It’s a fact that cats need to scratch, no matter how gentle, old, or lazy they appear. Scratching fulfills many of a cat’s natural needs, such as taking care of their nails, stretching, exercising, and communicating with other cats. Without proper outlets for your cat’s urge to scratch, they’ll leave their mark where they choose, which likely will be areas you find inappropriate. Instead of getting frustrated and considering declawing your cat, try the following alternatives. 

#1: Provide a variety of scratching opportunities

A single scratching surface will not be enough for your cat, so provide them with plenty of choices. Choose different materials for posts, towers, and pads placed in various positions to see which appeals to your cat the most. In general, cats prefer sisal scratching material and a vertical tower or post. However, some cats prefer corrugated cardboard, wood, carpet squares, or other material for scratch pads. Regardless of which material and item you choose, ensure the scratching surface is at least one and a half times the length of your cat when fully stretched out. A too-short tower will be insufficient for your cat’s scratching needs, so they’ll search for a longer or taller spot, like a couch arm or drape.

#2: Use positive reinforcement to encourage your cat to scratch in appropriate areas

While you may feel tempted to spray your cat with a water bottle or yell when you catch them clawing your furniture, do not punish your cat, which will only make them frightened and anxious, and they may turn to scratching in less obvious, but still undesirable, areas. Instead, use positive reinforcement to reward your cat for scratching acceptable surfaces. If your cat is reluctant to use their scratching post, lure them with treats or toys, and then give them space to explore. Sprinkling catnip can also encourage your cat to use an appropriate scratching surface—when they do, reward them heavily with praise, pets, and treats. 

#3: Trim your cat’s nails regularly

When your cat leaps onto your lap and begins to knead, you likely feel the sharp prick of untrimmed nails. Nails that become too long can curl around into your cat’s paw pads, and they can be exceptionally destructive. Keeping your cat’s nails trimmed to an appropriate length will help prevent them from inadvertently scratching you and your household belongings.

To trim your cat’s nails, gently press on the paw near the toes so the claw extends. Most cats have white or clear nails, so the quick (i.e., the pink blood vessel and nerve) is clearly visible. Clip the nail slightly before the quick, in the clear portion of the nail, where the nail generally begins to curve and form a hook, so that you trim the sharp hooks. If your cat does not tolerate nail trims well, or you are unsure of where to trim the nails, contact our Adamson Veterinary Services team for help.

#4: Apply nail caps

Nail caps are soft covers that can be applied to your cat’s nails to prevent scratching. First trim the nails, and then apply the caps with a strong adhesive. Nail caps are not a permanent solution and need to be applied every four to six weeks, or however long your cat’s nails take to grow out and the caps to fall off. 

#5: Manage your cat’s anxiety

Stress and anxiety can be major contributors to a cat’s inappropriate scratching. Things that can cause a cat stress include:

  • Abrupt schedule changes
  • Environmental changes
  • Family dynamic changes
  • New pets
  • Dirty litter boxes
  • Lack of environmental enrichment
  • Inter-cat aggression
  • Inadequate hiding and climbing spots
  • Boredom

Keeping your cat entertained with plenty of physically and mentally stimulating activities can do a lot to stave off boredom-induced stress. Easing into household routine or schedule changes can also prevent anxiety in these creatures of habit. A comfortable, enriching environment should help reduce your cat’s stress, but if they persist in inappropriate scratching, they may benefit from additional therapies. Pheromone diffusers can emit calming pheromones, and anti-anxiety supplements and medications may help pets with more severe anxiety.

Declawing your cat may seem an easy solution to inappropriate scratching, but the procedure can cause negative long-term health and behavior issues. Make an appointment to talk to our Adamson Veterinary Services team about alternative solutions that will help stop your cat from scratching.