How to Prevent My Cat from Scratching Everything
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Scratching is an innate behavior in cats. It is used to keep their claws in check, but it is more useful in the wild than it is for domestic cats. Domestic cats do not need to hunt or protect themselves as much as their wild counterparts. However, they still need their claws and declawing is not the humane answer to cat scratching problems. These problems mainly manifest themselves in the undesirable and annoying behavior of cats scratching household items. These include, but are not limited to, furniture, carpets, door frames, bedding and our jeans.
In most cases, a cat scratching is just the exhibition of normal feline behavior. However, it can also point to an underlying problem such as stress or anxiety. AnimalWised finds out how to prevent a cat from scratching everything so that you can have both a happy and healthy cat as well as protecting your property.
Why does my cat scratch everything?
An ethogram is the list of behaviors exhibited by a particular animal. If we look at the feline ethogram, we can see that scratching is a representative behavior of cats, but it also has different meanings.
Cats begin to scratch when they are kittens. It is part of how they explore their environment and is used as they develop their hunting instinct. It is important to note that both behaviors are closely intertwined. A kitten will scratch at other members of their family, specifically their parents or siblings. It is not, however, uncommon for them to scratch our ankles, their toys, insects or even at objects they see through windows. During this stage, cats will scratch instinctively as a way to prepare for hunting. This is the case even if they will have little need to hunt in the domestic environment.
Once this stage of socialization is over, they will still continue to use their claws to scratch and play. It is a habit which entertains them as well as being a spill over from their wild ancestry. In the wild, cats will scratch tree trunks and foliage. In a home setting, they will scratch the domestic equivalent which we have already described as being objects like furniture and carpets. Whether it is chasing a bird in the garden or playing with the toys you provide for them, cats will engage in hunting behavior because it is part of their remit as a cat.
When cats reach sexual maturity, they begin to carry out marking behavior. This consists of rubbing their faces against objects, urinating in a territory and scratching. When a cat scratches something, they don't just leave behind a visible mark. They also leave a scent trail from the glands on their paws. The pheromones in this scent make the cat feel reassured in their own territory as it provides a warning to other cats who rules the area. They will do this in the outside world, but also in the home.
Stress and anxiety are also factors in cats scratching furniture and other household objects. While the behavior can be frustrating for pet owners, it is a sign of frustration in the pets. If it is done incessantly and compulsively, it is possible they are trying to communicate that their well-being is compromised. It is a stereotypy, i.e. a compulsive behavior which serves no practical purpose, but is the symptom of an underlying problem. Apart from excessive scratching, a stressed cat with exhibit other signs such as urination outside the litter box or hyperactivity.
Loneliness, change of home, the introduction of a new family member or a lack of positive stimulation can cause stress in a cat. This can seriously damage the heath and well-being of your cat.
How to prevent a cat from scratching everything
A cat scratching everything has various underlying causes and does not necessarily represent negative behavior. For this reason, one of the best ways to stop a cat scratching everything is to encourage them to scratch only in appropriate places. This means providing the cats with several scratching posts or other scratchers as an alternative to your furniture. Each cat should have at least two per household. These should offer different types of texture to give the cat some variety.
Some cats can be quite picky and it is difficult to find the right scratcher for the right cat. This means you may need to use trial and error to see what your cat likes and dislikes. Place the scratching post beside the area you want them to stop scratching. If the cat still refuses to stop scratching the furniture, door frames, etc., then you may have to put some sort of protector over them so that is prevents a barrier from being damaged underneath.
When trying to encourage a cat to stop scratching furniture, you need to ensure you engage in the right way. This doesn't mean punishing them when they scratch the wrong thing. A much more viable and effective tactic is to use positive reinforcement. You can provide a treat when they scratch your chosen scratching post, give them some love and affection or even put some catnip in the scratcher to draw them to it in the first place. You can even find products which use synthetic pheromones to entice the cat towards the scratcher.
Similarly, we also need to ensure we provide the cat with enough physical and mental stimulation. This will help channel their energy in the right way. The use of intelligence games, engaging toys and socializing with their guardians gives them a sense of security and will discourage stereotypies. Adequate nutrition and preventive medicine are also important aspects of feline care and well-being.
If we see the continuation of behavioral problems in cats, we should know that new scratchers alone will not solve the problem. All of their needs should be met, but some may have issues which we will be unable to determine. If this is the case, you might want to seek the advice of a feline ethologist. They will best understand the behavior of your cat and find an appropriate solution. However, only do this after a vet's checkup as it is possible an underlying pathology also needs to be ruled out.
Also, cleaning the areas which a cat has scratched and keeping their pheromones on scratching posts is a helpful way to encourage good scratching habits. You may need to use enzymatic products or ethyl alcohol to get rid of their scent effectively.
Is repellent spray effective on cats?
There are many products on the market which claim they can stop cats from scratching furniture, whether due to stress or marking territory. However, their effectiveness is often not supported by scientific studies or effective research. It is rare to find ones supported by a veterinary association or similar authoritative body. In some cases, these products can not only be ineffective, but can cause harm to cats in the form of stress and/or discomfort.
For this reason, we advise you do thorough research before using any type of cat repellent. Only use those which are supported by scientific research and feel free to ask your vet for their advice on the matter if you are concerned about a specific product. If in any doubt, err on the side of caution and don't use them.
If you want to read similar articles to How to Prevent My Cat from Scratching Everything, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.