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Val Caron Animal Hospital

3055 Highway 69 N
Val Caron, ON P3N 1R8


Scratching Post Training

Cats have retractile claws. They require sharpening and need to be worn back so that they may be totally retracted within their protective sheaths. Claws on the forepaws are primarily worn down by scratching, which removes old layers of the nail. Animal behaviorists think that scratching may also be a form of marking behavior.

A cat that has access to the outdoors needs sharp claws for protection. On no account should an outside cat be declawed. It is natural for cats to scratch, and it is natural for them to climb. Cats do not need to be declawed - they simply need to be instructed. It is unfair and inhumane to punish a cat for acting like a cat. The owner must indicate to the cat that it is not so much its scratching behavior that is unacceptable but rather its choice of scratching surface. The owner must supply the cat with a suitable substrate for scratching. The major goal of these exercises is to teach the cat to redirect its normal scratching behavior to an appropriate object, such as a scratching and/or climbing post.

Prevent Problem in Owner's Absence

Until the animal can be trusted not to scratch and claw household furniture and fittings, it should not be allowed free run of the house at times when it can not be constantly supervised. The cat should be confined to a single room where it can cause no damage. If the cat has a single favorite scratching site, the object may be temporarily protected. Alternatively, during the retraining period, the armchair may be removed and replaced with a number of scratching posts.

Know Animal's Needs - Provide Appropriate Outlet

A cat needs to scratch and climb. These activities are part of the integral essence of being a cat. Since claw marks on furniture and shredded drapes are considered irksome by most owners, the thinking, cat-minded cat owner will provide his/her companion with an appropriate object for climbing and claw sharpening.

If the cat lives exclusively indoors (which is safer for city cats), it should be provided with a variety of scratching posts - one in each room.

If the cat is confined at times when the owner is absent, the owner would do well to confine the cat in a fairly sterile room (just four bare walls) that is littered with a variety of scratching posts. Thus, the confinement period may become a learning opportunity. In this fashion, many cats learn to use the scratching posts out of sheer boredom.

Owners may wish to be creative and build their cat a customized scratching/climbing post. Rough-hewn 4 x 4's set vertically with a couple of horizontal resting platforms are ideal. Wood is an ideal substrate. The owner may wish to cover the post with carpeting. For homemade posts, the most important design feature is that the post has a strong, stable base. If the post collapses, the

cat is unlikely to want to use it again. Check that there are no loops in the carpeting that will snag the cat's claws and make it unsuitable for a quick scratch.

Reinforce Appropriate Behaviour

Providing the cat with a number of scratching posts may not always be sufficient. The owner must also train the cat how to use them. As soon as the cat wakes up from a nap, the owner should call it to its post. If the owner scratches the post or motions with one of the cat's toys a couple of feet off the floor, most cats will reach up and stretch with their front paws on the post. The owner should praise the cat profusely and perhaps reward it with a food treat, especially if it makes scratching motions. This method usually works better than trying to place the cat's paws on the post. An effort should be made to make the post enjoyable for the cat. The post may be rubbed with catnip, occasional food treats may be placed on some of the platforms, and toys and paper ornaments may be suspended by pieces of thread.

Reprimand Inappropriate Behavior

Once the cat clearly understands that the owner is overcome with joy and quite beside him/herself in feline appreciation whenever the cat claws or climbs its scratching post, it is time to teach the cat what not to scratch and climb.

Each time the cat attempts to scratch a forbidden article, it must be reprimanded. The owner should not indiscriminately scream at the cat. Instead, he/she should try to make a learning experience out of the cat's mistake and the ensuing reprimand. When the cat scratches, the owner shouts: "Kitty! Go to your scratching post!" This is an instructive reprimand: from the volume, the cat realizes that it is doing something wrong, but at the same time it is instructed how it can make things right. If the cat runs for cover, the owner must keep calling (nicely) to entice the cat to its scratching post, saying: "Kitty scratch" or "Kitty climb". The cat should be profusely praised and rewarded as soon as it complies.

If the cat runs and hides and will not approach the scratching post, the reprimand was excessive. It is extremely important that the cat approach, climb and/or scratch its post following each reprimand.

At times when the owner can not devote full attention to the cat, he/she might consider booby-trapping forbidden articles. A couple of bells may be tied to a piece of net, which may be draped over the cat's favorite scratching targets. The bells will alert the daydreaming owner to the cat's misbehavior. Whenever the bells ring, the owner should run into the room shouting "Kitty! Scratching post!"

A more effective booby-trap is to lay a piece of net over the armchair and to weigh it down by balancing a number of empty pop cans on top of the armchair. When the cat scratches the chair, it hooks down the net, pop cans and all.