We all love our cats to bits, but their destructive behavior can sometimes drive us up the wall.
Scratching your favorite furniture, messing with your things at night, knocking things off shelves, and chewing on your plants – sound familiar?
I still remember when my cat Cleo used to scratch our couch, the kitchen mat, the stair when we came home, and even our bed.
But there are ways you and I can curb our kitty’s destructive tendencies, and these are some of them:
1. Understand the root cause
Before you can address your cat’s destructive behavior, it’s a good idea to understand why they’re acting this way.
Are they bored, stressed, or simply seeking your attention? Identifying the root cause will help you tailor your approach and find the most effective solution.
Observe your cat’s behavior patterns and take note of when they’re most likely to act out. This information can be very helpful as you work to address the issue.
2. Provide plenty of mental stimulation
A bored cat is often destructive, and a tired cat is less likely to engage in destructive behavior.
Keep your furry friend entertained with puzzle feeders, interactive toys, toys that mimic prey, like feather wands or laser pointers, and regular playtime sessions.
Provide diversions from their destructive behaviors using things like a kitty condo, hanging catnip toys, or toys that deliver treats when moved or scratched.
Rotate their toys regularly to maintain their interest and make sure they have access to a stimulating environment, such as a bird feeder outside the window or a perch with a nice and interesting view outside, where they can see people, moving objects, or other animals.
Consider installing a cat tree or wall-mounted shelves for your cat to climb and explore, providing them with further exercise and mental stimulation opportunities.
You might also consider teaching them tricks or introducing clicker training, which can be a fun and rewarding way for both of you to bond while keeping their mind engaged.
3. Create scratching alternatives
So I mentioned scratching earlier, but the truth is cats need to scratch – it’s a natural behavior that helps them maintain their claws, mark their territory and explore their instincts.
Instead of trying to stop this instinctive action, provide your cat with appropriate scratching surfaces.
Observe your cat to determine what surfaces and orientations they prefer to scratch on, and then you can buy or build scratching posts that match your cat’s preferences.
Place the post near areas where they usually scratch and gradually move it to your desired location.
Invest in a variety of scratching posts and pads, and place them strategically around your home.
Opt for different materials, like sisal rope, carpet, or cardboard, to cater to your cat’s preferences.
Encourage your cat to use these by sprinkling some treats or adding their favorite toys. Praise them every time they make the right choice, and they’ll soon get the message.
4. Positive reinforcement
I spoke about praise earlier, and it’s a very important part of bonding with your cat because it can help create trust.
Cats respond well to positive reinforcement.
Reward your feline friend with treats, praise, or extra playtime when they exhibit good behavior.
This will encourage them to repeat these actions and gradually replace their destructive habits.
Be sure to reward them immediately after the desired behavior to create a strong association between the action and the positive outcome.
5. Redirect their energy
When you catch your cat in the act of destructive behavior, calmly redirect them to an appropriate activity.
For instance, if they’re scratching your couch, gently move them to their scratching post and praise them when they use it.
If your cat is eating your house plants, make sure the plants are not dangerous for them. If you can try to block access to houseplants to protect both your plants and your cat.
Offer them a safer alternative, like:
- Cat grass (wheatgrass, rye, and barley)
- Oat grass
- Catnip toy
- Adding lettuce or parsley to their food
Consistent redirection will help them learn which behaviors are acceptable and which are not.
6. Address stress and anxiety
Stress can contribute to destructive behaviors in cats, which can usually cause them to hide in your house or start pooping outside their litter box.
Identify any potential stressors in your cat’s environment (such as a new pet, new family member, loud noises, or changes in routine) and take steps to minimize them.
Create a safe space for your cat, like a cozy hideaway or a cat shelf with a view, where they can retreat when they feel overwhelmed.
You might also consider using Jackson Galaxy’s Stress Stopper, which mimics the “feel-good” chemicals cats release when they’re content, to create a calming atmosphere.
7. Use deterrents
To protect your furniture and other valuable items, consider using deterrents like booby traps, plastic nail caps, odor neutralizers, double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, or a plastic carpet runner (spike-side up) on the surfaces you want to protect.
Cats generally dislike these textures and will avoid scratching or climbing on them.
You can also try using citrus or eucalyptus essential oil sprays as a natural repellent, but be sure to test a small area on your furniture first to ensure it won’t damage your belongings.
8. Trim their claws
I don’t do this anymore, but regularly trimming your cat’s claws can reduce the damage they cause when scratching.
Make sure you use a proper cat nail trimmer and only trim the clear tip of the claw, avoiding the pink “quick” to prevent pain or injury.
If you’re unsure about how to do this, your vet or groomer can show you the correct technique.
Alternatively, you could try using soft nail caps, which are glued onto the claws and provide a temporary solution to prevent scratching damage.
Don’t declaw your cats, though. Jackson Galaxy strongly advises against declawing cats, as it can lead to serious physical and behavioral problems.
Declawing a cat is a very invasive procedure. It involves the amputation of the last bone of each of the cat’s toes.
This is equivalent to amputating a human finger at the last joint.
Declawing can lead to significant behavioral and health issues in cats and has potential long-term consequences on your cat’s well-being.
Because of these reasons, many animal welfare organizations and cat experts strongly discourage declawing cats and recommend alternatives.
Instead, it’s recommended that you try other alternatives, like providing scratching posts, regular nail trims, and using deterrents in appropriate places to protect your furniture and belongings.
9. Consider professional help
If your cat’s destructive behavior continues despite your best efforts, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice.
A qualified veterinarian or certified animal behaviorist can help identify the underlying issues with your cat and recommend tailored strategies to address them effectively.
They may suggest additional training techniques, changes to your cat’s environment, or even medication in some cases.
Why do cats become destructive?
According to Jackson Galaxy’s analysis, cats can become destructive due to various reasons:
- Lack of playtime
- Age, especially in kittens with lots of energy and curiosity
- Night time zoomies
- Play aggression through biting ankles or playfully attacking
- Stress and anxiety
- Medical issues
Avoid punishment when correcting destructive cat behaviors
Punishment is not an effective way to stop scratching behavior and may lead to fear or aggression.
It is important to strike a balance between protecting your belongings and ensuring your cat’s well-being.
My cat is more important to me than the things in my house, and I love her too much to ever choose things over her.
Patience and consistency are key when dealing with your cat’s destructive habits.
It may take some time for your cat to adjust to new rules and routines, but with perseverance and love, you’ll soon enjoy a more peaceful coexistence with your beloved pet.
I know that your situation will improve with the right approach, vet, and/or cat behaviorist in your corner.
Keep going and use some of the tools and items I shared above, and you’ll soon start seeing better results.