Cats scratching inappropriate items is one of the chief complaints of many caretakers. It leads many to "declaw" their cats, a cruel, inhumane and totally unnecessary amputation of the last digit of the toes. Many veterinarians do not address the pain associated with the procedure. Because this procedure involves the removal of bone, it is exceedingly painful and pre-op neurological blocks, post pain medications and even rehabilitation are all necessary, but rarely provided. It is heartbreaking to see a kitten (and even worse, grown cats) trying to re-learn maneuvering in their environment without their claws. AAFP (American Associate of Feline Practitioners, AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association and the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) have all posted position statements against declawing. They urge veterinarians and their staff to educate caretakers on the nature of and alternatives to the procedure. Many owners have found out too late, that declawing also has many other behavioral and physical ramifications. I urge everyone to take this option of the table of solving scratching by cats.
So....WHY DO cats scratch? It is an innate behavior of cats. It is as essential as breathing, a behavior with which they are born. Scratching not only manicures kitty's nails into fine condition, but helps them to visually proclaim a territory as theirs while also leaving a scent marker behind (their visual and olfactory personal calling card). Cats also get a fantastic stretch of their front legs and shoulders and toes when they scratch! Perhaps you adopted a kitty that was already declawed and have seen them continue this process. Many people think cats are silly to do so or too "stupid" to realize they no longer have claws (Have no doubt, they do know it), but they continue for the reasons stated above...it is part of what makes them cats.
This innate need too often conflicts with our expectations of how cats should behave in our homes. However, understanding this innate need prepares us to provide the resources cats require and allows us to happily co-exist with them. Furnishing proper scratchers throughout the home is key. There are additional efforts we can make to eliminate damage from their claws as well.
When deciding on scratchers, consider preferred locations, how kitty likes to scratch (vertically, horizontally or both) and surface preferences. Look around at where kitty scratches. The area is likely quite solid and immovable. Does it have material on it, what does it feel like, rough, knobby, etc.? Does your cat seem to prefer sold wood surfaces? Does your cat seem to prefer to scratch horizontally along a flat surface or more vertically, up and down a surface. These are all things to keep in mind when looking for a good cat scratcher with which kitty will be ecstatically happy!
Be aware too, if you have a small scratcher that was obtained for a young cat or kitten, it will not be sufficient for a full size/grown cat. It will not be sufficiently stable to maintain their weight and will topple. Kitty will consider that unsafe and find another source for scratching.
Because your entire home is also your kitty's territory, you will need more than one scratcher. If you have several cats, you will definitely need more than one! Hopefully you have at least one cat tower/tree in your home and it has good scratching material for kitty to use. If not, get one...or two or more. Cats like to be in high places to feel safe and watch their surroundings. A family room, your bedroom, etc., are areas cats prefer. They can have their "own furniture" and still be with you. Similarly, scratching posts should be located throughout the home.
What are the best locations for scratchers? Placing a scratcher at the doorway between two rooms is a way to "share" one resource for two territories. It becomes a fantastic visual recording of kitty's comings and goings. It is easily visible and usable when entering and exiting a room. Any room where kitty sleeps or naps is a natural area as well. One of the first things kitty does upon waking, as well as stretching, is to scratch on their favorite scratcher. Areas where the family spends time are other good places. Kitty is part of the family and will consider those areas prime real estate to indicate their presence.
As for the type of scratcher, well, there are a number of good scratchers on the market. There are three chief requirements to make kitty happy. One, that we choose the scratching material kitty likes, two, that the scratcher will be substantial enough as to not fall down or collapse when used (if a vertical scratcher) and three, that it is placed horizontally or vertically, based on the cat's preferences.
There are many materials offered on the market for scratching. "Floor carpet" wrapped are liked by many cats, but those are not recommended. Should kitty decide it's the favored material, there could be issues with cats scratching floor carpeting in future. Best not to get kitty used to that! Other materials are wood, indoor/outdoor flat carpet (very durable), sisal fabric and sisal rope. These are all materials that cats can really dig their nails into..giving them a great stretch and removing old sheaths from their nails. Corrugated cardboard is another material cats like to scratch.
Types of scratchers vary greatly. There are cat trees that are built with real wood (two by fours, etc., or tree wood). If you can find old, sturdy limbs that won't roll around, bring them in for kitty to try. Get creative and make your own. Just make sure it remains sturdy and won't collapse, fall or roll. Pioneer Pet has an excellent cat scratcher...it's The Ultimate Cat Scratcher (products page). It is solidly constructed and is covered in sisal fabric; a very sturdy material into which cats can really sink their claws. They also have a sisal fabric wrapped scratcher that can be hung or placed on the floor for horizontal scratching. The Refined Feline has a beautiful cat tower (product page) that is a beautiful piece of furniture and has replaceable pads of sisal fabric for kitty to scratch. Pet Tree Houses creates beautiful cat trees with real tree limbs/branches, but also contain posts wrapped in sisal rope for additional scratching options.
Some of our most basic scratchers are made with corrugated cardboard! Many cats LOVE to tear into these! Some of these have replacement cardboard inserts too, making them economical. Be sure to consider kitty's size and enthusiasm while scratching. Some of these are lightweight, easily flipped and will quickly be neglected. Imperial Cat company has a wide range of shapes and sizes for kitty...couches, trains, animals, etc.. They are fun for people and cats love them. The larger ones are substantial; cats can climb on them without fear of flipping over.
You can also create your own cat scratcher using 4 inch pvc pipes wrapped in sisal rope or two 2 x 4s screwed together and tapered to an octagonal shape (shaving off the sharp corners). Make sure the screws are countersunk into the wood so kitty's feet won't be damaged by them when scratching or cover with a indoor/outdoor carpet or sisal fabric/rope if you prefer. Either of these should be attached to a flat, heavy base so the entire structure is solid and can't topple when used.
The options are endless. They range from simple, yet functional to quite elegant and sophisticated. Find the right one for your kitty and you and your furniture will be happy! Appropriate scratchers are the first choice for keeping kitty away from furniture, etc.. To minimize damage to surfaces and even people, you can add nail trims or use nail caps/covers (products page) to kitty's manicure regimen. Manufacturers have created feline specific nail trimmers, but small dog clippers work wonderfully well. Desensitizing kitty to this procedure keeps it stress free for you and kitty! Nail trims might be necessary every 2-4 weeks. Nail caps may need to be reapplied every 4-6 weeks. Many veterinarians and pet groomers offer these services for you.
Most cats will gladly use their scratcher. To entice kitty to use a scratcher that seems to be ignored, rub it down with catnip, place kitty's favorite toys around it or place kitty's favorite treats around it. The makers of Feliway products has created a new product called Feli-scratch (Products page). It is a liquid that is "lined" on the scratcher and draws kitty's interest and want to scratch that surface. Also, praise kitty and offer treats when using the scratcher to reinforce the behavior.
For more information regarding scratching issues in your home, review the Behavior Issues - Scratching link.