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March 7, 2021

Cats Scratch Objects When Stressed

02.01.15 Cats will do a number of behaviors when they feel stressed or conflicted. In addition to self-soothing, many of these behaviors help change or eliminate the causes of the stress. Scratching objects is one of these. Cats scratch for a variety of reasons, including when they are anxious and conflicted. While helping them cope with their feelings, they are marking their territories when scratching.

Cats will scratch objects when they are stressed.

Cats will scratch objects when they are stressed. by Marilyn Krieger, CCBC.

For lively discussions about cat behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook.

Communication Cat Byte: Signature Stamps

03.24.13 Cats have scent glands on their paws. Whenever they scratch an object they are marking their territory and broadcasting information about themselves.

Cat Byte: Choose the Right Scratching Posts

04.08.12 When searching for perfect scratching posts for your cat, look for scratchers with solid bases that won’t fall over in the middle of a scratching session. Also, because cats love to stretch while scratching, find posts that are tall enough for the cat to have a satisfying full-length stretch.

A Different Kind of Cat Behavior Consultation

Often during, before and after doing cat behavior consultations, I have unexpected encounters with animals of other species. Last year I had a number of awe-inspiring experiences with Bobcats, Asian Leopard Cats, African Servals, Coyotes one Mountain Lion, chickens and a number of reptiles. I can now add Turkey to the list. This experience—maybe not so awe-inspiring.

Saturday I was scheduled to do an on-site cat behavior consultation that revolved around a couple of cats who had severe litter box issues. I was early for the consultation. I am always early… Anyway, since I had time to kill, I checked out the neighborhood. I enjoy checking out neighborhoods—looking at houses & gardens. I am partial to really old homes and contemporary houses. As I was slowly driving up a hill, admiring the homes, a wild turkey sauntered off of the sidewalk and positioned himself in front of my car. Please keep in mind… I’m a suburbanite girl and I was in a suburban neighborhood. It’s not every day I see a wild turkey.

Also, keep in mind that I am not versed in Turkey Speak.

A turkey standing in front of my car or any car is not a good thing. I stopped my car and got out, with the intention of herding the turkey out of the street to a safer area. He didn’t want any part of it. He was making all sorts of cute little trills and chirps… very endearing and sweet. I chortled back at him… maybe this wasn’t the best idea… he answered me back and I think I became his person.

I couldn’t herd him out of the street—he stood his ground and approached me. I turned back towards my car—he followed me and attempted to hop in—kind of like a dog. Neighbors came out to watch the spectacle… one person told me he is a wild turkey, not domesticated. I carefully got out of my car again and started walking away. He rushed towards me … so I retreated, up on the sidewalk. I called my client and told her that I was going to be delayed since a turkey was resource guarding my car. Great entertainment for the neighbors… lots of giggling. One of the neighbors suggested I give him the keys to my car and maybe my phone number…

Finally someone took pity on me and ran interference so that I could return to my car and make my escape.

Say No to Declaw!

You have all heard the arguments against declawing. There must be something to them if cities and countries have made it illegal to declaw cats. Israel is the most recent country to outlaw this painful and unnecessary procedure. Although I am obviously opposed to declawing, today’s blog is not focused on the arguments against declawing. Instead it will cover why cats scratch objects and I will outline humane, alternative solutions that will keep both claws and furniture intact.

Cats have to scratch. In addition to giving themselves manicures, when cats scratch they mark their territory. They have scent glands on their paw pads that produce pheromones. So whenever they scratch, they leave information about themselves on the objects they scratch. They also mark visually through the physical scores and audibly through the sound. Think of it as a cat’s way of autographing objects. Cats scratch objects for other reasons as well. Scratching objects functions as an effective emotional release and is often a displacement behavior. Often cats will scratch when they are feeling stressed. Scratching also is an outlet for releasing excessive energy and after a nap, cats love to stretch and scratch. As you can see, cats have many reasons for scratching objects.

Scratching the Right Stuff

Scratching post

Sudan Scratching a Sisal Scratching Post

Cats can be trained to ignore the furniture and scratch designated objects. Start by making the targeted areas off limits to sharp little claws. If your cat is focusing her attentions on the sofa, then block it with either double sided-tape or cover the sofa with a fabric that is not satisfying to scratch. Sheets work great, tucked tightly around the sofa cushions.

Blocking areas is only half of the solution though. While making an area off limits to claws, put a sturdy scratching post directly in front of the now blocked area. The post needs to feel irresistible to the cat.  Some cats love the feel of sisal beneath their paws, others prefer cardboard or carpet. If your cat enjoys carpet, make sure that the scratching surface is a different texture then the carpet on your floor. Scratching posts need to be tall and stable—they should not tip over while they are exuberantly scratched. It is important that you positively reinforce your cat when she is scratching the post. My book Naughty No More! (link) has a chapter dedicated to training cats through clicker training and environmental changes to scratch the right objects and ignore the furniture.

The scratching post won’t have to live prominently in the middle of the living room forever. After the cat consistently scratches the post, move it a couple of inches each day, to another spot in the room. Don’t move it in back of the sofa or to a hidden area. Remember, your cat is scratching to mark territory, so the post still needs to be in a relatively high profile area.

Another effective alternative to declawing cats is fitting cats with Soft Paws®. These commercially available nail caps are placed on each claw and periodically replaced. Cats still scratch the furniture, but the nail caps keep the furniture protected. Although Soft Paws® are effective, they don’t train cats to scratch appropriate objects and avoid targeting the rugs and sofas.

Scratching is a natural instinctive activity that cats have to do. Even though cats have to scratch, they don’t have to target the carpets and sofas. Instead of declawing, furniture and rugs can become scratch-free through painless and humane methods.