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Why cats claw and how to prevent unwanted clawing in the home

Clawing is natural behavior in cats, but some stressors can cause a cat to claw more. Find out how to recognize why cats claw and learn how to prevent unwanted clawing in your home.

Jon Bowen, Honorary Lecturer in Small Animal Behaviour at the Royal Veterinary College discusses where and why cats claw.

The three main reason cats claw are:

  • To stretch their muscles after sleeping.
  • To sharpen their claws.
  • To leave a scent mark that will deter other cats.

Reasons cats start clawing more often inside the home

  • Due to stiffness and muscular tension, such as after an injury or arthritis.
  • Not being able to use clawing places outside, for example due to illness or infirmity, conflict with other cats, bad weather or a lack of opportunity (no cat door or nothing to claw in the garden).
  • As cats get older and go outside less, they often need to claw more often to relieve muscle tension and to remove excess spurs of claw.
  • If there is conflict with cats inside the house.
  • If there is conflict with neighborhood cats, particularly involving home invasion.

The places where cats claw can indicate the cause

Claw marks on furniture that faces windows and external doors
This is likely to be due to conflict with neighborhood cats. Dealing with this conflict may help to reduce clawing.

Claw marks by resting places
This is due to stretching. You cannot stop your cat doing this. It is best to provide a scratching post to stretch on nearby.

Claw marks on upholstered furniture or carpet that is not near a resting area
This is likely to be claw sharpening. You cannot stop your cat doing this. It is best to provide a scratching place nearby that has the same texture to what the cat is currently scratching.

Top tips to prevent unwanted clawing in the home

  • Give your cat places to claw in the garden (such as softwood posts at the boundary of the garden) and in the house.
  • Some cats like to claw horizontal surfaces like the carpet or stair treads. For these cats get a scratching post with a heavy carpeted or padded base and put this close to the spot where your cat claws.
  • If you want to deter your cat from scratching soft furniture, temporarily cover it with a sheet of heavy polythene plastic.
  • If you want to deter a cat from scratching wooden furniture, rub a small amount of lemon or eucalyptus oil onto it. Test this on a small area first to make sure that this does not damage the surface.
  • If your cat is getting older, he may need to stretch and sharpen his claws more often. Put a scratching post next to the places where your cat usually rests.
  • Clipping your cat's claws may make the clawing situation worse, rather than better, and will make it hard for your cat to run and climb, leaving your cat defenceless in a fight. Therefore, it's best to leave your cat's claws alone.
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