A cat who destroys your furniture and fixtures can be a real headache. Some owners end up feeling forced to decide between living in a house full of ruined chairs, sofas and door-frames or giving up their beloved pets. Excessive scratching in cats isn't something you have to put up with, however. It can be addressed and prevented without harming or abandoning your pet. If you're struggling with a destructive cat, read on to find some solutions.
Cats scratch objects for two main reasons. One is territorial; cats scratch surfaces to mark them as part of the animal's territory. The other reason is that scratching is also necessary for the cat's physical health. Only by scratching can your cat really stretch out and exercise all her muscles and tendons the way she needs to; in addition, scratching prevents ingrown claws by allowing your cat to pull away old claw sheaths.
If your cat is scratching the furniture, it may simply be because she has nothing else to scratch. You can solve the issue by providing a sturdy scratching post or two that she can use instead of your sofa and curtains. For best results, place a scratching post in front of any object or area your cat targets.
Sometimes, though, a cat ignores a perfectly good scratching post in favour of continuing to demolish your woodwork. There can be a number of factors behind this. One is that the cat finds the scratching post uncomfortable or hard to use for some reason. It might be too small, too unstable or have a covering that doesn't suit your cat.
You need to choose a post that's at least half as long as your cat, such that she can stand on her back legs and stretch all the way up with her forelegs to pull down. This pulling-down motion frees the old claw sheaths and gives your cat's leg and chest muscles a nice workout. The base needs to be broad and heavy enough that the post won't wobble or topple over; this can startle your cat and make her reluctant to use the post.
It's a good idea to provide both vertical and horizontal posts. Some cats like to stand up and pull down, while others like to stand on the floor and stretch out. (If your cat is mostly attacking the carpet, a horizontal scratching surface may be the answer.)
Be aware that different surfaces and textures will suit different cats. Most cats are fine with posts covered in wound sisal rope but some object to the prickly texture. In this case, you might look for a fabric-covered or cardboard post. They don't last as long but replacing a cat post is still cheaper than replacing your three-piece suite.
What do you do if you've provided multiple high-quality scratching surfaces, but your cat still scratches things she shouldn't? Since scratching is territorial behaviour, look for things that are making her feel territorially unsafe. If you have more than one cat, try to reduce friction between them. You should have at least two litter-boxes, preferably one more litter-box than you have cats. (For instance, if you have two cats you should have three litter-boxes; three cats, four litter-boxes; and so on.)
You should also provide plenty of spots where your cats can get away from each other, like cat beds, habitats, cat shelves high up on the walls. If your property is visited by strange cats and other animals that your cat can see, you need to find a way of deterring them and keeping them away from your cat's space. They'll make your kitty feel insecure.
Another reason for problem scratching is that your cat is anxious. If the scratching mostly occurs while you're out at work, for instance, your cat may be dealing with separation anxiety. You can often address this by enriching your cat's environment so she's distracted through play and other positive activities. Get her motorised toys, puzzle toys and a cat tree to climb around on. Enlisting a professional cat sitter to look in during the day can help. You might also consider getting another cat as a companion.
Scratching can sometimes be a sign that your cat is not burning off enough nervous energy through play. It's important to spend at least a little time each day engaging your cat in active, physically challenging play. Three sessions of 15 minutes' active play each day can resolve a lot of problems. Try playing with your cat to tire her out before you go to work, again when you get back and then a final time before bed. You're likely to see a significant difference in her overall mood.
Scratching in cats is completely normal. Stopping destructive behaviour in a cat is often just a matter of making sure their energies are directed in a healthy direction. A little persuasion and a few changes to your cat's environment can often help get rid of problem scratching for good.