Cat Behavior: Scratching

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While we love our cats, sometimes we don’t always like their behavior. One of your least favorites might be scratching. Scratching is a normal, natural, and necessary behavior for cats. You can’t stop scratching all together, but you can help cats fulfil their natural need to scratch by redirecting their behavior.

Cats are equipped with nails on each of their paws—most cats have five claws on each front foot, and four on each back foot. Polydactyl cats have more toes, which means more nails. Claws are there for a reason! Cats use them to climb, hunt, and protect and defend themselves. They scratch to remove dead nail sheathes, stretch and strengthen their muscles, and communicate to other cats by marking territory.

When cats scratch, they are not trying to make you mad, or “get back at you.” They’re simply fulfilling a natural and necessary instinct. However, there are ways to redirect scratching behaviors:

  • Provide cats with scratching posts around your home. Be sure to put scratching posts where cats are already scratching, like in your living room near the couch. You can also put scratching posts where you’d prefer that they scratch, like in a designated play room.
  • Give cats a variety of scratching options. Offer different scratching textures like: sisal rope, carpet, corrugated cardboard, and natural wood. These textures mimic trees, which is what they like scratching most of all. Also give them a variety of scratching surfaces: vertical, horizontal, and slanted.
  • Keep cats from scratching certain areas using deterrents like double sided tape or aluminum foil. Scents like menthol or citrus also work well, or motion detectors that startle them. When you use deterrents, make sure you have given your cats another place for them to scratch instead.
  • Regularly trim your cats’ claws. Keeping your cats’ claws trimmed may lessen their need to scratch, and will cause less damage when they do scratch. Also, make sure the nail trimmers are sharp, as not to crush the nail. Replace regularly.
  • Give cats lots of toys to play with. Cats sometimes scratch when they “play rough.” Toys can keep your cats entertained, give them an outlet for their energy, and redirect their scratching.
  • Try nail caps. Nail caps cover cats’ claws in form-fitting plastic. They need to be reapplied as the nails grow, but they come in a variety of colors, so it will be fun to switch it up!

When you’re working to address scratching behaviors, be patient and try a variety of approaches. Sharing your home with a cat means helping them fit into your life, as a member of the family. You’ll find something that will work!

It’s important that you DO NOT declaw your cats. Declawing may seem like a quick and easy solution, but it’s not. Declawing is a surgical amputation of the last joints of a cat’s toes, similar to cutting a person’s finger off at the last knuckle—closest to the fingertip. Declawing is unnecessary, inhumane, and can have serious long-term side effects. Declawing often creates behavioral issues, such as biting and urinating outside of the litterbox. Learn more about why declawing is needless and inhumane.

Alley Cat Allies is against declawing cats, and we urge all of you to pledge to never declaw.

If you’re having trouble finding an approach that works, consult a cat behaviorist. They may be able to observe your cat and pinpoint the cause of their behavior. Learn more about cat behavior, including topics like how to stop unwanted behavior like scratching, with our Cat Behavior Webinar Series.

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