Save Your Sofa: How Research Can Help Owners Address Inappropriate Scratching

One of the most common concerns cat owners have is about scratching things that they’d prefer they didn’t.  Cats need a scratching post – or several – as scratching not only helps them shed layers of their claws, it’s instinctual way to designate their space and makes them feel good too!

This week Dr. Leslie Sinn our board certified behaviorist discusses how to ensure your cat, or cats, away from the sofa or other inappropriate furniture and toward a scratching post you will both love!

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I recently had the privilege of reviewing a research article on cat behavior for a major veterinary journal.  The paper provides some fascinating insights that I think will be very helpful to cat owners.

The article by Dr. Moesta published in 2018 in theJournal of Feline Medicine and Surgerywas an owner survey that looked at inappropriate scratching and what methods owners use to deal with the problem. Owners indicated that 83.9% of their cats engaged in inappropriate scratching. Cats seemed to direct scratching behavior primarily at furniture and carpets and, in particular, items that were oriented vertical to the ground. With that information in mind, it should come as no surprise that when owners were asked what kind of a scratching post most cats preferred, it was a vertical one.

Owners commonly used punishment to try to prevent scratching. This included yelling, clapping, spraying water and air, throwing items, shaking a rattle can and even striking or spanking the cat. Interestingly NONE of the methods worked. Most importantly, it was noted that carrying a cat to the post to get it to scratch actually made it LESS LIKELY that the cat would use the post!!

So what does work?  Providing an appropriate scratching post and rewarding a cat for appropriate scratching (using their post) will increase the likelihood that the cat will use its post. What covers the post is also important.  Sisal or carpet covered posts are preferred (Wilson 2016).

Owners should also consider using a recently available product, CEVA’s Feli-Scratch.  It is a pheromone from cats’ paws that is used to mark territory, signaling to the cat that the post is the place to scratch.  Owners using this product saw an 80% increase in the use of the marked posts by their cats.

Preventing access to unacceptable targets by covering furniture or carpets or removing the item helps the cat make the right choice when it needs to scratch. Once scratching has been successfully directed to the scratching post, coverings can be removed and/or the item reintroduced.

Cats scratch after sleeping, after eating, after using the litter box and sometimes between play bouts. The scratching post(s) need to be in proximity to those areas.  Having a scratching post located in the garage when the cat spends the bulk of its time in the sunroom won’t work. In addition, there should be a scratching post on every floor in order to provide ease of access.

To summarize the key points:

-In general, cats prefer a vertical scratching post covered in sisal or carpet (keep in mind that there are individual preferences!).

-Punishment DOES NOT WORK to stop inappropriate scratching and may even cause the cat to be less likely to use the post.

-Setting the house up to meet your cat’s needs by providing a scratching post on every level and near resting, eating and living areas will make it more likely to be used.

– Prevention (covering furniture and carpets), praise and treats for appropriate scratching and the use of pheromones will make it more likely that your cat makes the right choice and directs scratching behavior at a post and not your favorite carpet!

Armed with your new knowledge of normal cat behavior as well as what cats want and need should set you up for success in dealing with your cat’s inappropriate scratching.

Dr. Leslie Sinn

Dr. Leslie Sinn, Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists

To learn more about Dr. Sinn and her practice specializing in behavior for cats, dogs, horses, birds and more – please visit  www.behaviorsolutions.guru

Behavior Solutions for Pets

P.O. Box 116

Hamilton, VA 20159

Moesta A, Keys D, Crowell-Davis S. Survey of cat owners on features of, and preventative measures for, feline scratching of inappropriate objects: a pilot study. J Feline Med Surg. 2018;20(10):891-899.

Wilson C, Bain M, DePorter T, Beck A, Grassi V, Landsberg G. Owner observations regarding cat scratching behavior: an internet-based survey. J Feline Med Surg. 2016;18(10):791-797. doi:10.1177/1098612X15594414.

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[Ask The Expert is a promotional program sponsored by Loudoun Now. The writers have held out that they have experience, training, education and/or certifications to qualify as experts in their fields. Although shared on Loudoun Now‘s online platforms, the writers are solely responsible for this content.]

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