Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cat Scratch Fever

Cats scratch, a lot, and they seem to be very good at finding places to scratch that we don’t appreciate.  Like on my blue arm chair.  Or the leg of the newly refinished dining table.  When my cats transitioned from being indoor/outdoor cats with a cat door to strictly indoor cats, scratching became an issue for me.  Prior to this, they did most of their scratching outside.  If a cat scratched inside, I would hiss at them and they would stop.  Once they were permanent indoor cats, the scratching got worse and, while I could stop them when I was home, they would scratch like mad when I was gone.  It took a multi-pronged approach to getting the scratching under control. 

Here is a list of things that you can do to help redirect scratching to acceptable places:

  • Provide multiple scratching opportunities so you can figure what your cat likes. 
Many commercial cat towers aren’t structurally sturdy enough for cats to really enjoy scratching on them so if your cat ignores his, don’t give up.  Cats have personal preferences for the texture, softness, and surface of their scratching place.  Some cats have a preference for vertical versus horizontal surfaces.  Some cats like corrugated cardboard scratchers while others prefer twine covered or fabric covered options.  Look at the surface your cat chooses to scratch on and try to replicate it if possible.  I like to provide several options at all times – some horizontal, some vertical and ideally of different textures. 

My cats are most consistent about scratching on corrugated cardboard scratch pads.  They seem to prefer the texture of regular corrugated cardboard scratch pads to the Emery Cat pads.  Make sure the pad is large enough that your cat anchors it securely when he sits on it to scratch.  You can find corrugated scratch pads that hang from a door knob if your cat prefers a vertical arrangement and there are stable slanted options available too.

Lots of cats are very happy with low-tech, homemade solutions too.  If you have someone handy in the household, cut a thick sturdy branch (choose a branch that is at least several inches wider than your cat) and wedge it securely in a corner of the basement or utility room (if that is somewhere your cat is comfortable).  Or get really creative, attach it to a sturdy base and figure out how to work it into your décor!  (Good luck on that one.) 

My new discovery is that my cats *love* to scratch a rolled up area rug.  If you have an old one (or a cheap one but an old cheap one would be best) roll it up so the bottom is facing out and either lay it on the floor or brace it in a corner of the cat room for scratching.  The rug my cats just inherited after our move should last for years. 

  • Make the right locations fun. 
My cats love catnip so I put a little catnip on their scratching spots each day when I feed them.  This encourages them to roll, play and scratch in that particular area.  I try to sift the catnip into the corrugated cardboard pads a little bit so they really work to get it out. 

If your cat doesn’t really like catnip, try the Cosmic Catnip brand.  My guys are pretty unimpressed by some of the other brands but really love Cosmic Catnip.  If you have multiple cats, make sure you provide multiple scratchers/catnip locations as some cats will get rowdy and play rough or beat up on each other when given catnip. 

If you are really ambitious, you could reward your cat for scratching in the right spots with treats.  You could even break out a clicker and click-treat for interaction with the scratching pad. 

If you have dogs, put the appropriate scratching opportunities in a room separate from the dogs.  Lots of dogs like to “help” correct cats when they are scratching and you don’t want your dog to deter your cat from scratching in the right place. 

  • Make the wrong locations not fun. 
Anything that changes the texture of the surface will help.  Double sided tape or covering a horizontal surface with saran wrap or tin foil can help deter scratching.  Active corrections like squirting your cat with a spray bottle filled with water or tossing a penny can near him may help deter inappropriate scratching.  (A penny can is an empty soda can that you put a couple of coins in and tape the opening shut.  When you toss it in his direction – not right at him! – it will make a noise that will startle him.)  However, these options will only work when you are home so you will probably need to prevent him from having physical access to this spot when you aren’t home to supervise during the training period. 

  • Trim your cat’s toenails. 
This doesn’t end the problem but it reduces scratching and prevents them from doing much damage if they choose something inappropriate to scratch on.  I just trim front toenails and do it once every week or two (add it to your list of Saturday morning chores).  I sit on the couch with a cat tucked under one arm.  The back of the couch prevents them from being able to back out of my hold.  Then I trim their toenails with normal human fingernail trimmers.    

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