You finally broke down and bought one of those ugly cat trees, only to find that your cat still prefers to scratch your stylish settee. Try these simple tips to redirect your cat’s behavior to what we humans deem is a more appropriate place.
In an episode of dog training series “It’s Me or The Dog,” Victoria Stilwell helped a woman who contemplated declawing her cat because it wouldn’t use her cat scratcher. Humble and sweet, Stilwell says she’s a dog expert, but pet behavior follows some universal rules and she did have some great tips for cats.
Tip 1: Manage the Environment
Stilwell explained that it’s not bad behavior, it’s behavior that we want directed toward something we feel is appropriate, i.e. the cat scratcher, instead of the couch, carpet or molding. “Humans need to think about what the cat needs and then give him an appropriate outlet for that need,” she said. “In the beginning, it may be necessary to close off certain parts of the house until the cat has learned to scratch on the appropriate item. Covering items with tinfoil, though not my favorite, also works because cats won’t like the feel of it on their claws.”
Tip 2: Choices
Just like all finicky felines, your cat will have one type of material that it feels is the fillet mignon of materials. For some posh cats, this might be your leather sofa, while others may savor your soft cashmere blanket or have carpet cravings. Stilwell’s cat, Angelica, liked the feel of plain wood but not carpet. Nowadays, you can get very modern looking cat furniture that will fit in with your décor and comes with a variety of scratching materials including wood, grass, cardboard, carpet, sisal etc.
The size and shape may also come into play. Carob Hibner, owner of Primo Petcare in Auburn, Wash., told me, “A cat post with height is more appealing than one that is horizontal or less than twice the height of your cat’s length.” Keep in mind that if you have more than one cat, they may have different tastes in scratchers. A good tip would be to pay attention to what they are scratching in your home. For example, if she is clawing the carpet, buy a carpeted tree. If you are unsure, you may have to buy several scratchers of varying materials, shapes and heights, to determine which one your cat gravitates toward.
I found more modern cat trees and scratchers online and at some boutique pet stores, as opposed to the big box stores. Also, some stores will take back an unused cat tree, so ask about return polices prior to purchasing. Otherwise, donate your unused tree(s) to a local cat shelter. It is tax deductible and you will improve the life of a homeless cat.
Tip 3: Placement
Just like with your cat’s litterbox, placement of the cat scratcher is very important. “If you place it in an area with a lot of traffic, human or animal, the cat won’t want to use it,” Stilwell explained. “Place it somewhere the cat can have some privacy and they will be more likely to use it.” After all, cats have to keep their dignity, and that would be totally gone if you saw them going crazy like a kitten over something as silly as a piece of cardboard attached to some wood!
Tip 4: Attract the Cat
Cats, like dogs, respond to positive reinforcement. Stilwell recommends using positive reinforcement such as treats and praise, as soon as your cat scratches the cat tree. She also mentioned placing treats, catnip or thyme around the cat tree to encourage your cat to go over to it. You can also try engaging your cat with a feather dangling over the cat scratcher. When the cat stretches his claws to get the feather and gets the scratcher instead, reward him with praise and treats.
My local pet store’s aid include sticky mats to put over whatever your cat is scratching and claw caps, rubber covers for your kitty’s claws. I have used these in the past and found they are very affective. If you are not sure about putting these on yourself, your local groomer or vet will most likely do it for you. You want your kitty to be happy and to be happy a cat needs to stretch and sharpen those claws. Hopefully these tips will allow your kitty to do just that, without shredding your décor.