Training a feline friend to scratch only what belongs to him or her is simple. You can prevent or eliminate damage to your belongings by communicating with your kitty. It will be a very rewarding and satisfying experience that will make both of you feel great!
To get results, you must do three things:
1. Provide an irresistible scratching surface.
2. Praise your cat when he/she uses the appropriate surface and scold when claws are used anywhere else.
3. Trim your cat’s claws.
Let’s take a closer look at each item on our list.
Post Training, Encouragement and Praise
Okay, you don't want Cleo to damage your furniture. But scratching is natural and instinctive, helping your cat shed layers of claw sheaths and stretch and flex muscles. Since your cat cannot stifle his or her desire to scratch, provide an ideal object of desire--a good scratching post.
The surface of the scratching post should be covered with a rough, tough material, sisal, hemp, or something similarly nubby. Carpet does not satisfy most cats and can confuse them because they will not be allowed to scratch the carpet on the floor of your home.
The scratching post should be sturdy, not shaky, and tall enough so your cat can raise its paws above its head and stretch its body while digging its claws into the surface. It should also have a strong base that will not tip when they scratch.
It is wise to give kitty an extra scratching surface, such as a corrugated cardboard floor mat or two. It's also a good idea to place a scratching post on each floor of your house or in more than one spot if your house has several rooms.
To introduce your cat to the post, it helps to sprinkle a little catnip onto its surface. This will interest your cat in the post. (Some posts, such as the Felix brand post, come with catnip already imbedded in it.) Call your kitty to the post in a pleasant, encouraging tone. Stand over the post and pat it, calling your cat by name. Try rubbing or scratching the post with your nails. Stroke your kitty's back and follow through to the tail, applying slight pressure. This motion causes many kitties to raise their front paws to the post. Many cats do not like it if you forcibly put their paws on the post, but some cats will tolerate it. Be audibly pleased even if your cat only comes up and inspects the post. You want the cat to take full possession of the post, so never remove it or obstruct access to it.
Another trick to interest kitty in the post is dangling a toy such as a "Cat Dancer" over it. When she lunges at the toy, her paws will land on the textured surface and she'll just naturally dig in. Then she will discover that the post has great scratching potential.
A good place for the post is where kitty sleeps or eats. Many cats enjoy a good scratch upon waking and before mealtime. Should your cat show interest in any other surface, the fabric on a sofa or a stereo speaker say, place the post in front of the off-limits item to divert kitty's attention. You can later gradually move the post to a more desired location.
Praise--soothingly delivered--speeds the learning process. You may think your cat often ignores you, but she's just pretending! She knows when you're happy with her. As time goes by, continue to praise her when she scratches, even after she is sufficiently trained. This further cements her good feelings about her post and reminds her that you are pleased. Even middle-aged and older cats enjoy this type of praise.
It is important to remember that you should never play with your cat or kitten with just your bare hands. Always have a toy in your hand when you play. If your kitten pounces on you or grabs you with her claws, remove her, scold her sternly, and distract her with a toy or her post. A cat or kitten who thinks that your “paws” are a great interactive toy is one who will pounce, bite or scratch you at the most inopportune moments. It is a habit that should not be started.
Consistent Scolding and Deterrents
Consistent scolding is crucial to the learning process. It can help break an established habit of raising paws to the wrong objects. Every piece of furniture and carpet should be off-limits, all the time. No piece of human furniture, even if designated "for-the-cat," should be all right to scratch. The distinction between the two is not clear to your cat.
Scold in a low, serious voice. Say, "Nooooo, Cleo!" and remove her if she lingers. Then take her gently to her post and pat on it, encouraging her. Do not force her to scratch, but rather suggest. Praise enthusiastically if she does.
The point is to make her special scratching furniture attractive and your couch unattractive, both emotionally and physically. To physically make your furniture unattractive, many things can be done. A thick throw over the couch works, as it moves with your kitty's claws and does not allow your cat to "dig in." Certain non-toxic air fresheners, like citrus, mint, or lavender, also work for carpeted areas and the like. Double-sided tape, a foil covering, or the bottom, prickly side of a plastic carpet runner are all surfaces that can protect different items. Most are temporary measures that assist your training but are removed later. A product called “Sticky Paws” is made for this purpose, and the listing is at the end of this article.
Another good deterrent is a can of coins or beans or some other noise-maker. Cats hate jarring noises. If she forgets and raises her paws to the couch, an unexpected shake of the can works wonders. If your cat is stubborn, a light spray from a child's water gun or spray bottle makes a great deterrent. Do not spray at your cat, but rather right next to her. Do this when she lifts her paws to the wrong surface and if verbal correction does not work first. Most cats will jump and scat right out of there. Remember not to do it out of anger or irritation. She may feel insulted and therefore become more stubborn.
Counteract the scolding by giving her even more encouragement when she shows interest in her post. It is important to always do this, because scolding without encouragement frustrates her and makes her believe that she is not allowed to scratch anything at all, and this is not the case. And always remember not to raise your voice too much. This can upset you and your cat and do more harm than good.
Clipping Those Claws
The last important component of the training process is clipping your kitty's claws. This should be done from the beginning, and even adult cats who are new to the household can be trained. Again, the process should be done gently and calmly, with as little frustration on your part as possible.
Approach your cat only when you are feeling calm. Put an arm around her body and let her face away from you. Try not to press on or restrict her too much, but rather gently encompass her with your arms so that she cannot back or jump away. Grasp the front paw farthest from you and put pressure in the middle of it. The claw will become unsheathed and stick out. This does not hurt, but it annoys some cats, so go slow. The cat claw is shaped like a scythe, and the part that curves over is what you clip. Using cat claw clippers (available at any pet store), clip only the clear part of the claw, and stay away from the inner pink cuticle. There are four toes and one dewclaw on each front paw and four toes on each back paw. Switch the side of your cat that is nearest you to do the opposite paw. To clip your cat’s back claws, leaning over your cat with your arms around her usually works best. Experiment and learn which way is most comfortable for your cat.
Again, praise while you clip. If your cat becomes agitated, keep praising and go slowly. If your cat is instantly agitated, it may work best to do only one or two claws each day. If your cat does not want her paws touched at all, touch them a little bit each day, then more and more to get her used to that first. Do not allow your frustration to affect your manner with your cat. The point is to make it an experience that is not unpleasant. The more you handle her paws, the more accustomed she will become to the procedure.
Trimming the claws makes them blunt and takes away the tips, which do all the damage. Regularly-clipped claws are hardly noticeable when you handle your cat and will not snag your clothing or other surfaces. Closely-clipped claws will not harm a leather couch, even when your cat jumps off of it.
Another viable option for claw-clipping is to have your veterinarian's office do it. For a nominal fee and a brief appointment, the quick visit can become a simple routine for both you and your kitty. Whether you do it or have your vet's office do it, claw clipping should be done around every three to six weeks, depending on your preferences.
“Soft Paws” and Other Options
There are also products that exist to help protect your furniture. Training is the best method because it does not require regular purchases or various materials, but some products work well for certain people and cats. As mentioned before, "Sticky Paws" strips work by making the furniture sticky and therefore not attractive to your cat, yet do not harm the furniture. "Soft Paws" claw caps are applied to the cat's claws and cover them so that your cat can still use her claws but not do any damage. However, it should be noted that “Soft Paws” are not a quick fix if your problem is clipping your cat’s claws. “Soft Paws” do require application and your cat to sit still for a certain amount of time. Your vet may be willing to help with this process.
It may seem that this training process is complicated. It is actually quite easy to learn, and the rewards are many. When your cat greets you in the evening by sauntering over to her post and scratching like crazy, you will be thrilled at your success and yet your furniture and other possessions will remain intact.
* The absolute best post is the Felix post. It is sold at various shelters in the Chicago area, including The Anti-Cruelty Society. The cost is 35$, and you should call before you go to make sure they are in stock. (They sell quickly.) The Anti-Cruelty Society, 157 W. Grand Ave. (at LaSalle), 312-644-8338 You can also directly contact the manufacturer at Felix, Inc., 3623 Fremont, Seattle, WA 98103, 206-547-0042.
(* Or try the TopCat post. It's available online at TopCat Products.)
* A similar post is the Karate Kat (pictured at the top of this article), which can be purchased by calling 800-822-6628 or by visiting www.karatekat.com
* Angelical Cat Company makes exquisite cat furniture and posts of superior quality. Call 954-748-0698 for a catalog or go to www.angelicalcat.com. This furniture is well worth the money.
* Soft Paws nail caps -- Call 800-433-7297 or go to www.softpaws.org Lasts four to six weeks, safe and non-toxic.
* Sticky Paws for furniture -- Call 888-697-2873 or go to www.stickypaws.com Transparent, acrylic based and non-toxic, won’t harm furniture or cats.
* The Cat Who Cried for Help: Attitudes, Emotions, and the Psychology of Cats, by Dr. Nicholas Dodman
* The New Natural Cat: A Complete Guide for Finicky Owners, by Anitra Frazier
* Best Friends Animal Sanctuary Web Site has a members forum on which people can post questions and receive advice from other members and the staff veterinarian at no cost. Go to www.bestfriends.com and click on “Members and Pets Forum.”
* Paws Adoption Center can provide further information regarding the topics discussed here. Call 773-244-7853.
Copyright 2000 C. Dalber
Permission to copy for non-profit use only.