by Jason Carey, Humane Society of Central Arizona
Furniture scratching. So many people are convinced this is a behavior displayed by cats just for the sheer thrill of destroying the living room sofa or treasured antique chair. If you live with a cat who has turned your upholstery into mere shreds, you’re probably at your wit’s end in terms of whether keeping kitty means abandoning all hope of ever having intact furniture again.
The problem is that you might have gone at this the wrong way. You were trying to train your cat to NOT do something that is actually a normal and essential part of being feline.
Cat scratching is normal. Scratching is important and more complex than you may realize. You may be under the misconception that scratching is merely kitty’s attempt to sharpen his claws to razor-sharp perfection or that the behavior is based on a willful attempt to get back at you or destroy his surroundings. In truth, scratching serves many purposes. In addition to conditioning the claws, it’s a very effective way for the cat to stretch his back and shoulder muscles.
Scratching also serves as a marking behavior for cats. The marks left on an object when the cat rakes his claws vertically create a visual sign for others who pass by. In an outdoor setting, these visual markers are important because they provide any approaching cats to see that they’re entering an area where another cat has been or is currently residing. This advance warning system can reduce the number of actual physical confrontations cats may otherwise have.
When the cat scratches an object, he also leaves an olfactory mark by way of scent glands in the paw pads. This way, should another cat approach the scratch mark, he would be able to gather information from the pheromones (scent chemicals).
Scratching is also used as an emotional release or displacement behavior. When your cat is anxious, happy, excited or frustrated, he can release some of that built-up emotion by scratching. Think of the times you’ve seen your cat scratching on an object after a nap or when you’ve come home from work. You may even have noticed him scratching after an encounter with a companion cat. This emotional release through scratching is healthy for the cat.
Since scratching is so complex, and a vital part of feline life, you’ll need an effective training method to redirect kitty. You can’t just shoo him away from the sofa. You have to provide a scratching post that meets his needs. The behavior modification technique begins by making sure you have a scratching post that meets the qualifications: appealing texture, tall enough, stable and placed in a good location. In general, the most appealing texture for cats is sisal. The rough texture makes it easy for cats to dig their claws in and get an effective scratch. Carpet-covered posts are too soft and don’t meet the needs of most cats when they’re looking for a place to scratch. Additionally, many cats end up getting their claws caught in the carpet loops.
The height of the scratching post should enable the cat to get a full stretch. If the post is too small the cat has to hunch over to use it and that doesn’t allow for a good back and neck stretch. If that’s the case, kitty will probably seek out a taller option, and I’ll bet you can figure out what that option will be — your sofa! Make sure the tall post is also very stable. A tall post needs a wide base in order to prevent it from toppling over the first time kitty leans against it.
Even a great scratching post will just gather dust if you stick it in some far off location. When a cat needs to scratch, he’ll look for the closest object that meets his needs. Keep the post where kitty likes to spend time.
If you have more than one cat, you’ll need more than one scratching post. Although you can’t specifically assign a post to a specific cat, if you place the posts in areas where the different cats tend to spend the most time, you may find they may just claim the posts on their own.
For cats who like to scratch horizontally, there are inexpensive corrugated cardboard scratching pads available at your local pet product store.
If your cat has been scratching a piece of furniture, place the scratching post right next to it. You can cover the piece of furniture with a sheet, if the area being scratched is isolated to just a few spots, place a few strips of Sticky Paws on it. This is a double-faced tape made specifically for this purpose. The product is available at your local pet supply store. This way, when the cat comes over to scratch the furniture, he’ll see that the area isn’t as appealing and at the same time, he’ll notice the much better option in the form of a top of the line scratching post.
Remember, scratching is natural and healthy for cats. It is not a spiteful behavior! But the furniture is not an appropriate scratching post. Luckily, with a little planning, a cat’s urge to scratch can be accommodated without damage to furniture or belongings. Properly designed scratching posts or pads, placed strategically, can ensure happy cats and happy cat owners.
Featured on this page are just a few of the many wonderful pets available for adoption at the Humane Society of Central Arizona, located at 602 W. Wilson Court, just south of Main Street. Hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Closed Sunday and holidays. Adoptable pets are already spayed or neutered and current on vaccinations. For more information, call (928) 474-5590 or visit our Web site at www.humanesocietycentralaz.org.
Boots is a 3-year-old, spayed female domestic short hair who is an outgoing, affectionate girl. She loves people and enjoys nothing more than just being with them. She has lived with other cats, dogs and kids. Boots will make a great addition to a loving family looking for a sweet girl to call their own.
Buddy is a 3-year-old, neutered male Hound mix who is an easygoing boy with a few tricks up his sleeve! He knows “sit” and “lay down” and can “shake” with both paws! He likes regular walks and gets along with most other dogs, especially friendly females. Buddy has lived with kids of various ages, but should not go to a home with cats or chickens.
Dante is a 5-year-old, neutered male domestic medium hair. He is a big boy, with an equally big heart. He loves people and will rub up against you, asking for some attention. Dante has lived with cats and likes to play, but prefers a home without dogs. Dante has also lived with older kids and is very affectionate. He likes to meow and talk and isn’t afraid to tell you that he wants some of your time and attention.
Hope is a 4-year-old, spayed female Weimaraner mix. She is a calm, gentle girl who really comes out of her shell when the tennis balls start flying! She is friendly, but quiet, and doesn’t jump for attention. Hope is good with other dogs, and would make a wonderful weekend hiker or walking buddy.
Maynard is a 10-year-old, neutered male domestic short hair. He is 13 pounds of pure love and affection for people. He’ll be your best friend the moment you walk through the door! He doesn’t like to play with a lot of toys, but is great with other cats and kids. Maynard could thrive in most any household.
Moe is a 1-year-old, neutered male Spaniel mix. Does your dog need a friend? Moe is an energetic young dog with a calm, friendly demeanor. He is a little shy at first, but warms up quickly with attention. He has a great rapport with other dogs, and makes a great play buddy. Moe can go to a home with kids of all ages.
Molly is a 5-year-old, spayed female Tabby who is a very gentle and loving cat. She enjoys being in high places to watch out for the invading dust bunnies! Molly would do better in a one cat house where she could get all the attention all the time. You’ll find that she is very laid back and would love to spend time with you.
Penelope is a 4-month-old, spayed female smooth collie mix and a fun, playful puppy looking for new friends! Penelope doesn’t have any training, but sure loves attention and would make a great trainee. She likes to play fetch, but is still working on bringing the ball back. Penelope loves other dogs, even crabby ones! They can’t help but wag their tails when she play bows and tries to make friends.