Scratch that

Whether it is your 3 pound kitten or a 500 pound tiger, chances are you have seen it stretch out using its front paws and flex their digits into a material of some kind. All members of the felidae family use that action for several reasons. They use it to remove frayed and worn outer claws – think of how we use a file on our nails – to have a better nail. Stretching also keeps their muscles limber and loose. Obviously, they scratch at materials and it is a visual marker that they have been in this area and it is their territory. But did you know that some movement puts a scent on the material? Even cats that are declawed will still do the same action because they are marking their scent on items around the house.


Having proper items to scratch around your home can save a cat from having their claws amputated. To make it simpler for the sake of this blog any time “scratching tree” or “tree” is mentioned, it is referring to a scratching post, scratching pad or scratching tree. A few things to remember when purchasing proper scratching items:

  1. Get a stable “tree” for them to scratch at. Why does kitty like to scratch on the couch? Because they don’t have to worry its going to fall over on them!
  2. Most cats prefer to scratch vertically. The “tree” must be tall enough to allow them to fully arch their backs. If you’re not sure how tall that is – get something your cat likes (toy or piece of food), go over to a wall, slowly raise the item from the height of your cat’s head and have them stretch up to get the item. That will give you a better idea of their “standing” height.
  3. Pay attention to what type of material your cat likes to scratch against. There is a variety of trees out there and each cat has a preference on what they like to use. Sisal, cardboard and carpet are just a few of the materials they use on the scratching trees.
  4. If you have a multi-cat household, it is a good idea to have one tree for each cat. Remember, cats are territorial and although they can share a living space, they are much much happier when they don’t have to share things like litterboxes, bowls, and scratching areas. Hint: even if you only have one cat, more than one type of tree in your home would give your kitty more items to play with other than your furniture. Companies even make tree varieties that can blend into your home decor. Or if you are the DIY-type, there are some pretty impressive ideas out there.

After you purchase (or make) the tree, placing your scratching tree in prime location is key. Cats will general stretch when they first wake up – having a tree in the location they sleep the most will get them into using the new tree. Another wonderful place is in areas where you and your family spend the most time. Kitty might not always act like he/she is thrilled by your existence but trust me, they crave your attention.


To help your cat can know these new items in the home are for him/her, there is a couple things you can do. Most cats love catnip – sprinkle a little on the new tree to attract them to it. Interact with them on/around the tree. If they like playing with a toy on a string, use it to have them play around the tree. Praise your cat when they use the tree appropriately, while ignoring them when they are using items you don’t want them to scratch. You don’t want them to connect any kind of “punishment” with the person administering it – otherwise the cat will simply learn to not scratch while you are around. A water squirt bottle is a better solution for correcting bad behavior but only if the cat doesn’t see where the squirt comes from. I have fostered many kittens and one way I correct their behavior is when they start to scratch at something they shouldn’t be, I gently pick them up and place them at the scratching tree and get them to play with the tree and give them positive attention there.


In conjunction with the new tree, make the inappropriate scratching areas less attractive to scratch. This usually is only a temporary thing until your cat is used to their new tree. Most people don’t like the idea of putting double-sided tape on their couches, but you can tuck some aluminum foil around the inappropriate areas. Most cats don’t like the feel and sound of aluminum foil.


Regularly trimming nails or synthetic nail caps can prevent injury and damage to household items. Just like proper socialization with puppies, if you start early with your kitten, nail trims will be just another type of attention your cat will receive from you. I’ve worked with my cats since they were kittens and nowadays, they lay on their back like a baby to get their nails trimmed.


With a little work on your part, you cat can be trained to be a proper house guest.


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