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Scratching is a natural behavior for cats.

Scratching is a natural behavior for cats and serves several important purposes. Photo CC-BY-NC fine_pan

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

We adopted a male cat a year ago who we absolutely adore. Due to financial reasons, we recently decided to move in with my in-laws. They are fine with cats–except they just bought expensive all new leather furniture for their living room. My father-in-law insisted that we declaw our cat, as he is very afraid that the furniture will be ruined. I refused because I am concerned about my cat’s quality of life, and we eventually came to a compromise: We don’t have to declaw the cat but the cat has to stay in one of two upstairs rooms at all times. I wasn’t too worried, because our apartment was pretty small already and I thought he would be used to it, but now that we’ve moved in I’m concerned that he isn’t getting enough interaction time with us. When we eat, watch movies, or do anything outside of his room he doesn’t get to see us at all. I’m starting to wonder whether it would be better to have him declawed and let him roam about the house and be with us all the time. I just want what is best for him; what is your advice? By the way, we tried soft paws; he chews them off and I’m not convinced they’d protect the furniture to my in-laws’ satisfaction even if he didn’t.

~ Mark

Thomas: Well, Mark, first let us say that we’re so grateful for your concern about your cat’s quality of life, whether the issue is declawing or isolation. We particularly commend you for not wanting to declaw your cat. And we think we’ve got some tips that will help you and your kitty!

Bella: As we’re sure you know, scratching is a natural behavior for cats. It helps kitties stretch their whole bodies, and the scent glands in their paw pads help them to mark their territory.

Tara: So, there are a couple of things you can do to not only help your cat keep his claws but eliminate the isolation of being stuck in one of two rooms.

Thomas: First of all, we don’t know if you’ve tried trimming your cat’s claws. By doing so, you’ll remove the pointiest bits, which cause the most damage.

Bella: Now, claw trimming can be a bit intimidating if you haven’t done it before, but once you (and your cat) get used to it, you should find it’s not too much of a challenge, even if you have to only do a couple of claws at a time.

Tara: This video provides a good lesson on claw trimming, and it can help you get started in the right direction.

Thomas: The next thing you’ll want to do is train your cat to use appropriate scratching surfaces.

Bella: This isn’t as hard as it sounds since, as we said, scratching is a natural behavior for cats. You just have to get the right kind of scratching accessories.

Tara: That’s right. Cats  like to scratch vertically and they like to scratch horizontally!

Thomas: For horizontal scratching, we recommend corrugated cardboard scratch pads. These are easy and inexpensive to obtain, and you can find them at just about every pet store.

Bella: For vertical scratching, we recommend a rugged, heavy and tall scratching post.

Tara: Most of the little carpeted ones at pet stores are totally inadequate for kitty scratching needs. First of all, you don’t want to train your cat to scratch on carpet! And secondly, your cat won’t want to scratch on it if his full weight makes the post topple over.

Thomas: Once upon a time, we had one of these Purrfect Scratcher posts. They are purrfect because they’re nice and tall and they’re covered with sisal rope, which is a wonderful, wonderful surface to dig your claws into!

Bella: Mama, can we have one again?

Mama: Yes, darlings, you can. I’ve been meaning to get you one for some time!

Bella: Thank you, Mama!

Tara: You can get a cat interested in scratching a post by first drawing his attention to it …

Thomas: Scratching your fingernails on the post can be a really tempting sound.

Bella: And if your cat likes catnip, rub the post with some of that, too.

Tara: Once your cat is using the scratching post regularly, you can try putting the post by one of the pieces of leather furniture. The idea here is that you’re providing a “yes” that’s even better than the “no” of leather furniture.

Thomas: Like our hero Jackson Galaxy says, “For every no, provide a yes.”

Bella: You’ll probably want to make sure your cat is supervised while he’s in the room with the furniture and the scratch post, at least until you know he’s using the scratch post consistently.

Thomas: Another thing you’ll want to do is provide your cat with surfaces that are his. A nice, tall cat tree can be a great place for a kitty to lounge, and some of them even have sisal poles for scratching as part of their structure.

Bella: Our kitty tree has sisal posts, and I think they’re great to grip on for when I want to climb to the top shelf.

Mama: As a bonus, they do help Bella keep her claws in good shape. The one I bought was from Armarkat, which makes reasonably priced and pretty durable cat trees. It’s the second Armarkat tree I’ve had, and both of them have worked very well. (The first one I had, I donated to a cat shelter when we moved across the country.)

Tara: Mama, I need my claws trimmed.

Mama: I know, sweetheart. I’ve got scratches all over me from when you were sitting in my lap last night!

Thomas: So, Mark, if you trim your cat’s claws, train him to use scratching surfaces, supervise him with your in-laws’ furniture, and get him some prime real estate of his own for use in the main part of the house, you should be able to end your kitty’s isolation and keep him from scratching the expensive leather furniture.

Bella: Good luck to you!

Tara: What about you other readers? How have you trained your cats to scratch on appropriate surfaces?