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Nailed it! Four ways to stop your cat from scratching indoors

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Learn about why your cat scratches, and how you can stop him.

With their curious natures, graceful bodies and furry little faces, cats make wonderful companions. So whose idea was it to put tiny little knives on their feet?

Luckily for us, our cats spend most of the time with their claws safely retracted. But that doesn’t help our sofas, wallpaper, curtains or carpets, all of which can find themselves under repeated and merciless attack. So why do cats scratch, and how can we stop them doing it?
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Why do cats scratch?

Cats scratch around the house for a number of different reasons, and it’s important to figure out why your cat is scratching before you can begin to address the behaviour:

  • To keep their claws healthy – a cat’s claws are constantly growing and renewing, and scratching encourages the outside ‘husks’ of the claw to come away, revealing new (and sharper!) claws beneath. You can often find these husks embedded in or scattered around places your cat likes to scratch
  • To mark their territory – scratching leaves visual and scent messages to other cats, letting them know that this is your cat’s home. If your cat is scratching near the door or cat flap, this could well be the reason
  • To attract your attention – cats may seem aloof, but actually they love to interact with people, and scratching can be a way of getting you to notice them
  • Because it feels good – scratching helps exercise the muscles of the back and shoulders, and it’s pretty obvious from anyone who spends time with cats that they love a good scratch!

So now we know why their doing it, how can we persuade them to stop?

1. Provide an alternative scratching point
If your cat is scratching to sharpen her claws, then the obvious solution is to buy a scratching post as an alternative target. This is easier said than done, as your cat may have taken a fancy to a particular piece of furniture or section of wallpaper! Start by placing the scratching post in front of a favourite scratching point, and encourage your cat by gentle rubbing her paws on the new post. Scratching posts are designed with scratching behaviour in mind, so with any luck your cat will cotton on quite quickly as to what this odd looking thing is for! 

2. Bribery

You’ve been gently and patiently encouraging your cat to use her new scratching post – but she’s not at all interested. It’s time to try bribery. Place treats on top of the post, and give your cat lots of attention if she uses it correctly. Now try blocking off the old scratching points – hopefully she’ll learn to love her new post, rather than simply move onto a different sofa or patch of carpet!

3. Help your cat feel more secure
If your cat is scratching near the door, window or cat flap, then the chances are she’s feeling insecure in her territory. There are a number of things you can do to help her feel less stressed:

  • Install a cat flap that restricts entry to other cats (for example a microchip-activated cat flap)
  • Clean the places where your cat is scratch-marking – removing the smell can prevent your cat coming back to the same spot
  • Make your home smaller by restricting access to a number of ‘non-essential’ rooms – allowing your cat to slowly become more comfortable in the main rooms, like the kitchen, living room and hallway
  • Create sitting platforms in high places, so your cat can survey her territory from on high, and feel more confident that there are no intruders
  • Help your cat scent mark your house (yes, really!). Cats have scent glands in their cheeks, which is why they often rub things with their faces. Rub your cat’s cheek with a cloth to collect some of this scent, and then rub the cloth around the house, helping your cat to feel more relaxed in her territory. You can also buy cat pheromone products that claim to reduce cat stress in a similar way
  • Don’t shout at or punish your cat for scratching, as this can make her even more stressed, and more prone to scratch-marking
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4. Playtime!
Many cats love to get attention from their human friends, but aren’t always sure of the best way to attract it. It’s possible that your cat has figured out that, while she’s ignored when she uses the scratching post, having a few swipes at the new leather sofa is a sure way of getting noticed! Spending more time playing with your cat and buying her new toys may help reduce her scratching problem. And making a fuss of her when she uses the ‘official’ scratching post may also help to change her behaviour.

The most important thing to remember about cat scratching is that it’s a natural behaviour for a cat, and one we shouldn’t try to prevent. Rather, we need to persuade our cats to enjoy a good scratch on the designated scratching post. Good luck!