Tag Archives: scratching posts

Furniture scratching by cats is one of those things that falls into the category of “normal feline behavior that bothers humans.” Scratching is an essential feel-good behavior for cats that allows them to stretch their back muscles and mark their territory (both visually and through the scent glands in the paws). Cats often scratch human furniture such as couches, chairs, stereo speakers, hampers or carpets because they aren’t provided with other scratching outlets, or when what they are provided with does not fit their needs.

A critical way to stop cats from scratching the furniture is to give them something to scratch that they like. Through three experiments, a new publication sought to assess the scratching preferences of housecats, and also looked at whether adding an olfactory supplement would increase scratching of objects. The manuscript, “Scratcher preferences of adult in-home cats and effects of olfactory supplements on cat scratching” was recently published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

A total of 36 housecats participated in the study, from the comfort of their own homes. In each experiment, cats were presented with choices for scratching, and preferences were assessed by measuring the amount of time, and the frequency of visits the cat made to each, over the course of a week. A video camera was set up to record feline visits to the scratching posts. 

In the first experiment, cats were simultaneously presented with a standing cardboard scratcher and a cardboard scratcher pad to see if they preferred vertical or horizontal scratching.

 

In Experiment 2, cats were given the choice of four vertical scratchers, each of which was covered with a different texture (cardboard, sofa fabric, carpet, and rope).

 

Finally, the third study gave the cats the choice of two vertical cardboard scratching posts, one of which had an added olfactory stimulus (either catnip, silver vine, or the product Feliscratch provided in a sock), and the other that had a matching control stimulus (an unscented sock).

So what did the cats like? In Experiment 1, results suggested that the cats showed a stronger preference for the vertical, standing scratcher over the S-shaped cardboard pad. The cats in Experiment 2 spent more time scratching and paid more visits to the cardboard and rope compared to the sofa fabric. The response to the carpet was more middle-of-the-road “meh.”

In Experiment 3, the catnip and silver vine were both successful in increasing scratching interactions, compared to the unscented sock. There was no such effect of the Feliscratch treatment, which resulted in similar levels of scratching as the unscented sock.

Now, it’s worth noting, in case you were wondering, that Feliscratch is produced by the same company that brought us Feliway. It’s advertised as “a simple answer to cat’s inappropriate scratching in the home.” I’ve shared my opinions on Feliway before, and based on the comments, it’s definitely both the most popular and most hated blog post I’ve ever written (note: if you submit a comment that is rude or insults me, I will not post it).

Getting ready to apply the Feliscratch.

I obtained a free sample of Feliscratch a few years ago, and tried it out with my own cats. It stained my scratching post, as promised, which I wasn’t super-thrilled about. To boot, my cats didn’t just NOT scratch more, they actively avoided the scratch post I placed the Feliscratch on for several weeks. So, once again, in my experience Feliway promises more than it generally delivers, and this study adds more doubt (at least in my mind) about its efficacy.

After Feliscratch application. No cats are interested.

On the other hand – a quick, cheap and positive way to enhance your scratching posts is to add a little ‘nip or silver vine to them!

Although not an airtight study, these experiments point to the importance of offering choices for your cat when it comes to scratching opportunities. We can use cats’ OVERALL preferences to guide what we provide for our cats, while understanding that each individual cat may have their own preferences. And how do you know you’ve picked the right scratching post? When your cat uses it and not the couch!

BONUS: My general tips on preventing furniture scratching:

  • Find out the texture(s) your cat likes best! Offering choices, just like in this study, is a great way to figure out what your cat likes…and they might like multiple textures or angles!
  • Provide your cat something tall and sturdy to scratch (AT LEAST 3’ high). Small, kitten-sized scratchers are not tall enough, and scratch pads that hang on a doorknob are too wobbly to be comfortable.
  • Provide multiple scratchers in different locations of your home.
  • Location matters: Don’t hide the scratchers in the back corner of your office or in the basement. Scratch posts should be placed in prominent locations, including near where your cat likes to eat, sleep and greet you.
  • You can lure your cat to explore the post with toys or catnip/silver vine, but DO NOT carry your cat to the post and move their paws on it. This is an aversive experience for most cats that will steer them AWAY, not toward the post.
  • Praise your cat and dole out treats for scratching post use. Positive reinforcement works!

Reference:

Zhang, L., & McGlone, J. J. (2020). Scratcher preferences of adult in-home cats and effects of olfactory supplements on cat scratching. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 104997.

Some behaviors that cat owners find problematic are in many cases just normal cat behaviors. Scratching is one of those commonly reported “nuisance behaviors” which is a perfectly natural behavior for cats. However, if not directed toward acceptable objects, feline scratching can lead to humans living with shredded couches; in some cases humans resort to painful and potentially harmful procedures, such as amputation of the cat’s toes (commonly referred to as “declawing”; I’ve written about the potential harms of declawing here).

A new study aimed to learn more about what cats scratch in homes, and what owners do in response. The results of the study, “Survey of cat owners on features of, and preventative measures for, feline scratching of inappropriate objects: a pilot study” were recently published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

One hundred and sixteen cat owners who brought their cats to the veterinary clinic at the University of Georgia participated in the survey. In addition to your usual household demographic questions, participants were asked if their cat scratched any objects “not designated for scratching” and if so, to describe the type of object, the material, and the angle of the object in relation to the floor (e.g., horizontal or vertical). They were asked to detail how often their cat scratched the object(s) in question, the techniques they used to stop scratching behavior, whether they provided their cat with designated items for scratching, and how they encouraged their cat to use the designated item.

The cats in the study ranged in age from 1 month to 18 years, were pretty evenly distributed between the sexes, and were mostly (79.3%) indoors-only and spayed/neutered (85.2%). Eighty-seven percent of cats still had their claws (why include declawed cats in a study of undesirable scratching behavior?).

A whopping 83.9% of respondents reported that their cat scratched inappropriate items, with the majority of cats scratching said items daily. Cats overall preferred fabric chairs, sofas and other furniture – primarily things that are vertical in relation to the floor – but they also really loved carpets for scratching. Despite the frequency and type of objects scratched, owners estimated the damage at less than $100 for more scratching (y’all got some cheap couches in Georgia?).

Owners reported several ways they tried to get their cats to stop scratching, including yelling, spanking, spraying water on their cat, covering furniture with tinfoil, and providing their cat with a designated scratching item. None of these techniques was related to the reported frequency of “inappropriate scratching.”

Most cats in the study were provided with a scratching item. Photo via Flicker by Melissa Wiese https://www.flickr.com/photos/42dreams/1009400100 via Creative Commons.

Most cats (76.1%) were provided with a designated scratching item, often a scratching pole or pad. Most poles were carpet, sisal or a combination of the two; and most scratch pads were made of cardboard. Cat owners also had several methods for trying to get their cat to use the scratching item, including praise, catnip, treats, playing with a toy nearby, or placing their cat near the scratching item. No particular method was associated with success or failure, except placing the cat nearby, which was associated with less, not more, success.

The study gives us some insight into what cats are doing in the homes, and what humans are doing in response. I have a few minor quibbles with the study, one being that the data is really old – collected in 2011; in the past seven years, there’s been a bit of a cat “renaissance” – the options for cat trees and scratching objects has really expanded and hopefully nowadays cats are being provided with more and better options for scratching (I can dare to dream, can't I?).

The sample size is relatively small, focuses on cat owners in one city, and we don’t know how representative it is of all cat owners. That said, internet samples have their own problem in that pet owners who are willing to fill out surveys are also not always representative of all pet owners, so it’s nice to see a study that relied on pen and paper surveys with real people!

Many cats in this study were provided with scratching items, but still scratched other things. Whether the designated scratching items met cats’ needs is hard to determine. The average height of vertical scratching poles provided by study participants was between 2 and 3 feet tall, which falls short of the height and sturdiness that many cats prefer – there’s a reason they love sofas – they’re tall and sturdy, and usually in a good spot for the territorial marking that scratching behavior in part represents. Although 22.1% of people who tried to encourage their cat to use the designated item gave their cats treats for scratching, only one person reported using clicker training to do so.

Action shot of my cat using her Ultimate Scratching Post.

There was almost no relationship between human behavior and cat scratching behavior, but there could be too much variability in human behavior to see an effect; for example, did everyone in the study who “taught their cat how to use the designated scratching item” do so in exactly the same way? I’m guessing not.

So what can we conclude from this study? Many cats scratch chairs and carpet; but almost as many cats (79% of those who had a provided scratch post or pad) were ALSO using their designated scratching posts or pads. Most cats in the study were only provided with one designated scratching option, so one may not be enough. My own personal and professional experience: give your cat multiple scratching options that they like, in different areas of your house, and they will rarely if ever touch your furniture. Offer choices and you’ll learn their scratching preferences in no time…and save your couch from being shredded too.

Reference: Moesta, A., Keys, D., & Crowell-Davis, S. (2017). Survey of cat owners on features and preventative measures of feline scratching of inappropriate objects: a pilot study. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 1098612X17733185.

1 Comment

Don't buy crappy scratchers like this one. Your cat won't use it!
Don't buy crappy scratchers like this one. Your cat won't use it!

Often when I’m walking around (I don’t have a car, so I do that a lot), I see a tiny, unused “cat scratcher,” which has generously been placed out on the sidewalk in case someone else wants to make the mistake of thinking their cat will use it. I usually think to myself “awww, the human tried, but they bought the cheapest cat scratcher, and have now (in their mind) reaffirmed the idea that cats won’t use cat scratchers.” If only the human had done a little research, and invested a little more money, they would have had a better chance of getting their cat to use the scratcher instead of the sofa.

So WHAT kind of scratcher do cats like? The short answer is, it depends. But a new study has tried to get a little more info (based on owner report) as to what cats like to scratch. Owner observations regarding cat scratching behavior: An internet-based survey, recently published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, asked over 4000 people to tell them about their cat’s scratching habits and preferences. The results suggest that there might be a mismatch between what cats are offered to scratch, and what they like to scratch.

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