How You Can Train Your Cat/Kitten To Scratch Appropriately
Cats scratch to scent-mark and keep their paws and claws feeling good.
Training a feline friend to scratch only what belongs to them is simple. You can prevent or eliminate damage to your belongings by communicating with your cat. It will be a very rewarding and satisfying experience that will make both of you feel great!
- Provide an irresistible scratching surface
- Praising and scolding
- Trim your cat’s claws
- Soft Paws and other options
Provide An Irresistible Scratching Surface
Okay, you do not want Cleo to damage your furniture, but scratching is natural and instinctive for cats as it helps them shed layers of claw sheaths, stretch and flex their muscles. Since your can cannot stifle their own desire to scratch, provide an ideal object of desire–a good scratching post.
Some cats prefer vertical surfaces and some prefer horizontal surfaces. A good bet is to buy an inexpensive flat corrugated cardboard scratcher, available almost anywhere, and have it available (as well as a cat post).
The surface of the scratching post should be covered with a rough, tough material–sisal, hemp or something similarly nubby. Carpet does not satisfy most cats, and can confuse them because they will not be allowed to scratch the carpet on the floor of your home.
The scratching post should be sturdy, not shaky, and tall enough so your cat can raise its paws above its head and stretch its body while digging its claws into the surface. It should also have a strong base that will not tip when they scratch.
It is wise to give your cat or kitten an extra scratching surface, such as a corrugated cardboard floor mat or two. It is also a good idea to place a scratching post on each floor of your house or in more than one spot if your house has several rooms.
Introduce your cat to the post, it helps to sprinkle a little catnip onto its surface. () This will interest your cat to the post. Call your cat or kitten to the post in a pleasant and encouraging tone. Stand over the post and pat it calling your cat by name. Try rubbing or scratching the post with your nails. Stroke your cat’s back and follow through to the tail, applying slight pressure. This motion causes many cats to raise their front paws to the post. Many cats do not like if you forcibly put their paws on the post, but some cats will tolerate it. Be audibly pleased even if your cat only comes up and inspects the post. You want the cat to take full possession of the post, so never remove it or obstruct access to it. Another trick to interest your cat in the post is dangling a toy such as a ‘Cat Dancer’ over it. When they lunge at the toy, their paws will land on the textured surface and they will just naturally dig in. Then they will discover that the post has great scratching potential.
A good place for the post is where the cat sleeps or eats. Many cats enjoy a good scratch upon waking and before mealtime. Should your cat show interest in any other surface, the fabric on a sofa or a stereo speaker, place the post in front of the off-limits item to divert your cat’s attention. You can later gradually move the post to a more desired location.
Praise–soothingly delivered–speeds the learning process. You may think your cat often ignores you, but they are just pretending! They know when you are happy with them and as time goes by, continue to praise them when they scratch; even after she is sufficiently trained. This further cements her good feelings about her post and reminds her that you are pleased. Even middle-aged and older cats enjoy this type of praise.
It is important to remember that you should never play with your cat or kitten with just your bare hands. Always have a toy in your hand when you play. If your kitten pounces on you or grabs you with their claws, remove them, scold them sternly, and distract them with a toy or their post. A cat who thinks that your ‘paws’ are great interactive toys is one who will pounce, bite or scratch you at the most inopportune moments. It is a habit that should not be started.
Praising & Scolding
Consistent scolding is crucial to the learning process. It can help break an established habit of raising paws to the wrong objects. Every piece of furniture and carpet should be off limits, all the time. No piece of human furniture, even if designated for the cat should be all right to scratch. The distinction between the two is not clear to your cat.
Scold in a low, serious voice. Say, “Nooooo, Cleo!” and remove her if she lingers. then take her gently to her post and pat on it, encouraging her. Do not force her to scratch, but rather suggest. Praise enthusiastically if she does.
The point is to make her special scratching furniture attractive and your couch unattractive, both emotionally and physically. To physically make your furniture unattractive, many things can be done. A thick throw over the couch works, as it moves with your cat’s claws and does not allow your cat to dig in. Certain non-toxic air fresheners, like citrus, mint or lavender, also works for carpeted areas and the like. Double-sided tape, a foil covering or the bottom prickly side of a plastic carpet runner are all surfaces that can protect different items. Most are temporary measures that assist your training, but are removed later. Also a product called Sticky Paws is made for this purpose, and a complete listing is at the end of the article.
Another good deterrent is a can of coins, beans or some other noisemaker because cats hate jarring noises. If they forget and raise their paws to the couch, an unexpected shake of the can works wonders. If your cat is stubborn, a light spray from a child’s water gun or spray bottle also makes a great deterrent. Remember, do not spray at your cat, but rather right next to them. Do this when she lifts her paws to the wrong surface and if verbal correction does not work. Most cats will jump and scat out of there. Remember no to do it out of anger or irritation. They may feel insulted and therefore become more stubborn.
Counteract the scolding by giving them even more encouragement when they show interest in their post. It is important to always do this, because scolding without encouragement frustrates your cat and makes them believe that they are not allowed to scratch anything at all, and this is not the case.
Always remember not to raise your voice too much.
This can upset you and your cat and do more harm than good.
Trim Your Cat’s Claws
The last important component of the training process is clipping your cat’s claws. This should be done from the beginning, and even adult cats that are new to the household can be trained. Again, the process should be done gently and calmly, with as little frustration on your part as possible.
Approach your cat only when you are feeling calm. Put an around around their body and let her face away from you. Try not to press on or restrict her too much, but rather gently encompass her with your arms so that she cannot back or just away. Grasp the front paws farthest from you and put pressure in the middle of it. The claw will become unsheathed and stick out. This does not hurt, but it annoys some cats so go slow. The cat claw is shaped like a scythe, and the part that curs over is what you clips. Using cat clippers (available at any pet store), clip only the part of the claw, and stay away from the inner pick cuticle. There are four toes and one dewclaw on each front paw and four toes on each back paw. Switch side of your cat that is nearest you to do the opposite paw. To clip your cat’s back claws, lean over your cat with your arms around her usually works best. Experience and learn which way is most comfortable for your cat.
Again, praise while you clip. If your cat becomes agitated, keep praising and go slowly. If your cat is instantly agitated, it may work best if you do one or two claws each day. If your cat does not want her paws touched at all, touch them a little bit each day, then more and more to get her use to that first. Do not allow your frustration to affect your manner with your cat. The point is to make it an experience that is not unpleasant. The more you handle her paws the more accustomed she will become to the procedure.
Trimming your cat’s claws makes them blunt and takes away the tips, which do all the damage. Regularly clipped claws are hardly noticeable when you handle your cat and will not snag your clothing or other surfaces. Closely-clipped claws will not harm a leather couch, even when your cat jumps off of it.
Another viable option for claw-clipping is to have your veterinarian’s office do it. For a nominal fee and a brief appointment, the quick visit can become a simple routine for both you and your cat. Whether you do it or have your vet’s office do it, claw-clipping should be done around every three to six weeks depending on your preferences.
Soft Paws & Other Options
There are products that exist to help protect your furniture. Training is the best method because it does not require regular purchases of various materials, but some products work well for certain people and cats. As mentioned before, ‘Sticky Paws’ strips work by making the furniture sticky and therefore unattractive to your cat, yet does not harm the furniture. ‘Soft Paws’ claw caps are applied to the cat’s claws and cover them so that your cat can still use their claws but not do any damage. However, it should be noted that Soft Paws are not a quick fix if your problem is clipping your cat’s claws. Soft Paws do require application and your cat to sit still for a certain amount of time. Your vet may be willing to help with this process.
It seems that this training process is complicated. It is actually quite easy to learn and the rewards are many. When your cat greets you in the evening by sauntering over to her post and scratching like crazy, you will be thrilled at your success and know that your furniture and other possessions has remained intact.
Parkers Pets on 55th St. has excellent scratching trees made from repurposed wood. Personal testimonial!
Soft Paws Nail Caps – Soft Paws lasts 4-6 weeks. They are safe and non-toxic. To order, call 800.433.7297 or visit their website at www.softpaws.org.
Sticky Paws – Sticky Paws are transparent, acrylic based and non-toxic, and will not harm your cat or your furniture. To order or for more information, call 888.697.2873 or visit their website at www.stickypaws.com.
The Cat Who Cried For Help: Attitudes, Emotions, and the Psychology of Cats, by Dr. Nicholas Dodman
The New Natural Cat: A Complete Guide for Finicky Owners, by Anitra Frazier