Why Do Cats Scratch?

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

28 September 2016

It’s frustrating to find that your favourite piece of furniture is also your cat's favourite scratching post, but what might seem like a bad habit is essential for maintaining your cats mental and physical health.

Why do cats scratch?

Scratching is a perfectly normal and healthy form of expression and exercise for cats and should be encouraged. Not only does this natural, instinctive behaviour give your cat the chance to stretch its body and flex its claws but it helps keep their claws in good condition by removing the dead outer layer of their claws and helps them release built up emotions.

This behaviour is not limited to indoor environments, and serves an even more practical purpose outside, in the comfort of their outdoor enclosure. Scratching releases a scent from glands in the paw pads which lets a cat mark its territory. At the same time leaving claw marks in tree trunks and outdoor fences serves as a visual reminder that this territory is already occupied.

cat scratching couch

How do I stop the cat from scratching furniture?

The solution to the problem is teaching your cat what they can and can’t scratch. Offering them an attractive alternative, such as a cat scratcher, is the easiest and most effective way of encouraging scratching behavior while protecting your curtains, wallpaper and furniture.

With a little training, your cat should come around. It can take time for your cat to warm up to the idea of using a cat scratcher but there are things that you can do to make it more appealing and the transition easier:

  • Texture - choose a rough fabric that your cat can really get its claws into
  • Height - find a post that is tall enough to allow your cat to scratch at full stretch and give its muscles a good, long stretch
  • Stability - make sure it’s stable, there’s nothing more unsettling for your cat than the idea that it’s scratching post might be fighting back. A tall post needs a wide base.
  • Location - Location is key. Cats are creatures of habit so place the scratching post in an area that your cat spends a lot of time and/or is close to its favourite piece of furniture.
  • Deter - the transition will be easier if their favorite piece of furniture is made less attractive, trying covering it in a less appealing texture like foil, sandpaper or double sided tape, or soaking cotton wool in a replant scent like citrus or menthol and placing them near their preferred scratching place.

Should I clip my cat's claws?

Take note of your cats scratching habits, less active cats - especially older ones - will struggle to wear down their claws through exercise so will need to have their claws clipped. Untrimmed claws can cause all sorts of a-paw-ling problems for your cat, including painful infections, difficulty walking and, difficulty using the litter box.

We recommend you check your cat's claws every couple of weeks to see if they need to be clipped.


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