Cat Scratching

(kindly reproduced from Behaviour Problems in Small Animals by Jon Bowen&Sarah Heath)

Claw marking has the functions of:

  • stretching back muscles after resting
  • claw maintenance and sharpening
  • scent marking as a means of identifying territory to other cats

It may also become a way for your cat to get your attention and cats will often claw the sofa right in front of you and then scamper out of the room waiting to be chased. Cats that carry out excessive clawing can become a nuisance and there are various strategies for dealing with the problem.

For some individuals, claw marking becomes a problem during periods of social tension. It will continue until the tension is relieved, so it may be necessary for your veterinary surgeon or behaviourist to carry out a thorough investigation before the problem can be resolved.

However here is some general advice to reduce the problem of clawing.

Claw marking

The natural location for this is outside the house as it is intended as a signal to other cats to warn them about the boundary of the marking cat’s territory. Many gardens lack good opportunities to claw mark but these can be easily provided. Softwood posts can be installed at the edge of the garden or small sheets of softwood can be fixed to corners of buildings, such as sheds, with the wood grain running vertically. To determine whether a piece of wood is suitable for your cat to claw, try making an indentation in it with your thumbnail. If an indentation is easily made and the wood grain is wide, then the wood is suitable. As an alternative to softwood, you can use lengths or sections of natural tree trunk that has heavily rutted corky type of bark. It is important that the scratching posts are in clearly visible locations and not hidden away. To attract your cat to scratch them, they should be rubbed against existing scratch marking locations so that some of the scent is picked up. They should then be raked vertically with a wire brush to create a few fake scratch marks.

Clawing after resting

When cats wake up, they will often stretch against a piece of furniture, digging their claws in and then making a few clawing movements. There is no way to displace this behaviour so it is best to install a commercially available carpet or hessian covered scratching post close to places where your cat rests and then scratches furniture upon waking. These can be made more attractive to your cat by marking them with heavy, vertical black lines using a permanent felt marker, and then scratching the surface with a few vertical strokes of a wire brush.

Clawing to maintain claw sharpness

Upholstered furnishings and stair carpets provide perfect opportunities for cats to sharpen claws. They want a surface that will catch on the edge of the back part of the claw and then pull off any loose old nail as they wrench their claws out of the surface. Ordinary scratching posts may not provide the right kind of surface for this. Position a hessian or carpet covered post in front of the place your cat usually claws. If this does not attract your cat, then consider covering the post with a thick layer of blanket and then covering this tightly with heavy fabric. This will usually give your cat the texture they are looking for. Choose a fabric that has a strong pattern of stripes and align these vertically, or use blank fabric and make some vertical marks on it with a permanent marker.

Clawing for attention

Cats often claw furniture in front of their owners as a means of getting attention. This presents problems because your cat will rapidly learn that clawing the furniture continues to get a reaction but that clawing the scratching post doesn’t. It is therefore important to look at your cat and react positively when they claw the scratching post but not when they go to scratch the furniture.

Deterring undesirable scratching

Once you have provided your cat with suitable substitutes, it is possible to deter them from scratching other places.

Preventing scratching of softwood(pine wardrobes etc)

If the object has a varnished surface, rub down any existing claw marks and apply a treatment with commercially available wood hardener. This is a polymer which penetrates the wood and dries to make it very tough. Then apply several additional layers of high grade varnish to the object until the surface is very smooth and hard. Test treatment on an inconspicuous section of wood before using it generally to check that the appearance of the object will not be impaired, and allow the varnish to dry completely before allowing the cats to have access to the woodwork that has been painted. You can test the surface again with your thumbnail, you should find that the surface is much harder, which will make it far less appealing to scratch.

If the object has a waxed surface, then it cannot be varnished unless the wax surface is stripped. This will almost certainly damage it. Instead, make up a mixture of solid furniture wax with a few drops of eucalyptus and citronella oil added. Apply this to the clawed area of wood as a polish. It will leave behind an odour that most cats find repellent. If this does not work, make up a preparation of solid furniture wax mixed with a few menthol crystals and several drops of eucalyptus oil and use this as a polish instead.

Soft furnishings

These can be temporarily protected with heavy-grade polythene sheeting, which will make the surface unpleasant to scratch. This is left in place for several weeks until your cat has switched all of their scratching to the posts and pads provided.

Useful links:
www.feliway.com