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February 1, 2016

One of the most common feline behavior questions I am asked is, “How do I stop or prevent my cat from scratching the furniture?”

Retailers who offer solutions for inappropriate scratching to customers increase loyalty and product sales.

Scratching Is Natural

Firstly, owners cannot stop cats from scratching objects. Cats do this for a number of reasons, all of which constitute normal feline behavior.

A cat’s claws are made of keratin, the surface portion of which is sometimes called a sheath. Cat claws grow regularly—which makes sense, given the amount of use they receive. As the claws grow, cats remove the dead portion of the sheath by scratching them on a rough surface.

Cats also scratch to mark territory. This is accomplished by visual marks and by scent patterns that are left during scratching.

Cats—especially kittens—scratch because it is fun, feels good and is a great way for them to explore the texture of new or even familiar items. After a while, some cats learn to scratch as a way of alleviating boredom. Engaging in some sort of physical activity when bored is very common for intelligent animals like cats and is not much different from a dog chewing household objects under similar circumstances.

Any behaviorist will tell you that the way to solve behavioral challenges is to understand root causes of the specific behavior you wish to address. This way, you are dealing with causes and not just symptoms. In the case of scratching, there isn’t usually much you can do to eliminate the root causes, and so the key to addressing the challenge is to strongly focus the cat on scratching the correct item. This is logical, as the more the cat scratches on a correct item, the less it will scratch on something inappropriate.

So what items are appropriate? A sturdy scratching post is best, though there are a number of things I learned to look for after training pets for more than 30 years:

1. I like posts made of sisal fabric. Sisal is a tough, durable fabric not dissimilar in texture to tree bark. Fabric is a better choice than rope because rope can become knotty. As the knots untangle, the rope can catch on the cat’s claws, making the sensation less pleasurable. Some cats can even damage their claws if they catch them on rope threads.

2. Scratching posts should be tall enough for a cat to stretch full length and still be able to scratch the post.

3. The post must be sturdy and not fall over or tilt when the cat attempts to utilize it. This means a strong base and proper construction are critical.

Encourage Appropriate Scratching

Once an owner has a few sturdy sisal scratching posts, the next step is to get the cat to use them. Some people are lucky and must simply put a few posts around the house. Within a day or so, their cats use them and the inappropriate scratching problem is solved. Others, however, may need to condition their cats to use the posts.

Placement of the posts is an important consideration. Advise customers that many cats like to scratch after sleeping, so putting a post or two near the cat’s favorite sleeping areas is a good idea. Other folks report success after putting the scratching posts near things that the cat has already scratched. If the cat has been scratching furrows in a couch, locating a scratching post next to that couch is worth considering.

Owners can also place a small amount of catnip by the base of the post to make it even more attractive.

To further encourage scratching in the right place, owners should offer praise— maybe a small treat—anytime they see the cat using the post.

By following these instructions and with a little patience, most cat owners can address problem scratching in a few weeks to a few months.

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