Scratch the Surface: Why Cats Scratch and How to Redirect This Natural Behavior

By PetcoBlogger on Mar. 13, 2017

why-cats-scratch-primary-header.jpgFor cats, scratching is a normal, healthy, natural behavior. But plenty of cat parents aren’t too happy when their beloved feline damages furniture, windowsills, carpets or other parts of the home.

We don’t blame you for being upset. But scratching is an important activity for cats’ physical and mental health. Scratching is an instinctive feline behavior and cats do it for a variety of reasons. Cats scratch to stretch, shed old nail growth, sharpen their claws and leave scent marks. Cats also scratch to express anxiety, uncertainty or excitement. While these behaviors are typical, the key is to channel your cat’s scratching in a positive way and to an appropriate location that keeps both of you happy.

The most effective way to keep your furniture and sanity undamaged is to give your cat a few different attractive—and approved—places to scratch, such as scratching posts or scratchers. Cats don’t want to ruin your décor; they just want a place to exert their natural instincts, so give it to them! Here are some factors to consider when selecting appropriate places for your wayward kitty to scratch.


Trim your cat’s nails
Untrimmed nails can get too long and break, which can be painful for your cat. If nails get caught in your clothing, furniture or carpet, it’s probably time to clip them. Either set up an appointment with a groomer or veterinarian, or invest in a set of clippers that are specifically designed to trim cats’ nails. If you’ve never cut your cat’s nails at home, ask a veterinarian or groomer to show you how. After trimming, reward your cat with a treat. Get tips on trimming your cat's nails

Discourage your cat from scratching specific areas
To deter cats from scratching where you don’t want them to, take steps to make those spots more unappealing. Cover off-limits areas with items cats won’t enjoy scratching, such as aluminum foil, a plastic carpet runner with the pointy side up or double-sided tape like Sticky Paws, which is an effective deterrent made just for this purpose.

Sometimes the area your cat targets is bigger, such as an entire side of a couch. Pam Johnson-Bennett, cat behaviorist and author of CatWise, recommends covering the area with a sheet and tucking it in so the cat can’t get underneath it. The smooth nature of bed sheets is an unappealing scratching option.

Another option: Rub or spray citrus or menthol scents on the area. Cats don’t like these smells and likely won’t go near the area (or you can spray again once they show renewed interest).

Once you make the area less than ideal for your cat, it’s time to redirect that behavior to another object. Place a scratching post or scratcher for your cat next to the spot where your cat likes to scratch. If your cat’s favorite spot is covered in undesirable material or scents, a scratching post looks a lot more appealing. 

But how do you determine what kind of scratchers or posts you should buy? Just pay attention and your cat will send you clues.

Know what kind of scratcher your cat is
Watch your cat and pay attention to where they scratch. Some cats prefer to scratch vertically while others scratch horizontally. Knowing the direction makes a big difference in the type of scratcher or post you provide your cat. 

If your cat prefers scratching carpets, doormats or even the tops of furniture, try a horizontal scratcher. If your cat likes to scratch walls, windowsills, curtains or the legs of furniture, your cat is probably a vertical scratcher and would be happier with a more traditional scratching post. Some cats prefer to scratch up high, while others like to scratch down low.

When it comes to vertical scratchers, height is important. One of the reasons cats scratch is to stretch, so they need to be able to attain full height. If the scratcher is too short, your cat may go elsewhere to scratch and stretch.

And if you have multiple cats, have a variety of surfaces to meet different cats’ scratching needs. Multi-cat households typically call for several scratching posts—both vertical and horizontal—throughout the house.

Choose the right material
There are a variety of materials available in scratching posts and scratchers, but coarse material cats can shred is typically best. Johnson-Bennett recommends sisal. In her book CatWise, she says, “The rough texture makes it easy for cats to dig their claws in and get an effective scratch.”

Corrugated cardboard, wood and tightly woven fabrics can be great scratching surfaces, too. But some carpet scratchers are too soft or too loosely woven so cats’ claws can get stuck, defeating the purpose of a scratching post. Your cat will likely go right back to the sofa if they don’t like the material you offer them.

Put the post in a convenient location
While it’s true that some posts or scratchers aren’t aesthetically pleasing to humans, you don’t want to hide them in a corner. You want your cat to be able to scratch on something appropriate when the mood strikes. Watch your cat to see when he or she like to scratch—like after a nap or a meal. If your cat scratches your furniture and rugs, place the scratching post near these items. Place additional posts in areas where the cat or cats hang out, and along the cat’s pathways to important areas such as the litter box or food and water dishes. 

Check the sturdiness of the scratching post
Furniture makes an appealing scratching option because it’s sturdy when a cat leans its weight on it to scratch. Make sure the scratching post or other scratcher you provide is the same and well affixed; otherwise your cat won’t use it. (The last thing you want is for your cat to fall over during a scratching session.)


Try Different Options
There are many different scratching posts or boards and cat towers and perches available and plenty you can make yourself. There are tall scratching/cat tree combos, sisal scratchers that hang from doorknobs, cat caves covered in corrugated cardboard and even holiday theme scratchers. And thankfully, companies have worked hard to make scratchers more aesthetically pleasing to people. Spend some time researching and you’re sure to find something that works for you and your cat. Remember though: Your cat’s preference should trump yours when it comes to scratchers. Otherwise you’ll be right back where you started!

When you find a solution your cat likes, stick with it
Scratchers can quickly look like a disaster area but, according to your cat, that’s when they’re just breaking them in. Over time, the post becomes covered with scents and marks and is a familiar and comforting object for your cat. But many scratchers need to be replaced regularly if they are too worn out or your cat loses interest (which is why it’s important to introduce new scratchers regularly to entice and stimulate your cat). If you feel you must do something with an old, beat-up scratcher that your cat loves, consider recovering it with new sisal, for example. Or you can bring home a new, similar scratcher and place it next to the beloved one. If your cat starts using it, you’re in luck! You can probably do away with the eyesore. If your cat eschews the new one, you’d probably be wise to stick with that one as much as you may dislike it. It’s still better than a scratched up sofa, right?

why-cats-scratch-003.jpgWhile you may consider it a problem, your cat’s scratching is actually a normal and healthy behavior. Put yourself in your cat’s position and help redirect their attention to a spot they like (and one that won’t send you into despair).

Shop for scratching posts or boards

Shop for cat towers and perches

Read all about DIY cat window perches.

See below for all graphics compiled into one:


0 Kudos
by Cat Names
‎03-25-2017 04:34 PM

Nice post, glad to see that cats have such great paws!

Nice post, glad to see that cats have such great paws!

Posted on Mar. 25, 2017
by Jon Scales
‎05-26-2017 11:39 PM

Interesting article. Thanks for sharing Smiley Happy

Interesting article. Thanks for sharing Smiley Happy

Posted on May. 26, 2017
Latest Blog Posts

Plant Your Way to a More Beautiful Freshwater Aquarium

By Leah_Pet on Oct. 23, 2017
Learn how to design a planted aquarium ecosystem you and your fish can both enjoy.

Checking in with Obie - a Dog with an Extraordinary Weight Loss Story

By Leah_Pet on Oct. 11, 2017
Five years ago, a Dachshund that weighed nearly 80 pounds began an intense weight management program. We checked in on Obie to see if how he's doing t...

The Importance of Play for You and Your Cat

By KristenSeymour on Oct. 10, 2017
There’s little that will put a smile on a cat parent’s face like the sight of their kitty batting a toy around with abandon. Watching a frisky feline...