“A dog will flatter you but you have to flatter the cat.”  – George Mikes

Many of us understand the perplexity of cats, and realise that they are far different from dogs.  However, cats can sometimes have quirks and habits that we don’t know how to deal with.  We may believe that we are doing the best for our cat, but forget our role as a “caregiver” of that animal and let them get away with things that they shouldn’t.  What is right and what is wrong is not always clear, but we’ve provided some tips to help you train your cat to be the best that he/she can be.

Why Cats Scratch…

Scratching is a natural behaviour for cats.  Cats scratch to stretch their muscles, shed old cuticles, sharpen their claws and leave scent marks.  Even if declawed, cats retain the instinct to scratch.

Scratching posts provide cats with an outlet for their instinct to scratch while at the same time saving your furniture and carpets!  In order to choose the right scratching post for your cat, consider the following:

What does your cat like to scratch?

Choose a scratching post that is similar to the material your cat most likes to scratch.  Most, but not all, cats prefer scratching posts made out of rough material they can shred.  Sisal scratching posts are ideal because they are satisfying to scratch and tough enough to stand up to repeated use.  Vertical or upright and horizontal or flat scratching posts are available in a variety of sizes and materials, including sisal (a coarse natural fiber), carpet and cardboard.  Cats that scratch chair legs or the corners of your couch may prefer a vertical scratching post.  Make sure that vertical scratching posts are tall enough so that your cat can stretch up to scratch.  Cats that scratch rugs and carpets may prefer a horizontal scratching post or mat.  Scratching posts should be stabilized to ensure that they don’t move or tip over and scare your car while he/she is using them.

Where does your cat scratch?

Cats scratch to leave scent marks that define their territory and tell other cats they have passed through.  They will often scratch prominent objects near sleeping areas and room entrances.  Therefore, scratching posts should be located in these and other “public” parts of the house that the whole family uses.  In multi-cat households there should be several scratching posts, both vertical and horizontal, located throughout the house.  These posts should be placed in areas where the cats congregate and along their routes to common areas such as food and water bowls, and litter boxes.  Setting up multiple scratching posts provides the cats with an acceptable place to leave their mark without ruining furniture and carpets.

What if my cat won’t use the scratching post?

Considering your cat’s demonstrated preferences, substitute similar objects for him/her to scratch.  Place the scratching post near the object you want the cat to stop scratching.  Cover the inappropriate objects with something your cat will find unappealing, such as double sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, sheets of sandpaper or a plastic carpet runner with the pointy side up.  You may give the objects an objectionable odor by attaching cotton balls soaked with a citrus scent or perfume.  Don’t use anything that could harm the cat if he/she ingests it and be careful with strong odors because you don’t want the nearby acceptable objects to also smell unpleasant.

When your cat is consistenly using the scratching post, it can be moved very gradually (no more than three inches each day) to a location more suitable to you.  It’s best, however, to keep the scratching post as close to your cat’s preferred scratching locations as possible.

Trimming your cat’s nails

Nail trims are an easy, and often overlooked, way to reduce damage from scratching.  You can clip off the sharp tips of your cat’s claws about once every two weeks.  There are several types of nail trimmers designed especially for cats.  These are better than your own nail clipper because they won’t crush the nail bed.

Before trimming your cat’s claws, accustom him/her to having its paws handled and squeezed gently.  You can do this by gently petting the cat’s legs and paws while giving it a treat.  This will help to make it a more pleasant experience.  Gradually increase the pressure so that petting becomes gentle squeezing, as you’ll need to do this to extend the claw.  Continue with the treats until your cat tolerates having its feet handled.

When the cat is ready, apply a small amount of pressure to the cat’s paw, with your thumb on top of the paw and your index finger underneath, until a claw is extended.  Near the cat’s nail bed you should be able to see a pink area, called the “quick”, which is a small blood vessel.  Don’t cut into the pink portion of the nail because it will bleed and be painful for the cat.  Cut off just the sharp tip of the claw to dull the claw.

Go slowly with you cat or he/she may become fearful of having its nails trimmed.  To begin with, trim just one foot each day.  As your cat becomes accustomed to having its nails clipped, you can trim all four feet at the same time.

If you prefer not to trim your cat’s nails, you can purchase soft plastic caps that fit over the nail.  Nail caps are available under the brand name Soft Paws and are available at most veterinary clinics.

This article courtesy of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.