It’s easy to take it personally when your cat scratches up your couch cushions, bites your ankles as you pass by, chews up your (non-toxic) houseplants. They aren’t doing any of this to make you mad; instead, they are answering to their internal “call of the wild”. Indoor cats can easily become bored, and the lack of stimulation can lead to undesirable behaviors.
With positive reinforcement, guidance, and a lot of patience, you can train your incredibly intelligent cat – and stop destructive cat behavior before it becomes a habit.
A Good Scratch
Cats scratch for various reasons, but mostly because it provides an excellent back stretch (not to mention good feelings in their front legs and toes). Additionally, the repetitive action helps to wear off the broken or dead outer sheath of their claws, providing them with relief.
What’s more, is that cats have scent glands between their toes. When they scratch they are leaving their mark that says, “mine”.
A Fine Balance
You don’t want your furniture, carpeting, or curtain getting all scratched up, but you also don’t want to restrict your cat from answering to this feline instinct. The compromise is to provide them with various scratching posts or horizontal pads for them to use throughout the house.
Scolding your cat or punishing them after they scratch up your stuff may only serve to reinforce destructive cat behavior. Encourage them to use their scratching posts by offering treats or back rubs nearby. Reward them for appropriate scratching.
Feliway or catnip are also great assets in your attempt to curb destructive cat behavior.
Take an inventory of fabrics or surfaces your pet seems to prefer. They may like certain upholstery or appear attracted to the thick piles or an area rug. Try to find scratching posts or pads that mimic the fabrics or textures they are drawn to in your furniture and decor.
Apply double-sided tape to couch corners or rugs they seem to mark up more than others. Spray areas with a natural cat deterrent spray will give them powerful reasons not to scratch there.
Indoor cats are arguably safer than those allowed to roam their neighborhoods, but they can quickly become bored. Destructive cat behavior can stem from this situation, but it doesn’t have to have terrible consequences (like surrender or euthanasia). Instead, building up their environment in such a way that supports their mental and physical health is essential toward long term happiness.
Provide a cat tree or catio for them to play inside of. Offer alternative feeding methods, such as food puzzles or simulated hunting activities, can keep them occupied and less likely to scratch.
Also, your cat enjoys at least 20-30 minutes of play and exercise every day. Be sure to rotate their toys to maximize their interest.
Destructive Cat Behavior
Some things that cats do, like spray outside their litter box, can be explained by certain medical conditions. If you know or suspect that the destructive cat behavior you witness at home could be related to something else besides boredom, please don’t delay seeking help. Your cat may be suffering from an underlying illness or injury that, when diagnosed and treated, could significantly reduce unwanted behavior at home.