Cat scratching near stairs
A scratcher redirects this cat from scratching the stairs.

Sometimes, even after you have invested in several scratching posts, your cat will scratch somewhere you don’t want her to. What is going on?

Earlier we learned that cats scratch to maintain their claws, to stretch and to communicate with other cats by leaving a scent mark.  Scratchers need to be “deployed” where they will best satisfy these needs.

How to deal with unwanted scratching


  1. Redirect the cat to scratch on an “appropriate” surface.
  2. Respond to any scent messages.
  3. Use “aversives” to discourage “unwanted scratching”.
  4. Offer alternate marking options for your cat.
  5. Trim nails to minimize damage.

Redirecting unwanted scratching


This basically means we place a scratcher close to or at the place your cat is scratching. We will “sweeten” the deal by applying an “attractant” to the scratcher – catnip, silvervine, honeysuckle. We can also add some treats and reward kitty for using this scratching alternative.

Say your cat starts scratching your sofa. You notice a big orange cat outside the picture window where your sofa sits. Some things you may consider:

  • Put a cat tree over by the window to give your cat a vantage point and a place to mark by scratching.
  • You may want to move the sofa away from the window.
  • Reduce visual contact with the intruder – cling film on windows or prevent cats from coming into the yard to the window (fence rollers, motion-activated sprinkler)

Reply to any scent messages


You just bought a new sofa. Your cat may feel that the new sofa needs to be “broken in”.  A little scratching leaves a purrsonalized “greeting”. And then once Kitty scratches there, of course, he better “top off” that message regularly so that it is up-to-date.

Start with providing an acceptable scratching surface at or near the area of “unwanted” scratching. Use attractants as needed for your cat.

We need to let your cat know that this sofa is “safe” and “already marked”. We have a few options to achieve this.

  • Use a synthetic pheromone spray such as “Feliway” Classic or Comfort Zone Calming. These are synthetic versions of the secretions cats deposit by rubbing their cheeks against things. To avoid staining your sofa, we can spray a throw or blanket that we drape over the sofa. Initially, you will need to spray this daily.
  • Or – relocate the sofa close to an electrical outlet and use the “Feliway” Optimum diffuser. This novel blend of feline pheromones has been shown to reduce feline stress and unwanted scratching.
  • Or – you may use the blanket your cat sleeps on and drape that over the sofa. You will want to have a second blanket that he sleeps on so that you can swap them out daily at first.

“Aversives” – things most cats don’t like


  • Upside-down carpet runner: the spikes face up and are not comfortable to walk on! Place the upside-down runner where your cat may stand to scratch, say under the sofa that is getting scratched. Place a scratching post nearby on a “comfortable” surface.
  • Double-sided sticky tape (Sticky Paws is one brand). This works well on fabric and carpeted surfaces. It is applied to where your cat is scratching.
  • Aluminum foil can be wrapped around the furniture or placed on the floor.
  • Carpet runner or office chair mats (right-side up) may work if your cat is scratching at the carpets around doorways. There are also anti-scratch mats made for this purpose.
  • PLEASE avoid using things like garlic and essential oils to discourage scratching – these can be toxic to cats.

 

A Word about Punishment:

Spray bottles, SSScat spray deterrents, shock mats – these may seem effective but all run the risk of making your cat fearful and anxious. You are punishing the cat for an instinctual behavior – she is not doing anything wrong; she is just using a surface you don’t want her to.  It would be better to restrict her from the area than use punishment.

 Alternative Marking Options for your Cat


Cats scent mark using glands in their cheeks, lips and base of the tail. We think that these pheromones give cats a message of safety and security – this place is “marked”. There are self-grooming arches that cats can brush under and grooming combs that attach to wall corners, table legs and cabinet corners.  Your cat can mark these objects by rubbing her face, head and base of her tail in these areas.

In multi-cat homes, cats may scratch to establish their right-of-ways inside the home. Strategic placement of a few self-grooming stations may help reduce scratching by providing another way of marking. ( see T. DePorter and A. Elzerman, Common Feline Problem Behaviors: Destructive Scratching Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (2019) 21, 235–243)

Minimize damage with nail trims


Train your cat to have her claws trimmed using positive reinforcement. You may need to trim claws every 4-6 weeks. Trimmed claws should not damage surfaces as much as untrimmed claws.

cats just want to have fun!


Cats will sometimes scratch to work out the “zoomies” or to get your attention. Scratching carpeted stairs often falls into this category!

If your cat enjoys scooting along stair risers:

Sisal pole at botton of stairs
Sisal pole at the bottom of stairs
  1.  Consider blocking the stairway with a tall pet gate or DIY barricade.
  2.  Turn a replacement sisal post on its side and put some ends on it heavy enough to keep it in place but low enough to give the “stair scratching experience”. Push it up against that bottom step, and let the fun begin. Don’t forget the catnip and treats!

Claws come with your cat. He will scratch to maintain his claws, stretch, and leave scent messages. To deal with unwanted scratching:

  1. direct him to an appropriate scratcher using catnip/silvervine and treats
  2. use pheromones
  3. use aversives as needed 
  4.  provide other ways to scent mark
  5.  trim his claws regularly. 

Avoid punishment – instead be a cat whisperer and try to communicate with your cat.

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This kitty prefers her cardboard scratcher to a large cat tree.

There are scratching posts, there are cat trees with sisal rope attached to the supports, there are cardboard scratchers of all shapes and sizes – which scratching post should you choose for your cat?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question.

cats and scratching: the “purrfect” scratching post


A recent study published in Applied Animal Behavior Science video recorded 36 adult cats to identify the cats’ scratcher preferences.

  • Adult neutered male cats preferred a standing scratching post over an S-shaped one – spayed females did not show a strong preference here.
  • Scratchers with sisal rope and cardboard were used more often than those covered with sofa fabric.
  • Catnip and silver vine treated scratchers were favored over those treated with artificial pheromones.

In this study, the catnip, silver vine and artificial pheromones were hung in a sock on the scratcher. Would it make a difference if the artificial pheromone was applied directly to the scratcher, mimicking how a cat would deposit these scents?

Still another study (2019) recruited 8 week old kittens from a shelter population. The kittens:

  • Preferred cardboard S-shaped scratchers over posts with rope.
  • Adding catnip to the scratchers did not attract the kittens (this is not surprising – the catnip response does not show up in kittens until they are 3-6 months old.)

A third study, this one an internet-based survey of 4015 cats in 39 countries, found:

  • Rope was more frequently scratched than cardboard or carpet.
  • Cats scratched more often when the post was a simple upright type or a cat tree with two or more levels, at least 3 ft high.
  • Unwanted scratching decreased as the different types/styles of posts increased in the home.

This survey concluded that the “Ideal Scratching Post” would

  • have sisal rope
  • have vertical scratching surfaces
  • be more than 3 feet tall
  • have two or more levels
  • have a base of 1-3 feet

So, should you run out and purchase one of those, large multi-level cat trees? Will this take care of all your scratching issues? Let’s take a look at four different cat scratching stations in a 4 cat household.

Station 1: Multi-level Cat Tree with Sisal posts for scratching


This tall cat tree is located in the interior of the house away from doors and windows. The younger cats (6 years), Zelda and Gus, use this tower to snooze on the upper levels or to get to the tops of the kitchen cabinets. Although it does meet the recommendations for the ideal scratcher, the cats don’t scratch on this tree all that much.

Station 2: Single Post scratcher and cardboard scratcher


This very tall post (it is 41″) with sisal fabric is at the front door.  It is popular with everyone, from the 17 lb Coon cat to the small senior at 8 lb.  All four cats scratch before going out for a walk or when they sit to look out the window in the front door.  The horizontal cardboard scratchers at the front door also see consistent use.  The cats tend to use these with all 4 feet on the scratcher.

Station 3: Large cat bed with sisal scratcher


The sisal-covered base of this extra-large cat bed is tall enough for the large Maine Coon to scratch. This cat bed is located in the bedroom. It was purchased for the Maine Coon cat but has been taken over by  8 lb Athena, who sleeps in this bed or in her heated bed at the base of the scratcher. When she gets out of bed, she stretches and scratches on this scratcher. This is used infrequently by the other three cats.

Station #4: By a litter box


This is a single pole covered with sisal rope. This post sees a lot of use by all four cats.

In this household, location appears to affect how much a scratcher is used.

Cats scratch to maintain their claws, to stretch and to scent mark. Most scratchers are probably used for all three purposes. So, which scratcher should you choose? Experts recommend starting with the multi-level cat tree with sisal rope supports.  However, cats are individuals and, if your cat does not take to this type of scratcher, offer different types and styles.

The Take Away


  • Have more than one scratching station.
  • Have a variety of scratchers.
  • Move them around and see where they get used the most.
  • Watch your cat’s habits – try to pick a scratcher that you feel will be appropriate for your cat’s age, size, and level of activity.

The next post will look at first aid for unwanted scratching – what you can do when your cat scratches where you don’t want her to.

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Trimming your cat's claws

You may notice that as your cat scratches, husks of keratin are shed, little curved “skeletons” of claws. This is a natural process –  if you provide him with a scratching post, is trimming your cat’s claws necessary?

Your cat’s claws are meant to be curved and sharp. But you may find that you need to dull the tips of these scimitars:

  • to minimize damage to your sofa
  • to avoid being scratched when handling your cat
  • if your cat does not shed her claws frequently enough and the claw is threatening to grow into her paw pad.

trimming Your Cat’s claws : not a “nail TRim”


Cats have sharp teeth and claws to hunt their prey and defend themselves. Their paws and claws are sensitive to touch and pressure – they need to be able to apply the right amount of force to keep a wriggling mouse under control.

Our fingernails are made of a hard substance called keratin, a protein that makes up your hair, skin and nails.  The visible fingernail is actually dead cells – living cells grow from under the cuticle and displace the dead, translucent cells, pushing them through the skin. Because your visible fingernails are dead, it does not hurt to trim your fingernails.

Your cat’s claws also contain keratin. The visible layer is dead cells, displaced as living cells grow from the underlying dermis. This dermis or “quick”,  contains blood vessels, nerves and other tissues. The “quick” envelops and connects to the outermost bone of the cat’s toe – our fingernails are NOT connected to our finger bones but to a matrix of tissue containing nerves and blood vessels that is separate from our finger bones.  Like human fingernails, the translucent keratin of the cat’s claw is made up of dead cells and does not hurt when trimmed.

THE BONY STRUCTURES INSIDE YOUR CAT'S TOES
WHAT’S INSIDE YOUR CAT’S TOES

Your cat’s claws are protractible, that is, they can be extended. When relaxed, the claws are hidden in a sheath of skin – your cat must extend them to use them.

what you need : trimming your cat’s claws


  • scissor-type nail trimmers for cats -or-
  • human toe nail trimmers
  • styptic powder or cornstarch, flour

 

trimming your cat’s claws: where to trim


  • protract your cat’s claw by gently pressing on her toe
  • most cats have white claws with a visible “quick”
  • the quick is pink; trim outside the quick
  • if you do clip the quick, press a pinch styptic powder, cornstarch or flour over the claw to stop the bleeding
THE RED AREA IS THE QUICK. NOTE THE BONE THAT THE QUICK IS ATTACHED TO.

Training your cat to accept “nail trims”


  1. Find a treat your cat likes. We will use positive reinforcement to accustom your cat to “nail trims”. Your cat will associate the treat he likes with having his claws clipped.
  2. Find a position that cat prefers for “nail trims”. Does your cat like to sit on your lap? Sit next to you on the sofa? If these are not options, perhaps a table with a fleece blanket on it will work.
  3. Find the nail trimmer or clippers that you will use.

 

It is less aggressive to approach your cat from behind for procedures like nail trims. For example, if she likes sitting on your lap, have her sit facing away from you.

step by step:


  1. Desensitize your cat to having his feet handled.  Offer your cat some treats while you handle his foot. Once you stop handling his foot, remove the treat. (Having someone to manage the treat plate is helpful!)
  2. Desensitize your cat to the trimmers. Touch her foot with the trimmers while giving her a treat. Remove the treat if not touching the foot with the trimmers.
  3. Trim a claw or two the same way. Work up to trimming the whole foot.

Once your cat is comfortable with step 1, proceed to step 2; proceed to step 3 when he is ready.

If your cat is clicker-trained, you can “click then treat” each behavior. For example, handle the foot, click, then treat. Your cue for step 1 could be a light touch to the paw before handling;  step 2 cue may be letting your cat smell the trimmers.  Always remember to reward kitty!

Be patient and take your time. You will find that trimming your cat’s claws does not have to be an ordeal and can save you a trip to the vet or groomer.

If your cat seems painful when handling her feet or her toes appear swollen, infected, or discolored, consult your veterinarian before attempting to trim her claws.

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The Cat Friendly Home: Maintain the Colony Scent

Odors not only tell cats about their world ; they also carry messages from other cats.

Free-roaming cats live in colonies if there is enough food in the neighborhood. Each colony has its own signature scent. Members of the colony identify each other by this scent. This colony scent also marks the core territory of the colony, where the members feel safe, can eat, rest and play.

Our homes are our cat’s territory; we are members of our cat’s colony. Our homes have the colony scent that makes our cats feel safe and secure.

How do we maintain the colony scent in our homes?


Marley marks the corner wall at the top of the stairs.

 

Scratching post near the litter box.

Cats deposit pheromones  and signature scents using glands on their faces. You may see your cat rubbing the corner of a wall or furniture; you may also see him rub the same place again later the next day – he is marking the area as safe and familiar.

Pheromones and communication

Placing scratching posts around your home at windows, doors, and near where your kitty sleeps also provides boundary marking. Glands in kitty’s feet release pheromones and odors when she scratches which are deposited on the scratching posts.

Scratching Basics

Litter boxes are also part of the kitty network – urine and feces can carry messages and identify individual cats within the house.

Litter Box Basics

Disturbances in the Scent…


Marley marks the corner wall at the top of the stairs.
A well marked wall.

Cleaners


  • Avoid using strong smelling disinfectant or scented cleaners.
  • Some of the disinfectant cleaners linger on surfaces for a long time after you have used them for cleaning. Cats can be notorious counter surfers and they lick their paws.
  • Also avoid cleaners with essential oils – most essential oils are toxic to cats.
  • Visit the Environmental Working Group site to learn more about the cleaners you’re using.

Environmental Working Group

“Whisker Walls”


It is best to leave those “whisker walls” where the kitties rub their cheeks untouched for as long as you can. If they are just too unsightly, try unscented castile soap (made out of plant sources) followed with a rinse. After cleaning, spray with Feliway Classic (Comfort Zone Calming)

 

Litter Boxes


Cleaning the litter tray can be done with mild cleaners, for example, dishwashing soap. If you do use bleach, make sure to dilute it and rinse the tray thoroughly. The CDC recommends diluting 1/3 cup unscented household bleach with 1 gallon of water for cleaning surfaces.

Avoid cleaning all the litter boxes at once – stagger the cleanings. Scooping daily if you use clumping litter, will allow you to empty and clean the litter box ever 2-4 weeks.

Hydrogen peroxide (3%) has good disinfecting properties and breaks down into just oxygen and water.

  1. Start with a box that has had all solid waste and old litter removed.
  2. Spray a fine coating of hydrogen peroxide on the inside of the box. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes.
  3. Scrub the inside thoroughly. Completely rinse the hydrogen peroxide out and dry the litter box before replacing the litter.

The Bark Space

Veterinary visits and hospitalization


When your cat goes to the vet, make sure that some of her familiar bedding goes with her for reassurance. If you have other cats, take along some other bedding the other cats sleep on in a plastic bag for the trip home. Ask that it be put in your cat’s carrier before picking her up. This helps maintain the colony scent when your cat is on her way home.

My youngest cat formerly was a street cat. He will be aggressive with the older cats returning from a day at the vet if we do not include some of his bedding for his roommate to come home with. I also make sure that the Feliway multi-cat diffusers are working in the common areas.

Managing new smells at the front door…


  • Place footwear and shopping bags at the door when you return home – allow the cats to examine these items before moving them further into the house
  • Wash your hands before greeting your cat or cats
  • Change your clothing if you have been in contact with strange cats and dogs

Pheromones help maintain the colony scent…


  • Feliway Classic (ComfortZone Calming) diffusers help the cats feel safe in their sleeping and litter areas
  • Multicat diffusers keep harmony in the common areas.
  • Wipe down new items with a cloth sprayed with the Classic or Calming  pheromone.

The Cat Friendly Home: Guiding Your Cat’s Scratching Behavior

You know that scratching is a normal cat behavior – but does she have to scratch the new sofa you spent hundreds of dollars on? Should you have her declawed?

Sharing Your Home with a Clawed Cat…


Synthetic feline pheromones can be purchased from pet stores.

To guide your cat’s scratching behavior, we have to communicate with him and let him know where to scratch.

Cats communicate in a large part by smell ( A Cat’s world: Smell)  Pheromones  are chemicals that convey messages between members of the same species – they are detected by smell. There are several feline pheromones that have been synthesized and are commercially available.

 

 

We can use facial pheromones and interdigital pheromones to guide your cat’s scratching behavior.

 

 

Getting the message across..


Feliway Classic tells your cat that this is familiar territory and there is no need to mark it – DON’T SCRATCH HERE
Feliscratch gives an olfactory as well as visual message (scratch marks) that says – SCRATCH HERE

 

The Plan…


  • Place a scratching post near the area that is being scratched.
  • Apply Feliscratch to the scratching post
  • Using Feliway Classic (or Comfort Zone Calming) spray, spray the areas where scratching is not desired. You may wish to spray a towel or throw and place this on or near the scratched area.
  • You will need to apply these daily for at least a week. After a week you can apply as needed.

Facial Pheromones

This pheromone is released when your cat rubs his cheeks against things, say the corner wall. He is marking the area as a safe place.

Feliway Classic and ComfortZone Calming come in diffusers and spray.

Appeasing Pheromones

There are synthetic versions of the pheromones released by the nursing mother cat. This pheromone assures the kittens,  blind at first and unable to move fast,  of their mother’s presence.  It helps the litter mates to bond together. This has practical uses – it helps keep the kittens together if Mom needs to go hunt.

Feliway Multicat and ComfortZone Multicat control come in diffusers.

Interdigital Pheromone

This pheromone is released by glands in your cat’s paws when he scratches. It helps mark boundaries and, combined with your cat’s signature scent, lets other cats know “Mr. Fuzzy was here at noon”

Feliscratch comes in a box of pipettes. The liquid in the pipettes is applied to a scratching post to encourage your cat to scratch.

Spray the scratched area with Feliway/ComfortZone

 

Apply Feliscratch to the scratcher you have chosen to be near the scratched place.

 

Marley checks out the “Feliscratched” scratcher.

 

Marley scratches the new scratcher.

 

During the Training period, you may wish to have nail caps (Soft Paws) applied to your cat’s claws. These are soft plastic caps that are glued onto your cat’s nails.

  • Applied every 4-6 weeks
  • Use permanent adhesive
  • But…some cats just don’t like them and chew them off!

Nail Trims for the Comfort and Safety of You and Your Cat…


Gently extend your cats claw.
Trim the end of the claw. Avoid clipping the pink area.
  • Start nail trimming early in life
  • Use positive reinforcement: treats, play, grooming, head rubs
  • Trim every 4-6 weeks
  • When trimming some cats, trim 1-2 nails at a time and do the trim over a week
  • As cats get older, their nails may get thicker and their joints stiffer, so they don’t groom as much. The nails can grow into the paw pad. Nail trims can improve these cats’ quality of life!

 

Declawing – an amputation


 

 

The Details of Declawing

  • Removal of the last bone of the cat’s toe
  • There are “good” and “bad” declaws: “good” declaws disarticulate the last (3rd) joint
  • Risk of lameness and behavior problems due to nerve damage
  • Weight is no longer supported by the junction of the 2nd and 3rd bones – it is supported by the end of the second bone which is painful.

 

 

What’s inside your cat’s toes – claw is sheathed when cat is relaxed. He must extend his claws to use them.
In a declaw surgery, the bone with the nail bed is removed.

 

A Final Word…


 

Guiding your cat’s scratching behavior can be a rewarding experience – after all, YOU are communicating with ANOTHER species!

Offer a variety of scratching stations located in strategic places:
Near doors and windows
Where the people hang out
Near the litter box
Near the sleeping area

The Cat Friendly Home: Scratching Basics


Our soft, cuddly (sometimes) kitties have some sharp ends to them – their claws! When your cat is relaxed, his claws are covered by a sheath of skin. He extends them to grab on to his favorite catnip mouse.

Your cat’s paws are sensitive to touch and pressure – she can feel the vibrations of your footsteps through her feet; she knows by feel just how hard to hold that wiggling mouse.My cat’s sense of touch

Marley holds a toy mouse tightly – his claws are extended.

 

Why does your cat scratch?


What’s inside your cat’s toes – claw is sheathed when cat is relaxed. He must extend his claws to use them.
  • She uses her claws to hold on to prey so it is best that they be sharp – scratching sheds old nails to allow new, sharper ones to grow in.
  • She will scratch defending herself when she feels threatened by another cat, a person,  or animal.
  • Scratching is also a way of communicating with other cats.
  • Scratching is great way to stretch!

YOU MIGHT GET SCRATCHED… when playing with your cat. Remember quick motions trigger his hunting instinct and those claws come out to hold on to the prey – which could be your hand!

  • Use toys to play with your kitty, preferably ones that keep your hands and feet out of the “line of fire”. Fishing pole toys such as Da Bird keep you safe while kitty practices his hunting skills
  • Play “dead” if you get caught in “clawed embrace”. Once he stops trying to scratch you, you can gently move the paws

YOU MIGHT GET SCRATCHED…if your cat does not want to be handled (self-defense)

  • Watch your cat’s body language –What does my cat feel?
  • Allow her to decline interactions if she is not in the mood
  • Use a towel or blanket if she is upset and you HAVE to get her

Scratching Basics: The Feline Message Board


Pheromones

Pheromones are chemicals that convey “messages” between members of the same species. Your cat has glands in his feet that release pheromones.

 

Messaging

Your cat scratches a post and deposits pheromones and his own “signature scent” on it. Another cat comes by later and smells the claw marks. The pheromone smell has faded a bit, so the newcomer knows that “Mr. Fuzzy” was here earlier, say around noon.

 

Pheromones and communication

The Feline Message Board

The free-roaming cat is a solitary hunter. If he is injured, it will be harder to hunt and feed himself. Scratching gives cats a way of signaling each other so that they can avoid meeting and possibly fighting.

 

 

The Message Board is active for indoor cats as well as outdoor cats. Having a number of scratching posts around your home can make your cat feel secure – after all, he can check for intruders! In multi-cat homes, it may help cats “time-share” resources.

The Ideal Scratching Post…


 

  • Narrow upright scratching posts that are 3 feet or taller are popular
  • Cats will scratch flat surfaces as well as vertical or angled ones.
  • Sisal rope, carpet and cardboard are popular materials for scratchers 
  • Logs with the bark still on may  appeal to your cat.
  • Preferences can change – some studies showed that older cats choose carpet over sisal rope while younger cats like the sisal rope better.
  • OFFER A VARIETY OF SCRATCHERS!

Where to Put Those Scratching Posts!


 

  • near doors and windows (territory marking)
  • near the sleeping areas (stretching)
  • near the litter box (stretching, marking)
  • near the living area where the humans hangout (stretching, marking)
Scratching post by a patio window.

 

Athena checks for other scent marks as she adds her own. This post is part of a larger cat tree.

 

Scratching post near the litter box.

Declawed cats need scratching posts too. They still have glands in their paws that produce pheromones.  They appreciate a good stretch and the opportunity  to leave scent messages.

  •