Your cat may seem perfectly domesticated, but she still possesses many of her natural instincts. Pouncing on your feet in the middle of the night, for example, is a throwback to the nights her ancestors spent hunting! Another completely natural, though sometimes frustrating, habit your cat retained is scratching things — and,
in the process, shredding your favorite armchair, or your door frames, or … you get the picture.
The act of scratching provides your cat with three benefits: it conditions her claws, helps her stretch and provides a visual and scent mark of her territory (another behavior held over from her ancestors in the wild). The scratching instinct is deeply ingrained in our feline friends, so it’s unrealistic to think that they will stop simply because we have welcomed them indoors.
The trick to avoiding ruined furniture is to train your cat to scratch surfaces you have deemed appropriate. It won’t necessarily be easy to do, and it will probably take some experimentation, but it will pay off in the end when your furniture — and your loving relationship with your cat — remains intact. Take these pointers into account to promote healthy, happy scratching:
- Up and down, side to side: Take notice of how your cat prefers to scratch. Does she scratch horizontal surfaces, like your beautiful Berber carpet? Or does she prefer vertical surfaces, like the irreplaceable wooden door frames original to your 1920s Craftsman-style house? Use this information to guide you when you purchase a scratching post — there are plenty of horizontal and vertical options from which to choose.
- A surplus of surfaces: Your cat may prefer a post covered in carpet, or she may prefer corrugated cardboard. Another popular choice is a post covered in rope. If your cat isn’t taking to your first choice, try another material until you find one she uses regularly.
- Scratch at first sight: If you have a multilevel home, make sure there’s an appropriate scratching surface on each floor. If your cat gets the urge, chances are she’ll claw your couch rather than going up to the guest bedroom.
- Tricks and treats: Encourage your cat to seek out the places that are OK for her to scratch. Start by using catnip to entice her to her new scratching post, and if you spot her scratching on it, praise her and give her a tasty treat. Conversely, use aluminum foil or double sided sticky tape to cover areas that are inappropriate — like that heirloom grandfather clock in the corner.
Of course, it goes without saying that trimming your cat’s nails will also curb household damage, but it won’t stop her instinctual scratching behavior. By giving your cat appropriate places to scratch and making her old go-to spots unfavorable, you’ll slowly change her behavior. This may be the one time in your life that you can outsmart your cat — so enjoy it!