Helping Cats Satisfy Their Scratching Instinct

You can’t stop the urge, so the aim is to help your cat indulge without destroying your home.


Cats don’t just enjoy scratching. They scratch for a number of reasons both psychological and physiological.

For instance, they scratch when they are excited, as well as when they are bored or anxious. They also scratch to flex their bodies and stretch their feet. And scratching is a way to mark territory. It leaves a visual mark. And because cats have scent glands on their paws, scratching leaves an odorous mark, too. Finally, cats need to scratch because their claws require regular sharpening to stay in the best shape. Scratching removes dull outer claws and exposes new, sharper ones.

So the point is not to discourage scratching. It’s part of being a cat; your pet is not “bad” when she does it. The point is to help a cat indulge her instinct in ways that won’t ruin your furniture or clothing. You owe her the effort. After all, because she is your pet, she has to live entirely indoors and miss out on so much of what comes naturally. The least you can do is provide a way to let her scratch when the urge hits.

Provide the right surfaces for good scratching

The Humane Society of the United States says that cats enjoy scratching on surfaces that are nubby, coarse, or textured — materials “they can really sink their claws into.” That’s why they often go for upholstered furniture.

The side of a couch or club chair — or drapes — make great scratching posts for those cats who like to stand on two feet while engaging in the habit. But many cats will also accept a nice Chenille bedspread or perhaps a nubby sweater, scratching horizontally with their rumps in the air. Your mission is to offer scratching posts that replicate these enticing surfaces. More than one is a good idea —vertical, horizontal, and another hanging on a door.

Leave them out in the open instead of in out-of-the-way spots you might prefer. For instance, a lot of cats like a stretch and a scratch after a nap, so keep a scratching post next to her favorite snoozing spot. One by the door of the house might be a good idea, too. Cats often get excited when their human family members come home and like to express that with scratching.

Some tips for encouragement

Positive reinforcement will help acclimate your cat to newly purchased scratching posts. When you see her dig her claws into one, praise her and offer her a reward she’ll really enjoy. For some cats, that’s a morsel of a special food. For others, it’s catnip. For still others, it might be interaction, either through play or brushing.

To make using a scratching post more attractive, rub a little catnip into it and attach a toy.

Some don’ts

  • Don’t hold your cat by a scratching post and force her to drag her claws along it. “This practice could seriously frighten your cat and teach her to avoid the scratching post completely,” says the ASPCA. It could teach her to avoid you as well.
  • Don’t “throw away a favorite scratching post when it becomes unsightly,” the ASPCA advises. “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 her.” A used scratching post might not go with your decor, but what’s that compared with a satisfied pet?
How to Discourage Scratching On Your Furniture

You don’t want to yell at your cat for scratching on your upholstery or other off-limits items. That only frays the bond between the two of you. If you catch her in the act, you can clap your hands loudly to redirect her attention or even slap the wall to startle her away from the behavior. But giving her a verbal dressing down will confuse her — and may alienate her, too.

An even better bet is to cover the spots you don’t want scratched with double-sided sticky tape or aluminum foil until she grows out of the habit of using them. She will not like the feel of those materials on the souls of her feet.

You can also try scenting verboten spots with odors that many cats don’t like — citrus or menthol, for instance. In some cases, that alone will do the trick.


  1. Even cats who sadly have be disfigured by declawing enjoy using a scratching post. One of my cat’s favorite scratching posts is flat and has now been shredded into three or four pieces.


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