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Why Cats Scratch and What You Can Do About It

Your cat is not trying to tell you something by scratching your furniture or drapes. In fact, cats scratch objects in their environment for many perfectly normal reasons—for example, to remove the dead outer layer of their claws, to mark their territory, to stretch their bodies and flex their feet and claws, or to work off energy. The goal should not be to prevent the scratching, but to redirect it to acceptable objects.

First, you must provide objects that are appealing, attractive, and convenient from your cat’s point of view. Based on what you observe to be your cat’s preferences, substitute similar objects and place them in a stable position near the inappropriate ones (which you can cover with sticky tape or something your cat won’t want to touch). Once your cat is consistently using a new object, it can be moved—gradually—to a new location.

Do NOT punish your cat for scratching. It won’t change the behavior and may cause your cat to be afraid of you or the environment. It may even elicit defensive aggression. You might try making a loud noise (with a whistle or gravel-filled soda bottle) or using a water-filled squirt bottle when you catch your cat in the act of scratching inappropriate objects. In this way, your cat won’t associate the response with you.

You should clip the sharp tips of your cat’s front claws every two weeks or so; but you must accustom your cat to this process and make it a pleasant experience. You can do this by gently petting your cat’s legs and paws while offering a treat. Gradually increase the pressure so that it becomes gentle squeezing, and continue doing this until your cat tolerates this kind of contact.

To trim your cat’s claws, apply a small amount of pressure to the paw until a claw is extended. You should be able to see the pink, or “quick,” which is a small blood vessel. Don’t cut into this pink portion, as it will bleed and be painful. Several types of pet claw trimmers are available. Use these instead of your own nail clipper. Until you and your cat become accustomed to the routine, one claw or foot a day is enough of a challenge. Don’t push it, or you’ll both have only negative memories of claw clippers!

The Humane Society of the United States opposes declawing cats solely for the convenience of the owner. However, if it is a choice between declawing or giving up your cat, we would rather your cat stay in your home as your lifelong companion. If you decide to have your cat declawed, we suggest you have the surgery done at the same time that your cat is spayed or neutered. Never have rear paws declawed, and be sure to always keep your cat indoors; without claws, cats are unable to defend themselves or climb to escape.

Adapted from materials developed by the HSUS: Pets for Life Series.

Written by Sarah Orrick



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