Here at Waukesha Animal Hospital we have made the decision to no longer perform declaw surgeries on cats. Declawing is a surgical amputation and is not medically necessary or beneficial to the cat in any way. Scratching is a natural behavior and cats can be successfully trained to scratch on appropriate surfaces, instead of furniture and undesirable places. This blog post provides resources for helpful products and tips for training.
Cats scratch while stretching their bodies. It’s used for scent marking and to show territorial confidence. It can also be a precursor to play. Even cats that have been declawed will go through these scratching motions. Most cats prefer to stretch out their body and scratch vertically while some cats will scratch horizontal surfaces like carpeting. The goal is not to stop the cat from scratching, but rather to re-direct them to surfaces that are provided for this purpose.
Starting training as a kitten is preferable, but cats of any age can be trained to avoid scratching furniture as long as enough appropriate and desirable surfaces are provided. The key is to make the desired surfaces as appealing as possible and the undesirable surfaces as unappealing as possible.
It is important to figure out which inappropriate objects/furniture in your house your cat prefers to scratch. As soon as possible you want to make these areas unappealing. Things to try:
- Put double sided sticky tape (like Sticky paws tape) on the surface. Cats don’t like the sticky feeling and will quickly learn to avoid the surface
- Cover with aluminum foil or plastic (don’t use plastic if your cat likes to chew plastic)
- Place vinyl carpet runners with spiky side up at the base of surface/furniture
- Rub strong smelling dryer sheets on the surface
- Spray citrus scents or diluted white vinegar on the area
- Set up motion activated spray deterrents like SSSCat spray deterrent right in front of the area
At the same time, make sure there are plenty of approved scratching surfaces available nearby and make these as appealing as possible. Things to try:
- SmartCat Ultimate scratching post (available at Petco, Chewy.com or Amazon)
- SmartCat Bootsies combination scratcher (can be used on floor or wall mounted)
- Corrugated cardboard scratchers (available at WalMart or Amazon)
- Home made vertical scratching posts made with sisal rope or carpeting. Find ideas and directions online
- Rub cat nip on desired surfaces and/or hang toys on or near posts
- Use feline pheromones like Feliway Optimmune diffuser to reduce stress and inter-cat conflicts
- Feliscratch is a feline attractant that can be applied to scratching posts to make them more desirable. It does leave a blue “stain” so should be used with care. Read and follow all instructions for use
Another option to consider is glue on acrylic nail caps that fit over each nail. These usually need to be reapplied every 4-6 weeks. These can be used temporarily during the training process if you cannot bear to have any furniture scratched during training. Cats will still have the desire to scratch, but won’t harm surfaces they scratch on. Do an online search for:
- Soft paws (https//www.softpaws.com)
- Purrdy paws nail caps
Training your cat to allow nail trimming and keeping nails trimmed on a regular basis will help reduce damage from scratching as well.
Sometimes scratching of surfaces can indicate stress, anxiety or territorial conflicts with other cats in the household. It is important to identify causes of stress/anxiety and to provide adequate resources in different areas for each cat (scratching areas, litterboxes, food bowls, beds and vertical spaces to get away from each other) to help avoid conflict between cats. If scratching suddenly increases, try to identify what may be causing stress for the cat. Using products like Feliway (a calming feline pheromone) spray or diffusers can be helpful to diffuse conflict in multi-cat households or for anxious cats.
Teaching your cat to spare your furniture and only scratch on approved surfaces can be done with understanding, patience and persistence. You can’t have too many appropriate scratching surfaces. It can be very helpful to provide several options throughout the house so your cat always has a desirable scratching place within easy reach. Make the wrong thing unpleasant and the right thing appealing!