Did you know that cats use scratching as a form of communication? Scratching sends a message to other cats by leaving visual signs and scents, which are released from the feline paws. Scratching serves many purposes and is vital to a cat’s existence, yet, for people, it can be quite destructive.
However, with some work, feline scratching can usually be directed to specific objects and a cat can be trained to leave your furniture and carpet alone.
In this article, you'll find everything you need to know about cat scratching, why cats do it, and how to deal with it. Here is what we'll cover:
Do cats need to scratch?
Yes, cats need to scratch. For cats, scratching is a way to mark territory, remove the dead layer of their claws, stretch, work off energy or fight boredom. Scratching is a normal behavior grounded in feline instincts, not in a cat’s desire for revenge.
Why are cats scratching furniture and carpet?
Scratching is a natural behavior, just like breathing and purring. Here are the main reasons cats scratch:
Scratching keeps claws in shape
In the wild, cats need sharp claws to climb, hunt and protect themselves, so scratching is a hardwired behavior that keeps those claws in shape. Just like our fingernails, cat claws grow regularly and need care.
However, claws don’t get trimmed at the end but instead, they peel off in layers like an onion. Scratching is the process that speeds up that peeling and helps remove the outer part of the nail, which keeps the claws healthy.
Scratching is a way for cats to mark their territory
Cats are very territorial and solitary animals and, for them, scratching is a way to mark territory and warn off other cats. Through scratching, cats actually try to decrease the chance of confronting other cats in two ways:
- By leaving visual signs that can be seen from afar.
- By releasing ascent from the glands in their paws, and thus embedding their smell in the environment.
Keep in mind that if your cat has to share an area with other pets or can see other animals, he or she may be scratching to mark its territory even more. Cats in this situation also spray to mark their territory – another behavior you can avoid.
Scratching shows joy and happiness
Cats scratch to stretch and to show excitement. They do it when they wake up and when their human comes home from work. They also do it when they are “kneading” with their paws, and while this rhythmic motion might be painful for you, it’s actually sigh of affection.
How can I get my cat to stop scratching the furniture?
You can get your cat to stop scratching your furniture by providing attractive scratching surfaces throughout your home. Scratching is a natural behavior, so don’t punish the animal but direct it to specific objects such as scratching posts.
Are scratching posts good for cats?
The cat scratching posts are good for cats because they provide a safe outlet for scratching. They also offer the height, material and sturdiness to entice our feline friends. That’s why with a few scratching posts and some patience, a cat can be trained to leave your furniture alone.
However, when it comes to training your cat to use scratching posts, two factors are essential – material and location. The material has to be appealing to the cat and the location should be prominent.
What type of scratching post material is best for cats?
The truth is that different cats have different scratching preferences. Overall, the material needs to make a good sound, allow the cat to sink its claws into it and offer the nooks that help trim the cat’s nails when scratching. It’s also helpful if the scratcher is tall or angled, so it can provide a good stretch.
If you are unsure what your cat would enjoy, provide a scratching post that offers a couple of materials. Overall, the most used materials are sisal rope, corrugated cardboard, carpet and wood. Sisal posts seem to be very popular because this material lasts longer.
What is sisal rope and is it safe for cats?
Sisal is made from the natural fibers of the agave plant (Agave sisalana). The material is sustainable and biodegradable. It is perfectly safe and widely used in agricultural, interior-design and nursery applications.
Do cats like to scratch wood?
Yes, cats enjoy scratching the wood, which is why some people even put tree stumps in their homes. You can also purchase a scratching post made of natural logs. After all, scratchers are the modern alternative to the trees that cats in the wild scratch to mark their territories.
What is the difference between jute and sisal?
Jute and sisal (pictured here to the right) look similar, yet they have different qualities. Jute comes from the jute plant's stems and has a softer feel while sisal is a stiffer fiber, which makes it more sturdy.
Do cats prefer horizontal or vertical scratching?
Each cat is different. Horizontal scratchers are great for older cats and those with disabilities while vertical scratchers provide a better stretch.
According to one survey, however, cats are less likely to scratch inappropriately if they have a above 3 feet high post. A taller post also keeps those joints and muscles healthy. Keep in mind, though, that stability is very important here – cats will not use cat trees or vertical scratchers that wobble around, so pick one with a solid base. It’s essential to have a scratcher or a cat tree that's sturdy and durable.
Where is the best place to put a scratching post or a cat tree?
The location of a cat scratcher is very important. Placed at the wrong spot, it may stay unused. That’s why you have to observe your cat, locate its favorite scratching spots, and place a scratching post within 5 feet. In general, if your cat’s inappropriate scratching is targeting an object, you should put the new scratching alternative in front or near that object.
It’s also important to position the scratching post in a good area of your home – one that your cat enjoys. A spot with enough space or a good view. Make the scratching post enjoyable by placing toys or catnip and offering rewards once it has been used.
If you find that your cat isn’t using the scratcher, try relocating it to a spot where the kitty spends a lot of time. A good location is where your cat usually naps – cats scratch many times a day, but they almost always do it when waking up.
Remember: Cats should have more than one scratching post and have a choice. If you have multiple cats, each of them must have an access to a post. And last but not least: When your cat uses the post, reward it.
What if my cat continues to scratch inappropriately?
If your cat continues to scratch your belongings, you have a few options: make the target unappealing, trim your cat’s nails and increase playtime.
Make the area unpleasant and the target unappealing.
The only guaranteed way to stop your cat from scratching a given area is to restrict access. However, often this isn’t possible, so your next best bet is to make the target unappealing. For example, try a device that keeps cats away by making irritating sounds (available at pet stores). Or cover the object with a material that’s annoying for your cat – double-sided tape, aluminum foil or heavy plastic sheets.
At the same time, offer an appealing scratching surface (like a scratching cat tree or tower) nearby. In this way, when the cat comes over to scratch the forbidden object, it will see that it’s not appealing and notice the better option.
Another way to make the desired object unattractive is to use scents. Because scratching has a scent-marking component, cats are more likely to repeatedly scratch areas that already have their scent. Consequently, you could use an odor neutralizer or a scent that cats hate to deter your pet.
Some people use pheromone products. Pheromones are the chemicals that cats release into the environment, and some pheromones will promote facial marking instead of scratching. Consult your vet or a cat behaviorist as different options exist.
Trim your cat’s nails.
You can minimize scratching damage by trimming your cat’s nails regularly. It’s best to start trimming when your cat is young, but an older pet can be trained as well. Before trimming your cat's claws, get your pet used to having its paws squeezed. You can do this by petting the paws while giving a treat, which will make the experience more pleasant.
Gradually increase the pressure, so petting becomes gentle squeezing. With time, practice applying a small amount of pressure to the paw until a claw gets extended. The experts at The University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine show very well how to do it in this video.
Remember: Cut only the claw’s tip! Don't cut into the pink portion of the nail because it will bleed and cause pain to your pet. Use nail trimmers designed for cats. These are better than your own nail clipper because they won't crush the nail bed. Complement claw trimming with a suitable scratching surface.
Increase playtime and offer cat furniture to fight inappropriate scratching.
Cats scratch for many reasons and one of them is to exercise and work off excess energy. This means that you could stop inappropriate scratching by playing with your pet. Ideally, you should spend about 10 minutes a couple of times a day exercising your kitty.
Activities that stimulate a cat’s natural hunting instincts are considered the best. Feather toys and furry mice are appreciated and even more so are empty boxes that make great scratching toys. If you don't know your cat's preferences, offer various toys and watch the reaction.
Cat trees and condos are an option that doesn’t require your presence. These pieces of cat furniture are designed in a way that tempts cats to climb and naturally wear down their claws. You could also try a cat window perch, which will give your cat hours of entertainment, especially if you hang a bird feeder outside the window.
If you have space, set up a cat gym or wall shelves that will encourage your pet to jump from place to place. You can find ready shelving systems online or you can build them yourself. The important point here is that if you keep your cat stimulated, it will have less time and desire to scratch your belongings.
Should I declaw my cat?
Don’t declaw your cat. Declawing is a form of amputation. It is a surgical procedure that is inhumane and painful. Alternatives to declawing are often effective and include scratching posts, deterrents (physical and chemical), and environmental measures, such as reducing stress, nail covers and nail trimming.
If you are considering declawing, please discuss it with your veterinarian, so he or she can explain the procedure and the possible complications.
The infographic below explains why cats scratch and how to prevent cat scratching on your beloved home furniture. Feel free to share it if you like it.
About the author
Viva Bolova holds a degree in journalism from the University of Kansas. She spent 14 years doing work for major brands and writing for various publications. Now she writes on travel and pet-related topics and has experience as a PR expert for an international airport.