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Destructive Scratching by Cats

Destructive Scratching by Cats

Scratching is a normal, but sometimes unwanted feline behavior. It is one of many ways a cat marks its territory, which is why it so often occurs in obvious places and on easily destructible things such as couches and curtains.

Understanding why cats mark is helpful when crafting a solution for your kitty. Cats will happily scratch a scratching post or pad that meets their needs. Since the point of a mark is to be seen, scratching posts must show the effects of scratching. Materials such as cardboard, sisal, and carpet that respond to scratching with dandling shreds and threads work very well. The post or board also must be tall enough to allow your cat to stretch out when scratching and really engage with the scratcher. A 3-foot-tall post works for most cats. Provide your cat a scratching smorgasbord of vertical and horizontal scratchers of a variety of textures to see what it likes best.

It is also important to place the scratchers where they can be seen. Think of the number on your house or mailbox. You want it where it is visible. If you put it on the inside of the door or mailbox, no one would know where you live. If your cat doesn’t go for the well-placed scratcher, try sprinkling some catnip at the base of it. If your cat has already chosen places to mark, such as the corner of the couch, make that surface inaccessible by blocking or covering it with something unappealing such as plastic sheeting. Then place the new scratching post nearby.

Like other forms of marking, excessive scratching also may indicate that your cat is suffering from stress. Lack of stimulation and exercise is a common stressor for indoor cats.

Adding daily play sessions, puzzle toys, forage feeders, and window seats overlooking bird feeders may reduce unwanted scratching.

Social stress is another common problem in multi-cat homes. Many cats prefer to keep a distance from their feline companions at least some of the time. To relieve social stress, allow your cats to spread out by creating an “atmosphere of plenty.” Double up on food and water bowls, favorite toys, and resting places and place them at a distance from one another so your cats have the option of solo enjoyment when they need it.

Declawing is not the answer. It is a painful process with the potential for lifelong complications. More importantly, removing a cat’s claws may solve the problem for people but it does not address the underlying problem for the cat. Providing appropriate scratching opportunities and/or managing environmental stress has the potential for meeting everyone’s needs and making all family members, human and feline, happy.

Dr. Borns-Weil says...

Dr. Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, DACVB

Dr. Borns-Weil, DVM, DACVB

Board-Certified Animal Behaviorist

Since the point of a mark is to be seen, scratching posts must show the effects of scratching.