First your cat disemboweled the couch. Then he started putting hieroglyphics on the antique furniture with his claws. Why are cats so darn destructive?

In the cat’s mind, they’re not. Cats have a strong, natural desire, no make that need, to scratch. It is an inherited, normal behavior.

Cats scratch for a lot of reasons. An important one is to condition their claws. Scratching removes that old dead outer layer to be replaced by new growth. Think of it more like a snake shedding its skin rather than sharpening a kitchen knife.
Manicure may be needed
In fact, so important is this nail-sheath shedding function that when an old cat becomes arthritic and stops scratching effectively, its nails can overgrow, curl around and injure its toe pad. You should examine the feet of old cats and manicure their nails if they can’t.

Cats scratch as a visual and olfactory marker. Scent from glands in their paws leave a tell tale sign that says, “I live here!!” And even when the scent is gone, the visual mark remains for everyone to see.

The instinct to scratch begins at about one month after birth. A cat normally chooses a prominent vertical object to scratch and returns to the same location. To scratch, the front claws are withdrawn and extended alternately, gripping the surface.

Scratching is important to cats, so rather than try to stop them, we need to provide them with something they will prefer to scratch on and reduce the attractiveness of those things we don’t want them to scratch.

First and foremost, the constructive scratching surface needs to meet your cat’s needs and preferences. Some cats prefer free standing scratching posts, sleeping perches and climbing areas (make sure they’re stable,) whereas others like a scratching surface that is hung on a piece of furniture or on a door.

Whatever their choice, cats prefer a material that is loosely woven so that their claws can hook into the fabric and tear the fabric using long longitudinal strokes, like sisal, cardboard, wood or wood composite surfaces. Often carpet is too durable, won’t tear or the cat’s claws catch, and then the cat will refuse to use it. But, unless the scratching post is completely destroyed, DON’T replace it. Most cats prefer a post that is worn, stringy and easy to rip.

When it comes time to replace, set the new post alongside the old one until it becomes accepted.

“For a cat scratching post to fulfill its biological function as a sign post, it needs to be in a prominent location,” says Dr. Janice Willard of Moscow, Idaho. “This is why cats might scratch one corner of the couch and leave the other untouched. The scratched corner is in the important location. A common mistake is to put the scratch post in an out-of-the way place, then wonder why the cat isn’t using it.
Use the post, please!
How can you get a cat to start to use a scratching post? Have what Dr. Rolan Tripp the founder of AnimalBehavior.net refers to as the “designated kitten-proof area” or “safe room” When training or retraining your cat to use a scratching post, don’t let them have the run of the house. Because cats frequently scratch and stretch after waking, it is also a good idea to put a post close to the cat’s sleeping area or by where the cat has started to scratch inappropriately (i.e. right in front of the corner of the couch.)

If you find that your cat is still reluctant to use the scratching post, try a different texture and location. You may also try positive reinforcement (rewards) to make the post more appealing.

Once the cat awakens, use food or a toy as a lure to get the cat to approach the post. Hold the lure part way up the post and wait until the cat stretches or scratches before giving it the reward. Some experts recommend misting the post with spray catnip to attract them to the area, loosen them up a bit and get them started with some constructive scratching.

Make the areas you don’t want your pet to touch less appealing during the retraining process by covering them with foil, or plastic sheeting. Another tip is to put plastic carpet runners, with the pointy side sticking out, on the floor where the cat wants to stand to scratch.

Cats hate the feeling of something sticking to the bottoms of their feet, so place double sided tape on the furniture that the cat is trying to scratch on. Sticky Paws is a product that won’t leave a residue on furniture and is made specifically for this purpose (www.stickypaws.com). Be sure to clue human family members to the tape locations.
Dr. Marty Becker is the coauthor of “Chicken Soup For The Horse Lover’s Soul” and a popular veterinary contributor for ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Write to him in care of Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, 790 National Press Building, Washington, DC 20045.


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