One of the eternal bugbears about owning a cat is scratching in the home. Many, many people have been driven to distraction by tattered armchairs, carpets, curtains and wallpaper, and at times it can appear that nothing is safe from kitty claws once they get into the zone! But why do they do it, why are some cats more scratch-intense than others, what cat scratching posts and cat scratching furniture is most effective, and what can you do to protect the £1000 sofa you just invested in?
WHY DOES MY CAT SCRATCH?
Scratching and clawing is a behaviour that goes back to a time well before felis catus was a domesticated pet, and stems from the impulse to keep the claws sharp for hunting and climbing. It removes the old nail sheath to reveal a fresh, sharp point. So trying to rid the cat of scratching is a hopeless task. In some countries, the USA being a prime example, de-clawing is a fairly common practice, involving a veterinary surgeon removing the claws altogether. However, as scratching is an instinctive and natural behaviour this is seen by many as both cruel and unnecessary as it's painful and potentially complicated. Avoid it.
Scratching is normally an outdoor behaviour, but some cats will sharpen their claws indoors either because they grow to like the texture of carpet or the shape of your favourite armchair, or simply because they don't get out enough! Others claw out of contentment or upon waking as they stretch the muscles of their back, legs and front quarters - it's like cat yoga! And others use it as an attention-grabbing mechanism as it invariably provokes a response from their owner, or as a means to deposit scent from glands in their paws on strategic places around the house to mark their territory in the same way as rubbing up against things does.
HOW CAN I CORRECT MY CATS BEHAVIOUR?
The most important and most obvious solution is to provide a suitable place for your cat to carry out its natural behaviour. There are numerous designs of cat scratch furniture on the market, from simple cat scratching posts to cat trees that offer a cat somewhere to play and sleep at the same time. The point is simply that your cat doesn't know that your sofa cost £1000, and wouldn't care if it did!
A combination of materials such as sisal and carpet gives your cat options, and a cat scratching post should be rugged enough to withstand some rough treatment. Going for the cheapest option available can be a false economy as, not only may it not last very long, but your cat simply won't use a scratching post that topples over every time she claws it.
A step up from this is a post that incorporates toys to encourage the cat to use it, but either of these designs used in conjunction with catnip in spray or leaf form should be an adequate scratching solution. If budget's not such an issue, then there are some fabulous cat trees and cat furniture around that look great in the home and provide a fantastic place for your cat to scratch with specially-devised pads for your cat to get her claws into, as well as furniture to sleep and play on.
HOW CAN I GET MY CAT TO USE HER SCRATCHING POST?
Whichever you choose though, there are a few tips to get your cat to use the scratcher rather than your sofa! Firstly, gently drag your cat's paws down the post when it's new so that it leaves scent and gets the idea that this is a great place to claw. If/when she claws elsewhere, take her to the post and do the same thing - eventually she'll get the message. And praise her when she does! Used in combination with catnip, this is usually very effective.
Be patient though - don't punish your cat for scratching elsewhere as this can cause insecurity and make the problem worse. When you do this you're effectively telling your cat that scratching is bad, which will make her nervous and more insecure...and likely to scratch more. Before you know it you'll not only have a carpet-shredding cat but a neurotic one!
Instead persist with gentle reminders, scenting the desired area with her own smell and with catnip and removing scent from the offending area using a mild solution of biological washing liquid. You can also try putting a few drops of orange essential oils around the area you want the cat to avoid, as cats don't like strong citrus smells, or sticking double-sided tape to the couch.
Hopefully, with a blend of observation and patience on your part together with a suitable piece of cat scratching furniture, you can minimise the damaging effects of scratching and save that sofa!
Paul is a director of online pet accessories supplier http://www.thepetextraordinarium.co.uk The Pet Extraordinarium is devoted to sourcing the best quality products for cats, dogs and rabbits, enhancing their and their owners' lifestyles, and to raising awareness of animal welfare and pet care issues.
Before establishing http://www.thepetextraordinarium.co.uk Paul enjoyed a ten year career in PR and marketing.