Feline household destructiveness is actually normal cat behavior that is directed onto inappropriate targets. It is a common problem, but there are many things that pet parents can do to encourage cats to use their teeth and claws in appropriate ways and discourage behavior that can be damaging to property and/or dangerous to their cats.
Common name: Feline destructive behavior
Scientific name: Feline destructive behavior
Cats of all ages and breeds may exhibit feline destructive behavior.
Most cats will at least occasionally scratch or dig on an inappropriate substrate at some point in their lives.
There is no geographic predilection for feline destructive behavior.
Clinical signs (primary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
There are no clinical signs in the cat.
Causes (scientific, common term)
Normal behavior directed on inappropriate targets.
Organ systems affected (most to least affected)
There are no organ systems affected.
Compulsive behavior, Hyperthyroidism, Pica.
Feline household destructiveness stems from normal cat behavior that is directed onto inappropriate targets. Most complaints involve scratching of household furnishings or chewing on plants, wiring, fabric or other items. Treatment requires appropriate outlets for these natural behaviors while making household items unattractive targets.
Cats scratch to remove the old outer sheath from their claws, to stretch their muscles, and to delineate their territory with olfactory and visual marks. Common targets for scratching include furniture, drapes, and carpeting in prominent areas of the house and near the cat's sleeping area.
Note the cat's preferred scratching surfaces (fabric, carpet, cardboard, sisal, wood) and orientation (vertical or horizontal) and provide scratchers that accommodate these preferences. Place scratchers near the cat's bed and close to where it is doing the damage. Scratchers should be large enough for the cat to stretch while scratching and should not be easily capsized. Encourage investigation of scratchers by scenting them with catnip, by hanging toys at the tops of the posts or by dangling string-type toys on the surface to entice the cat to pounce and scratch.
Forcing a cat to scratch on a new scratcher will only cause fear and avoidance. Do not discard old scratchers when they appear worn: Cats prefer used scratchers that already contain their scent and visual marks.
Cats may chew things in play, to investigate, and when teething or seeking comfort. Cat toys with treats inside, rawhide chips and regular playtime can satisfy many chewers. For those who chew houseplants, provide a tray of live wheat grass to nibble on.
Throw a sheet over furniture or cover targeted areas of carpet or furniture with double-sided tape, aluminum foil, vinyl carpet runners, or wire baking racks. Feliway¬Æ spray and booby traps such as a ScatMat¬Æ, Ssscat¬Æ and Snappy Trainer¬Æ can also be effective deterrents.
Cat-proofing the house is essential. Apply a taste deterrent such as mentholto targeted objects until the habit is broken. Electrical cords can be contained in plastic tubing or tucked safely behind furniture.
Trim the cat's nails regularly. Consider using plastic nail caps (Soft Paws¬Æ) that prevent damage from scratching. These caps, which must be reapplied every 4 to 6 weeks, are a pain-free alternative to declawing.
Consult a certified applied animal behaviorist, board-certified veterinary behaviorist or other qualified professional if home care is not successful. Veterinary care including declawing or tendonectomy reduces destructive abilities. These surgeries require careful attention to pain control and have side effects including litter box aversion and inability to perform normal scratching behavior. Surgery should be limited to cases in which behavior modification programs have failed and euthanasia is pending.
Feline household destructive problems are generally responsive to treatment, especially if caught early and if the cat is provided with suitable targets to satisfy these normal behaviors.
Ackerman, L., Landsberg, G., Hunthausen, W. Cat Behavior and Training. T.F.H. Publications, Inc.
Johnson, P. Twisted Whiskers. The Crossing Press, Berkeley, CA, 1994.
Trish McMillan, MSc
Katherine Miller, PhD
Steven Hansen, DVM, MS, MBA
© 2007. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)