The cat's scratching post
Cats in the wild will scratch on tree trunks or in the dirt. In your home they choose just about anything they can get their claws into.
Why cats claw
Ever notice how cats usually scratch on vertical surfaces, and as high up as they can reach? This is because they are actually stretching their muscles.
Clawing on tree trunks, or more likely, your drapes, is exercise for the muscles from the legs down through the back.
Clawing also helps remove the outer layer of the nail, which is shed naturally as the nail grows. And sometimes it is just for fun! I think they often scratch when they are bored or excited.
Best choice for posts
Though carpet-covered scratching posts are most common, they really aren‘t the best choice. The best materials for a scratching post are either actual limbs or tree stumps, or sisal (rope or carpet).
The reason is that your cat really can’t tell the difference between your carpet, your couch and the carpet on his “special” scratching post. The sisal is rougher than most upholstery and is easier to differentiate (unless you have sisal rugs, in which case the opposite may be true).
Choosing the right one
You can purchase scratching posts at any pet supply store or online, or make one yourself.
Two important considerations in making or buying the post are the height and the base. Make sure it has a large, sturdy base. If the post falls over on your cat even once, you may have a hard time convincing her to use it again.
You will also want it to be tall enough so the cat gets a good stretch when using it.
Another type of scratching post that many cats like are those made of catnip-impregnated corrugated cardboard. I don’t know if these give the cats the same type of exercise, but if it keeps them off the furniture - go for it! I have both kinds in my house, and each of my two cats has her preference.
Now if I can just get her to use it...
You can encourage the use of the scratching post by rubbing it with catnip or using a catnip spray. If your cat has already begun using your furniture as a scratching post, you will have to do a little behavior modification as well.
To discourage the use of your couch for his daily full-body stretch, you can place aluminum foil or double-faced tape on Kitty‘s favorite scratching spots. There is also a product called "Sticky Paws" available, which is basically an extra-wide, extra-strong sticky tape. The idea is the cats don''t like the feel of the foil or the tape, and leave the furniture alone.
Placing the scratching post near the cat''s current favorite scratching object will make training easier. Whenever you see the cat starting to claw on furniture or drapes, interrupt him by clapping or making some startling noise, and then direct him toward the post.
Do not try to put his paws on the post or force him to use it - he will rebel! You can show him what it is for by lightly scratching on the post yourself, or by laying it on the ground and placing the cat on top of it. If you stroke the cat firmly while he stands on the post, his claws will automatically dig in. This allows him to discover for himself what a great scratching surface it is.
Continue to offer praise and rewards whenever he uses the post. Keeping his nails trimmed will help prevent damage to other surfaces when Kitty inevitably decides he needs a change once in a while.
Declawing NOT an answer
A word here about declawing - DON''T! It is a cruel and painful operation. Declawing involves more than simply removing a "fingernail"; it is the removal of the first joint of each toe! It causes weeks of discomfort as the cat heals, and often leads to infection. It also can result in muscle weakness and impairment of balance. Most veterinarians will no longer perform this operation.
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