Behavioral problems of cats: How do we solve the problem of cats sharpening their claws on the furniture?
Orli Zacai – Chinese Medicine for Animals and Consultation for Cat behavioral
“I have gotten to the point where I don’t know what to do…my cat is destroying the sofa with its claw sharpening. I want to buy a new sofa, but I am afraid that he will also destroy that one too. I am really desperate”.
Sharpening claws on the furniture is a very common problem among cats, and many times their owners wonder: “Why are they doing this?” Of course, we’re not talking about revenge or making a statement about your prized piece of furniture or your taste in home decoration. If you did not train your cat to sharpen its claws on a sharpening stand while it was young, it is logical that it will find functional equivalents in the form of furniture or other hard surfaces.
It is important to understand that claw sharpening is a natural action for a cat, which is genetically part of its make-up as part of its survival mechanisms. By sharpening, the cat removes the dead layer of the claw and exposes the new, younger, sharper layer. Our goal is to supply a suitable alternative and to direct the cat to the surfaces that are meant for sharpening, and of course not to punish it for behavior that stems from a natural urge.
We do not de-claw
Unfortunately, there are cat owners who chose a cruel and unnecessary solution – de-clawing. This operation is done only for the convenience of humans, who are not paying attention to what terrible suffering it causes to their beloved pet cat.
De-clawing is not similar to a manicure! We are talking about the cutting off of the last joint of every finger. Look for a moment at your own fingers and imagine the process. This is a difficult operation with a long, difficult and painful recuperation period, during which the cat still must walk on its legs, jump and dig in the kitty litter – in spite of the pain it is experiencing.
It is no wonder that in England and in other European countries this operation is now against the law.
Cat lovers know that there is no doubt that the cat is suffering. A cat of course can hide its pain better than we can since it feels itself endangered, that is to say, in a position of weakness. And in a situation such as this in nature, it would have to hide its weakness. However, do not make the mistake and consider this operation lightly.
The cat’s body is designed perfectly to give it an elegant, slight and beautiful form. Its claws are an important part of this design, and cutting them off dramatically influences the cat’s balance and prevents it from defending itself. This is the basic genetic purpose of claws, even if it seems to you that the cat has nothing to defend itself against at home.
Now you understand that the de-clawing is a very cruel process, but you are still worried about the damage to the sofa in the living room. Is there a logical solution? I am happy to tell you that the answer is yes – and the truth is that there are a few solutions.
Before we get to the problem of claw sharpening on furniture, we have to understand why the cat feels a need to mark an area where it already feels comfortable and secure, and whether or not the sharpening stems from the need to mark the territory. After we understand the reason for sharpening claws, we can then choose a relevant solution.
Cats that sharpen their claws on various places in the home, especially near to windows and doors, are in essence marking their territory by means of their scent and by means of sharpening marks on those same surfaces, in a very similar way to their marking places in the house with their urine.
There are various reasons why a cat desires to mark its territory, for example, bringing a new cat into the home, without properly getting them acquainted, is likely to upset the cat’s feeling of security. This secure feeling could also be disturbed by bringing in a new mate, or when outside yard cats try to enter the home.
If the cat sharpens its claws in one or two fixed areas, the reason is usually strengthening and preservation and maintenance of healthy claws. However, sharpening of claws on furniture could stem from the cat’s desire for attention from its owners. The cat is an intelligent animal that is expert in manipulating human behavior, and quickly learns new methods for getting noticed. A cat that walks on the window sill, for example, learns how fast we jump up and pick it up. In the same way, it will learn that chewing the pretty plant in the living room or sharpening its nails on the armchair are excellent ways of being noticed.
So what should you do? Buy a suitable scratching post for your cat. You can find in the market a large variety of surfaces for cats that are intended for claw sharpening, in many shapes and sizes, made of blocks of wood, rope or cardboard. Each cat has its preferences regarding sharpening surfaces. Finding the correct surface is a matter of trial and error, but the way the cat sharpens its claws could guide you to the correct surface. (Does it stretch out and sharpen its claws on a high surface such as your sofa? Or does it prefer flat and low surfaces?).
Encouraging the use of the scratching post
Below are some tips that will help your cat use the new scratching post:
– It is recommended to place the scratching post next to the sofa or the furniture that the cat uses for sharpening its claws, and then afterwards teach it to use the new surface.
– “Sharpen” your nails on the scratching post. If the cat imitates you, give it a treat.
– Gently and without force, hold your cat’s forepaw and make sharpening movements with it on the surface. If the cat cooperates, give it a treat.
– Scatter catnip on the scratching post. There are cats that really love the scent and there are those that do not react to it at all.
– Give the cat a treat or a caress each time it touches or sharpens its claws on the scratching post.
– At the moment when the cat goes over to sharpen its claws on the sofa, move it gently to the scratching post.
To sum up, it is important to remember that sharpening claws is a basic need of a cat and that it is our job to provide it with a good enough alternative. If you supply the cat with all its physical and mental needs, and if you are persistent and patient in getting the cat used to using the new scratching post, you will not have to worry about damage to your furniture or about purchasing a new sofa.