Distressed blue jeans may be fashionable, but you cannot say the same about your couch. If your cat’s scratching habits have shredded your furniture, you may be asking yourself, “Does my cat really need those claws?” The answer—“Absolutely.” Cat owners often surgically declawed their cats to prevent unwanted scratching and clawing, but advancements in the knowledge and understanding of felines have shown that declawing is a potentially damaging response, and humane alternatives can remedy this behavior issue. Our team at Southwest Vet explains why cats need to scratch and how you can redirect inappropriate scratching. We offer four feline-friendly declawing alternatives. 

Why do cats scratch?

Scratching is not only instinctual for cats, but also beneficial for their health and wellbeing. Several reasons cats scratch include: 

  • Claw conditioning — Cats scratch with their front claws by dragging them on horizontal or vertical surfaces to remove frayed and worn outer nail layers, and to keep the nail sharp and healthy.
  • Satisfying stretch — Cats need to frequently stretch their whole body, which involves scratching as they rise on their hind feet, arch their back, and extend their back legs and paws.
  • Clever communication — When a cat scratches a surface, they apply scent and visual markers to communicate with other cats, and to claim territory. 

When addressing your cat’s inappropriate scratching, the goal should not be preventing the behavior, but rather redirecting them to scratch a more appropriate outlet. Getting frustrated and angry with your cat will make the situation worse, so try the following alternatives instead. 

#1: Provide your cat with enticing scratching posts

Your cat’s physical environment should provide a variety of appropriate scratching surfaces that will entice your cat. Scratching posts are a suitable outlet and can save your carpets, furniture, and drapes. Look for a scratching post that meets the following criteria:

  • Height — Most cats like to scratch vertically, so scratching posts should be taller than your cat’s body length to allow for a full body stretch. 
  • Texture — Try out different textiles, such as sisal rope, cardboard, and carpet, to identify your cat’s preference and ensure they will use the post.
  • Location — Place scratching posts in places your cat frequents, such as near their litter box, play area, or favorite nap spot.

Encourage your cat to make the switch from the couch to the scratching post by sprinkling catnip or lightly spraying catnip-infused mist on and around the scratching post. 

#2: Cap your cat’s claws

Claw covers are adhesive caps designed to fit over your cat’s natural nails and reduce the damage they can do with their claws. The covers come in a variety of sizes, so one will match your cat’s natural shape, as well as fun colors. Claw covers can last for four to six weeks. 

#3: Trim your cat’s nails

Trim your cat’s nails regularly to keep them at an appropriate length. Overgrown nails curve and do not retract completely, and also easily get caught in carpet and other soft surfaces. Ask your veterinarian to demonstrate nail trimming on your cat, which takes a little practice. Then, when you begin trimming your cat’s nails yourself, keep these tips in mind:

    • Use feline nail trimmers for better control and reduced risk of nail splintering.
    • Trim your cat’s nails in a calm environment.
  • Restrain your cat gently to prevent panic or pain.
  • Trim a little at a time, to prevent cutting the quick.
  • Positively reinforce them for good behavior with a high-value treat (or two).

#4: Provide your cat with environmental enrichment

All cats should be kept indoors to ensure they stay safe and healthy, but they need plenty of physical and mental enrichment to alleviate boredom, which can lead to inappropriate scratching and other destructive behavior. Support your cat with these environmental enrichment suggestions:

  • Motion toys — Stimulate your cat’s predatory stalking and pouncing behaviors with toys that trigger chase behavior.
  • Window perch — Window perches offer your cat a spot to sunbathe with a view. A bird feeder outside the window will provide extra natural enrichment. 
  • Food puzzles  — Ditch your cat’s food dish and feed them using puzzles that require problem-solving skills to reach the food.
  • Quality time — Spending quality time with your cat every day is the best enrichment of all. Whether you play with your cat on the floor or cuddle on the couch, you will strengthen your bond with your pet and reduce problem behaviors. 

When your cat scratches the couch or the curtains, they are not criticizing  your decorating—rather, they are behaving like a healthy and normal feline. Our tips should help you redirect your cat’s inappropriate scratching, but do not hesitate to contact our Southwest Vet team if you still have questions, or would like a nail trimming demonstration.