Dealing with Cat Scratching

Cats love to scratch, so it’s important that you address their needs from early on. You don’t want your leg to be their scratching post, do you?

By Lucy Powell

Even though we adore these special moments, our cats are also capable of behaviour that occasionally tests the limits of our patience.

One of these annoying little habits is scratching!

Whether it’s that little innocent stretch up the curtain, or outright furniture destruction, it’s important to address scratching problems as early as possible. The good news is that there are proven training techniques that can help stop this unwelcome behaviour.

cat lying next to scratching post

Cats have some very adorable and endearing characteristics: They love to be petted, stroked, picked up and adored with lots of cuddles from their human parents.

Whether it’s feeling a loud contented purr underneath soft warm fur, or having kitty curled up happily on your lap as you watch television together, there’s an undeniable inter-species bond between cats and their human counterparts.

But sometimes they scratch. And it’s so annoying if they don’t stop and can cause some pain and bleeding if the issue gets extreme. 

“In the wild, cats would manicure their claws on tree trunks; bark is the perfect surface to sink little claws into”

Why Do Cats Scratch?

Despite the fact that cats have been domesticated for thousands of years, cats have evolved to live in the wild and therefore their natural tools have evolved to address the specific requirements of wild outdoor life; claws are a very clever and important feline feature.

Along with their teeth, claws are your cat’s primary weapons for hunting and defence. These little razor blades flick out in a second, ready to strike at a moment’s notice in the wilds of your garden!

Have you ever noticed that little spot in the corner, that favourite place which your cat likes to curl up in? Look a little closer at the objects in and around this spot; you will see small – and sometimes not so small – scratch marks!

Yes, that is your cats preferred ‘safe area’; you will also notice that along with the furniture, doorways and windowsills will also exhibit these etchings.

Scratching is a way of territorial marking, think of it as your cats way of putting their little name tag on objects and places that they consider to be theirs.

If your cat spots a stranger prowling around in their garden, they will scratch their area to show the trespasser that this territory is occupied and more importantly that they are the boss. There are also tiny sebaceous glands in your cat’s paws which leave a unique, distinct scent at the scratched area, yet another sign that your kitty uses to stake their personal claim.

cat using shed wall scratching post

Around the areas where your cat scratches you will notice little hollow claw sheaths. A cats claws grow like an onion, in layers and they continuously scratch in order to shed the outer sheath and expose the sharp layer underneath.

So claws are important – one way that your cat will keep their claws in pristine condition is to sharpen them on your furniture, in particular vertical and horizontal pieces of furniture. These include arm rests, wooden chair legs, carpets, curtains and even the end of bookshelves.

In the wild, cats would manicure their claws on tree trunks; bark is the perfect surface to sink little claws into. It has a very appealing texture, it’s soft enough to allow for effortless visual marking and hard enough to be an effective claw sharpener.

Just like goldilocks, kitty needs something to scratch that’s not too hard, nor too soft, but just right; and unfortunately that is usually found to be your favourite piece of furniture.

How to Choose the Best Scratching Post:

Note that some cat breeds will not need to use their scratching post as much as others, but it is best to get a tall, sturdy scratching post for when they need it.

When choosing a scratching post, make sure that you get a post which is tall enough for your cat to get a full stretch; another reason that cats scratch is that they like to get a full stretch while they are scratching. Short little posts don’t cater for this requirement and is the reason that they are usually ignored. Needless to say, tall posts need to be sturdy, your cat will be very hesitant to stretch up against a post that will easily tumble over.

After size, the next – but equally important – post attribute is texture; take a look at nature for guidance, there are no soft fluffy trees growing anywhere. It should therefore be easily understandable why your cat would prefer the high quality canvas fabric found on your couch to their inadequate fluffy post.

When choosing a suitable scratching surface, select a post with a surface texture as close to tree bark as possible.

In this regard, high quality cardboard is the closest analogue, but be advised, not all cardboard is manufactured to the same quality. 

The cardboard should not feel soft or furry, on the contrary, high quality cardboard will feel extremely firm and rough like tree bark.

“Some cats might benefit best from wood pieces found in the park! The bark will provide them with the surface they need to sharpen up their claws, while giving your home an outdoors feel.”

Examples of other suitable surface materials to look out for are sisal and burlap. In addition to the reasons explained earlier, curtain or carpet-like material would not be a good choice as your cat will not be able to differentiate between the post and the rest of the furniture. 

Give your cat a clear message, they will not understand why its acceptable for them to scratch their carpet covered post, but not your carpet.

white cat standing next to scratching post

How to Train Your Cat to Use a Scratching Post:

It must be said, cats respond to reward, not punishment; with that in mind, be patient with your cat. Tempt them with a bit of catnip and offer them a reward for taking interest.

It is vitally important that your cat has a pleasant introduction to their new post, as a negative experience will likely reinforce their dislike and send them scurrying for the nearest piece of furniture. With your cat watching, scratch the post with your hand and offer them a treat when they come to investigate. Its naïve to think that as soon as you bring home a suitable post that your cat will immediately cease their existing scratching behaviour.

The transition takes time. When you catch your cat scratching something they shouldn’t  gently stop them and take them to their post; encourage them to scratch the post and reward them accordingly.

Lastly, don’t make a big fuss over the new post, your cat likes routine and will usually shy away from change. If they do not show interest at first, leave them to discover the post in their own time.

Hopefully by following these suggestions and advise, you will be able to coexist harmoniously with your little fur baby, strengthen your bond and still be able to have undamaged furniture for your own enjoyment…

About the Author

Lucy Powell
Lucy Powell

Passionate about our feline friends and the bond cats can create with their owners. Lucy is a contributing pet-care writer for various magazines and is the proud owner of three specials cats - Lordy, Gatinha and Gina!