Why Cats Scratch and How to Protect Your Furniture & Home

Cat Scratching Behavior

Dr. Sarah-Jane Molier

As frustrating as it can be, cat scratching is a completely natural behavior. There are many reasons that cats scratch around the home, but being naughty or spiteful is not one of them! 

Why do cats scratch?

Scratching is a natural behavior for cats and serves several important purposes:

  1. It serves to sharpen their claws. As a cat scratches, they remove the outer shell, or ‘husk,’ of the claw, leaving them with a sharpened nail.
  2. Cats use scratching to mark their territory. They do this by physically leaving scratch marks and also by leaving their scent. Cats have scent and sweat glands between their pads, so they also leave their scent on the surface as they scratch.
  3. Scratching is a form of exercise and a way of stretching their muscles.
  4. If your cat is scratching more than usual or has suddenly started scratching, then this may be a sign of stress. Cats who are feeling insecure may use scratching throughout your home to assert their territory. 

Stress is surprisingly common in cats and it can be tough to spot because they are notoriously good at hiding it. Other signs you may notice which could indicate that your cat is stressed include changes in urination habits, behavior, appetite, and sleeping patterns. If you suspect that your cat may be stressed, seek advice from your veterinary team. You will not be able to improve the scratching behavior unless you find the cause!

How can I stop my cat from scratching?

Never punish your cat for scratching. Punishment for an innate behavior is likely to cause your cat to feel stressed and may make the scratching worse rather than better.

If you have an indoor cat, you can keep its claws short with regular nail trims. If you introduce this when they are young, most cats learn to tolerate it pretty well. If you aren’t confident doing this yourself, you can schedule a nail clip with a groomer or veterinary clinic. If your cat goes outdoors, it’s essential not to clip its nails short. They need their claws for climbing and defending themselves.

Although it’s not a good idea to stop your cat from scratching, there are things you can do to redirect the scratching to somewhere more suitable.

Top tips for stopping your cat from scratching inappropriately

Here are our top tips for redirecting your cat’s scratching behavior:

  • Provide suitable outlets for scratches, such as scratching posts for your cat to use around the home. You should offer one per cat, plus one spare. These can be purchased or homemade.
  • Choose a material your cat will enjoy scratching. Cats like to leave a visible mark when they scratch since this is part of their territory marking, even though it may not match your interior design. Make sure the materials are cat-safe and won’t cause their claws to catch and break.
  • Tree bark or untreated wood is the most natural option. Each cat has their preference, so try to mimic the material they have chosen to scratch on in the home. Don’t worry, if their preference is carpet, this won’t encourage them to scratch your carpet more!
  • A scratching post can be either horizontal or vertical, depending on your cat’s preference.
  • The scratching post needs to be tall enough that your cat can fully stretch up while on their hind legs and scratch – at least 90cm or about 2.5 feet in most instances. 
  • They also need to be sturdy enough not to fall over while your cats are scratching! Cats spook easily, so if it falls over even once, they may choose not to use it again.
  • If you are short on space, scratching pads can be fixed to walls, doors, or horizontal surfaces.
  • Cats often like to scratch after a nap or sleep, so place at least one scratching post near their bed.
  • Place scratching posts in prominent places around the home, where they would visibly mark out their territory for others to see.
  • If your cat is scratching your sofa, you could try covering the area with an unappealing material. Foil or double-sided tape often works well. Just be sure the tape isn’t too sticky and won’t cause your cat to injure themselves.
  • If your cat is scratching your wallpaper, fixing a Perspex sheet over the top can discourage them. If the wallpaper is already ruined, the double-sided sticky tape can work here too.
  • If your cat is scratching wooden furniture, sand down the wood and polish it.
  • Clean any areas they have scratched inappropriately with pet-safe cleaner to mask the smell from their scent glands and sweat. 

How can I encourage my cat to use their scratching post?

Firstly, you should never force your cat to use their scratching post by moving their paws on the post in a scratching action as this may frighten them into never using it. Similarly, any form of punishment for scratching inappropriately is likely to stress your cat, making the behavior worse. So, how can you get your cat to use their scratching post?

  • Try spraying the post with a cat pheromone spray or add catnip to make it more appealing to your kitty. There are cat-scratch pheromones available, which mimic the smell of previous scratches and encourage your cat to use the post.
  • If your cat is already scratching, place the post immediately in front of where they have been scratching. This should help protect the furniture or carpet, plus you know it’s a place your cat has already decided to mark. If this location isn’t convenient, you can move it inch by inch to where you would like it, but only once your cat uses the post regularly.
  • You can reward your cat for using their post properly. Once they have scratched it, cats are more likely to continue to use it. Try playing games near the post with a toy on a string so that your cat scratches it while trying to catch the toy.
  • You could try placing food or treats around the post to encourage your cat to spend time here.

The process can seem frustrating, but you will find the right scratching post and position for your cat to enjoy with patience and a little trial and error.

My cat still won’t use their scratching post!

If you’ve tried all of this, but your cat is still scratching your furniture, the curtains, the carpet, it’s natural to be frustrated. The most likely cause if you’ve tried all of the above is that your cat is stressed. It is not uncommon for a pet parent to be unaware of their cat’s stress since they hide it so well. It’s nothing to feel guilty about, but it is essential to get to the bottom of it. 

Cats can be stressed by the simplest of changes. A new pet, a baby, a house move, building works, visitors to the home, or even moving a piece of furniture can cause stress in a cat. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. They will be able to advise you and may refer you to a special cat behaviorist. 

Declawing should not be considered as a fix for cat scratching behavior. Declawing is painful – it is actually an amputation of the end of the toe. The pain and stress of this procedure is likely to make your cat’s behaviors worse, and it can also increase the risk of problems like arthritis. If they can’t scratch, they may switch to urine spraying or other outlets for their stress. It’s much more effective and kinder to get to the bottom of the problem with your veterinarian’s support.

Conclusion

While cat scratching behavior can be frustrating and cause damage to furnishings around your home, it is a completely natural behavior. Your cat is definitely not trying to be naughty or spiteful! Since cat scratching is a natural behavior, it is tough to stop it completely. However, it is possible to redirect the behavior to more appropriate places. If, despite trying our top tips, your cat continues to scratch around the home, seek advice from your veterinarian.