Shopping for a scratching post for your new cat? Thinking about declawing but want to offer an option besides your leather couch first? Buying a scratching post is a great idea, but buying the right one can make all the difference between your cat using it regularly, or ignoring it and working on the couch some more.
Because I practice house call medicine, I have the advantage of seeing the scratching post…as well as the other household items the cat has “improvised.” And I see many that are insufficient, and I wonder why they even make them like that.
Here’s the two common mistakes people make.
1 – Too short.
Your cat wants to stretch up to the top and work those claws down. Even an 18 inch scratching post is often insufficient for these cats. Yes, the taller ones are more expensive. It’s still cheaper than your couch. Not sure how tall of a post to get? Look at the furniture he’s scratching. How high up do the marks go? Measure it. Seriously. Because when you get in the store they look taller than they are! And get a post that goes higher than the marks on the couch. Maybe your couch isn’t really his ideal height, but it’s the best he’s got. We want this sucker to be so darn appealing the couch is not even worth considering!
2 – Wrong angle.
Some cats are vertical scratchers and love the posts most people envision when they think of a scratching post. However, some cats are horizontal scratchers. They want the flat surface they can really dig in on. Like a giant emery board. Again, these need to be big enough that your cat has space to work. And heavy enough they can scratch and it isn’t sliding across the room. Consider the flooring you put it on (maybe a rubber-backed mat?).
Aside from avoiding these two pitfalls, what else can you do to help encourage your cat enjoy the new scratching post? Here’s some pointers:
Location location location!
Putting the scratching post in the basement isn’t going to make your cat run to it. Try putting it near where he is scratching (if he has a place). If he doesn’t have a place (or a victimized piece of furniture), a main part of the house where a lot of playing happens is ideal. Also a part of the house that doesn’t have a TON of traffic. And not next to the litter box. Or the water bowl.
Trial and error
Don’t know which kind of scratcher your cat is? He might not know either! Try one flat and one vertical post and see if there is one that he immediately takes to!
Some cats love catnip, others are unimpressed. Putting catnip near the post may pique your cat’s interest. Another option is Feliway a cat pheromone. This would not be sprays on the post, but would be a plug-in in the same room to help improve mood in general. (Here’s my article on pheromones in general for those of you thinking WTF???). Feliway is (very soon!!) coming out with a product called “Feli-scratch” that is meant to be applied to the post to make it more appealing. I’m excited to have some cats try it out and give me their feedback.
Consider the surface
Different scratching posts come with different textures. It may take some experimentation to find out which your cat likes best. Generally, less smooth and more knobby is the way to go.
If all else fails?
Got a cat that no matter what you buy and try, has a sacrificial piece of furniture he won’t stop scratching? Try making it less appealing. Aluminum foil is not something cats want to scratch, so that can be a help if it covers the surface they’ve been damaging. Or try just a physical barrier so the cat has to find a new target. Using a spray bottle on the cat (a common internet “cure”) or other deterrent that YOU do will not work. It only teaches them to not scratch in front of you, which is not what we want to teach! We also find that any type of punishment (like spraying water) won’t work, because cats are smart, and will simply scratch that furniture when you and your bottle are not there.
With learning to use scratching posts, keep an open mind, be patient, and love your cat no matter what!