Destructive Scratching in Cats
Why do cats scratch?
It is normal for cats to scratch objects in their environment. Cats scratch
- It conditions the claws by removing the dead outer layer or sheath.
- It is a way of marking territory by leaving both a visual mark and an odor
or scent (cats have scent glands on their paws).
- It is a way of stretching the entire body and flexing the feet and claws.
- It is used during play.
- It may be that cats communicate dominance by scratching in front of
Because scratching is a normal behavior, and one which cats are highly
motivated to display, it is unrealistic for owners to try to prevent their cats
from scratching. Instead, the goal in resolving scratching problems is to
redirect the behavior onto acceptable objects.
Should I discipline my cat for scratching?
There may be occasions when constructive discipline is necessary to correct undesirable behavior. Constructive discipline only works if you catch your cat in the act of scratching. NEVER DISCIPLINE YOUR CAT IF YOU DO NOT CATCH HIM SCRATCHING. Constructive discipline after the fact will not change the behavior. Instead, your cat will likely learn not to scratch in your presence because constructive discipline will occur, but will learn it is OK to scratch when you are absent, because constructive discipline does not take place.
If discipline is interactive, it may cause your cat to be afraid of you or the environment, and may provoke defensive aggression. You may find it is far more effective to use remote intervention, in which you do not directly interact with the cat. Ideas for remote intervention include making a loud noise (whistle, pop can or pill bottle filled with rocks, or slap the wall), or use a water filled squirt bottle. If used by itself, however, constructive discipline is not going to be effective in stopping scratching problems, because it does not teach the cat where to scratch as an alternative.
How can I train my cat to scratch acceptable objects?
1) You must provide objects for scratching which are appealing and attractive
from the cat's point of view. If your cat is scratching unacceptable objects,
observe the physical features of these items:
- Where are they located? (prominent objects, objects close to
sleeping areas, and areas near the entrance to a room are often chosen)
- What type of texture are they? (soft, coarse, etc.)
- Are they horizontal or vertical objects?
- How tall are they? At what height does the cat scratch?
The answers to these questions will help you understand your cat's
2) Substitute similar but acceptable objects for the cat to scratch on
(carpeted, corrugated cardboard, or sisal posts or possibly a log). These
objects should meet the cat's criteria you determined in Step 1. Place these
objects near the inappropriate objects that the cat is already using. Make sure
the object is stable and won't fall over or move around when the cat uses
3) Cover inappropriate objects with something the cat will not find appealing
such as double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, sheets of sandpaper, old bed
sheets, plastic carpet runner with the point side up, or attach cotton balls
with perfume, a muscle rub, or some other unpleasant odor. Be careful with odors
- you don't want that nearby acceptable object to smell unpleasant!
4) When the cat is consistently using the appropriate object. it can be moved
very gradually (about 1 inch/day) to a location more suitable to the
owner. It is best to keep the appropriate scratching object as close to the
cat's preferred scratching location as possible.
5) Do not remove the unappealing coverings or odors until the cat is
consistently using the appropriate objects in their permanent location for
several weeks or a month. They should then be removed gradually, not all at
Should I declaw my cat?
Due to various risks and potential complications involved, we discourage declawing. Ultimately, declawing is a decision only you, the cat owner, can make. Objective studies suggest that declawed cats are no more likely to bite or have litter box problems than are clawed cats. Consult with your veterinarian regarding risks
and benefits of declawing surgeries. If the choice is between the cat losing its
home orbeing declawed and NOT losing its home, we would much rather see the
cat stay in its home and be a lifelong companion. If you do decide to have your
cat declawed we would make the following recommendations:
- if possible, have the surgery done when the cat is spayed or neutered
- only declaw the front paws
- keep your cat indoors
How do I trim my cat's nails?
Before trimming your cat's nails, get it used to having its paws handled and squeezed. Begin by gently petting the cat's legs and paws while giving it a treat, making this a pleasant experience. Gradually increase the pressure so that petting becomes squeezing, as you will need to do to extend the claw. Continue with the treats until your cat will tolerate this kind of touching and restraint. This may take longer with cats that have rarely had their legs or paws handled.
Apply a small amount of pressure to the cat's paw, with your thumb on top of the paw and your index finger under the paw, until the claws are extended. You should be able to see the pink or "quick", which is a small blood vessel. You DO NOT want to cut into the pink portion as it will bleed and be painful for the cat. If you cut off just the sharp tip of the claw, it will dull the nail and prevent extensive damage to household objects and to skin. The nails can be trimmed weekly. There are several types of pet nail trimmers, or your own nail clipper can be used. If a nail clipper is used it is important to keep it perpendicular to the claw so as not to crush it (see image below).
©2005 Cat Care Society