Often, my cat behavior consultations have a theme. A few weeks ago I had a run on cats who were upsetting their people because they were hanging out on kitchen counters and lounging on computer keyboards. The theme of last week’s consultations was furniture demolition. One consultation stands out.
Shelly lives with her husband, her five-year-old son and their three cats, Pantera, Bugatti, and Enzo. The family lives in a cozy house, filled with antiques and lush carpets. Everyone, including the cats, loves the furniture. The three felines frequently focus their attentions on an antique chair and two ornate sofas. In addition, Pantera exercises her claws on Shelly’s favorite oriental rug. Shelly tried everything she could think of to stop the destruction, but with no success. She hung a scratcher from a door, placed a scratching post in one of the rooms, and yelled at the cats. The only change Shelly noticed was that they scratched with more vigor after she yelled at them.
Thankfully, Shelly is completely opposed to declawing. But, now at a breaking point, she is seriously considering finding new homes for the cats in order to save her furniture. Reluctant to rehome them, but wanting unscarred furniture, she contacted me.
Shelly’s cats are not unique — all cats scratch objects. Even declawed cats scratch. The behavior is natural and instinctive, common to all felines.
Cats scratch because:
Although scratching is mandatory, Shelly’s cats do not have to focus their sharp attentions on the antique furniture and the oriental rug.
Shelly can have the best of both worlds. She can save her antiques and keep her cats. She will need to make the furniture off-limits, while simultaneously addressing the cats’ needs and reinforcing them for their good behaviors.
Here are the three steps Shelly needs to follow for having scratch-free furniture:
Yelling at the cats may stop the behavior in the moment, but it does not train the cats to scratch the approved furniture, and it can have unwelcome side effects, such as those observed by Shelly. Her cats reacted to her yelling by scratching the antiques and the carpet more intently.
It will take Shelly a little time to assemble everything and to put the plan in place. In the meantime, she can protect her furniture by fitting nail caps on her cat’s claws. This is a temporary solution while she trains her three cats to bypass the antiques and focus their attentions on the scratching posts and horizontal scratchers.
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Got a cat behavior question for Marilyn? Ask our behaviorist in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. If you suspect a behavioral problem, always rule out any possible medical issues that may be causing the behavior by first having your cat examined by a veterinarian. Marilyn can also help you resolve cat behavior challenges through a consultation.
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