We continue our series of recommendations for new cat owners. See the entire new cat shopping list here.
Cats need places to sharpen their claws. If you don't provide an attractive scratching surface, they'll make do with your upholstery, drapes, bedding, or whatever else they can find to get the job done. That's not to say that scratching things is malicious behavior. It isn't. But you must understand that cats HAVE to scratch. It not only helps them to remove the outer sheath of each claw, it's also an exercise that allows them to stretch their muscles.
If possible, you should have multiple scratching posts and they should be of the sort that's attractive to your cat. How will you know what your cat likes? The best scratching post is the one your cat uses. While cats do differ somewhat in their preferences, here are a few guidelines that almost never fail.
The most important consideration is the scratching surface. In the wild, cats scratch on trees, so make that the example you have in mind when you shop for a scratching post. Its outer surface should be coarse and rough like tree bark. Carpet will sometimes do if it's a tough, outdoor, berber style floor covering, but soft surfaces aren't attractive to most cats. A natural sisal wrap is great, as are corrugated cardboard scratchers.
If you can afford it, a tall cat tree with multiple scratching posts is the bee's knees to most cats. Not only does it satisfy their need to scratch but it also gives them a perch from which they can safely survey their domain. Cats need to be given access to vertical space, so these kinds of cat trees can help with that as well.
The second most important consideration is the height of the post. It needs to be tall enough for your cat to fully extend her body while reaching toward the top of the post. That usually means a post that's at least twice as high as your cat's shoulder height. The taller the better.
Next, you need to make sure that the scratcher is secure. If your cat goes to town on it and it moves suddenly, he may never trust it again. It needs to be as solid as you can make it, meaning it needs a relatively large base. It's also helpful if it's made in such a way that your cat has to stand on the base while scratching.
Corrugated cardboard scratchers have several benefits. They're affordable, they last a long time, and they're recyclable. But best of all, most cats LOVE them. We prefer the sort that sits flat on the floor so that a cat who's using it will actually hold it down with their body weight.
Most cats take to a scratching post quickly while others need encouragement. You can help by placing the post in a central location. One per room is also a good idea, especially for the rooms your kitty likes best. Rubbing the surface with catnip helps with those cats who love the herb, and treats can woo some reluctant felines. While it may sound silly, showing your cat how to use the post can also help. Kittens are taught by example and adult cats can be too.