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Scratching and declawing

scratching post

One perfectly natural habit that can drive cat owners to desperation and can land a cat back at a shelter is a cat’s tendency to scratch everything – furniture, the carpet and even the walls. Before you punish your cat, banish her to the basement, or send her crying to another home, stop to consider why it is that cats scratch. Once you understand what is behind this nerve-racking behaviour, the solution becomes quite obvious.

Why do cats scratch?

Cats scratch for many reasons:

  • To communicate. Animal behaviourists believe they communicate with other cats this way. Exactly what they are communicating is still a mystery.
  • To keep their hunting weapons sharp. Don’t forget that cats are naturally predators! Scratching removes the outer claws to expose the sharp inner claws.
  • For security reasons. When they scratch they mark their territory and are not just leaving a visible marker but a sensory one as well. The sweat from their paws leaves a scent on top of the physical marking, and as the odours fade a cat will return again and again to keep the mark fresh.
  • It is good exercise and helps maintain muscle tone.
  • Some cats just enjoy scratching.

What can I do to stop her scratching?

Nothing. Scratching is as natural for a cat as eating is. However, just because you can’t stop the scratching doesn’t mean you can’t stop her from scratching your furniture. Your goal is not to eliminate scratching but to direct it to appropriate places.

Teaching your cat to use scratching posts before they do any damage to your home should be your first step. By dangling toys from a scratching post, rubbing the scratching post with catnip, or enticing them with treats, you can easily make the post more desirable than the kitchen table. If this does not work, cover the undesirable areas they prefer to scratch with aluminium foil, plastic or double-sided sticky tape. Since most cats don’t like the smell of citrus, you could also use a lemon or similar-scented spray to deter them.

When you buy a new scratching post, do not try to teach your cat to scratch it by dragging her paws across over the post. Cats already know how to scratch it, and forcing them will only make the post lose its appeal.

Ideally, several scratching posts should be placed throughout the house in areas your cat frequents most often, such as their sleeping and eating areas. Scratching posts should be steady so they won’t fall down when they are scratching, tall enough for your cat to extend its body and with rough surfaces they can shred. Most cats prefer vertical scratching posts but some prefer horizontal ones. Small logs and corrugated cardboard also make good scratching material. Once your cat is using the posts or boards, they may become tattered. It is best not to replace them as cats prefer these shredded and torn objects because they allow the cat to get their claws into them. Cats also find their used scratching areas attractive because they are covered with their scent.

Playing with your cat and making sure that it gets enough exercise is crucial to your cat’s happiness. Some people feel that declawing is a good way to prevent cats from scratching but this is a very painful operation for your cat that involves amputating a piece of bone at the end of each toe. CFHS… is opposed to declawing except when it is the only alternative to having a cat killed. Trimming your cat’s nails every 2-3 weeks is a much more humane and effective way of keeping her claws under control.

Whatever happens, don’t punish your cat. Cats don’t understand physical punishment and you could harm her by trying to use it. Additionally, punishment will only teach her not to scratch when you are around.

To make a scratch post for your cat, see CFHS’ directions here.


The behavioural modification approach described above should be implemented before even considering the more drastic approach of declawing. Declawing your cats should only be done when behavioural modification training has proven to be unsuccessful and the only other option is to euthanize or surrender the animal. In saying this, there is no justifiable reason to have kittens pre-emptively declawed, as at this young age, cases of destructive scratching have generally yet to occur.

Declawing your cat is a painful procedure for your animal and as such the CFHS… encourages cat owners to pursue the preventive options listed above. There are two declawing methods available to veterinarians: traditional declawing surgery or lasered-tenectomy; with both procedures, your cat experiences a painful recovery time. Scratching is normal for cats, and as such it is important as a cat owner to recognize that declawing is an unnatural solution. Before considering declawing, owners should attempt behaviour modification techniques to prevent unwanted scratching.

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