Cats scratch at surfaces in their environment for exercise and entertainment and to maintain their claws and mark their territories. This is perfectly normal cat behavior even if it is unappreciated by their human family members. The trick is not to try to stop a cat from scratching altogether but to redirect its attention away from furniture, carpets and draperies and towards more appropriate surfaces.
If a cat is being destructive, make note of all of the places where it likes to scratch. Are horizontal or vertical surfaces preferred? Does the cat like carpeting, fabric, wood or woven materials? Where in the house is the most damage occurring? Starting with a very precise description of the problem increases the chances of treatment success.
Keep the cat's nails trimmed short while training is underway to limit its ability to wreak havoc throughout the house. Purchase or make several scratching posts or boxes that resemble the cat's favorite surfaces as closely as possible. Place them in the same area and in the same orientation as where the cat likes to scratch. All scratching posts need to be constructed in such a way as to prevent them from toppling over or falling apart when a cat starts to work on them. Dissuade the cat from returning to its old haunts by covering its favorite surfaces with double-sided tape, plastic corner guards or tin foil. These modifications are only temporary. Once the cat is reliable scratching elsewhere they can be removed. With perseverance, most owners can teach their cats to scratch only where it is acceptable. Covering a cat's claws with rubber sheaths or surgical declawing should only be considered in extreme cases when all attempts at behavioral modification have failed.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008