Scratching Behavior in Cats

Scratching is normal feline behavior. Cats will scratch during play, when stretching or to mark their territory. And because cats’ claws need regular sharpening, cats scratch on things to remove frayed, worn outer claws and expose new, sharper claws. 

Unfortunately, all this scratching can cause damage to furniture, drapes, and carpeting. The best tactic when dealing with scratching is not to try to stop your cat from scratching, but instead to teach them where and what to scratch. 

Here are tips to encourage your cat to scratch where you want them to and for discouraging scratching on furniture.

What To Do
  • Offer a variety of scratchers to figure out what your cat prefers. There are many types of scratchers. Some lay flat, some are upright and some are at an angle. There are also different types of scratching surfaces: cardboard, carpeted, wrapped with rope material, and wood.
  • For upright scratchers, be sure it doesn’t wobble or tip over when your cat scratches on it, otherwise they may avoid it. Look for sturdy posts tall enough for your cat to get in a full stretch.
  • Cats like to scratch when they wake up, so place at least one scratcher close to where kitty likes to snooze.
  • Encourage your cat to use their scratchers by running a wand toy over the scratchers during interactive play time or sprinkling catnip on the scratchers.
  • You can discourage your cat from scratching where you don’t want them to by making that surface unavailable or unattractive.
    • Cover speakers.
    • Place double-sided sticky tape on furniture.
    • Place upside-down vinyl carpet runners (nubby side up) on furniture or carpets.
    • Try scratch guard furniture protectors. These are usually made of vinyl and fit over corners of couches or other furniture to discreetly protect it.
  • Trim your cat’s nails every week. Make it a low-stress, enjoyable experience for your cat by cutting only one or two nails at a time and immediately offering them a delicious treat or playtime with a favorite toy. See more about nail trimming for details on how to set you and your cat up for success.
  • Consider putting plastic caps on your cat’s claws. These can be found in most pet stores. Your cat will still scratch but they won’t cause any damage because the nails will be covered. These special caps attach to claws with an adhesive. They’re temporary, lasting four to six weeks. 
What Not To Do
  • Do not hold your cat by the scratching post and force them to drag their claws on it. This practice is likely to frighten your cat and teach them to avoid the scratching post completely. (They might decide to avoid you, too!) 
  • Do not throw away a favorite scratching post when it becomes unsightly. Cats prefer shredded and torn objects because they can really get their claws into the material. Used posts will also appeal to your cat because they smell and look familiar to them. 

Need more help or have questions?

Call the ASPCA Adoption Center at  (212) 876-7700 ext. 4971 or email at [email protected]

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