring her to the scratching pad (or bring the scratching pad to her). Never punish your cat, because it could make her confused and fearful, and it could hinder your training.
It’s also a good idea to cover or remove items that your cat likes to scratch until she gets the idea. By temporarily taking away all her other scratching outlets, she will be forced to scratch at the posts. Another option is to place plastic wrap or double-sided tape on the floor or furniture where your cat stands to scratch, because cats hate the feeling of these materials on their paws.
Minimize the cat scratching damage
Sometimes cats scratch to help relieve excess energy. Be sure to play with your cat daily, and offer her a variety of toys to play with independently.
Trim Your Cat’s Nails
Another way to minimize damage is to keep her claws trimmed. Some cats trim their own claws by biting them or filing them down on their scratching post. Other cats need help from their owners. The key to struggle-free trimming is to handle your cat’s paws early and often to get her comfortable with it. While your cat is resting, gently press on the pad of her foot to extend the claws. Ask a friend or family member to help you by feeding her treats as you trim her claws. This will not only distract her, but it’ll help her associate trimming with something positive. If all else fails, you may need to take her to a veterinarian or professional groomer.
Through the years, a number of individuals have called the ASPCA Behavior Helpline because they were considering declaw surgery. When asked how often they trim their cat’s nails, almost every caller has responded, “Never.” Coincidence? I think not! If claws are kept blunt, a cat who strays from the scratching post from time to time will do little to no damage. You, too, can get improved results without surgery by cutting the nails every two to three weeks
If you have never given a cat manicure, here are a few tips:
- If possible, start trimming the claws when your cat is young. As soon as kittens leave their littermates they are ready for nail trimming, so try to begin the routine no later than ten to twelve weeks of age.
- Make it pleasant. Initially, only trim a few nails at a time. Offer a food reward or scratch the cat in his favorite spots; then let him go.
- If you can’t make it fun, make it fast. If you have an older cat who has already made up her mind against manicures, the mummy method may serve you best. Wrap a thick towel around her, leaving only the head exposed. Bring out one paw at a time, trimming the nails as swiftly as possible.
- Some caretakers find they can abandon the towel method if they schedule the manicure after a meal. If the cat is groggy from an after-dinner snooze, she’ll be more relaxed and easier to handle.
Just because you have a cat doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things. With patience and training, you can save your sofa and your sanity.