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Why Cats Scratch

Cats. They’re endlessly amusing, warm and cuddly, delightfully playful, independent and aloof, and… destructive. Our feline companions seem to have a knack for shredding upholstery, drapes, and rugs to ribbons, regardless of their owner’s feelings on the matter. Though some people believe their scratching is done out of spite or poor manners, this frustrating behavior is perfectly normal.


Cats scratch for a variety of reasons. One of the most well known reasons is to sharpen their claws. Scratching helps shed the dead outer layers to reveal a finer, sharper tip. Additionally, a cat will scratch to mark their territory. In the wild, scratching would leave both a visual mark and a scented one from the scent glands in their paws. Moreover, scratching is a way to work off excess energy and stretch. It’s the cat’s version of a gym workout! Finally, cats scratch just for pleasure – it feels good to them, physically and emotionally.

For these reasons, it’s unrealistic to expect them to cease scratching – no amount of scolding, pleading, or swatting will do the job. It’s far better, and easier, to redirect their scratching onto more appropriate objects. This is done in two ways. The first is to provide an acceptable object for their scratching needs. Secondly, you’ll want to dissuade them from using your sofa or drapes by making them unpleasant for your cat to scratch on.

Acceptable objects for scratching include scratching posts, trees, towers, and mats. There are a variety of types out there – truly, something suitable for every cat’s need. Trees are perhaps one of the most effective, as their height and build naturally attract a cat’s attention, though they can be the most expensive option. Smaller scratching posts, hanging boards covered in twine, or flat scratching mats with a rough, textured surface can also be effective – especially if placed near problem areas.

Cats tend to prefer objects tall enough to fully stretch out on, and most prefer a vertical scratching surface. Some felines, however, prefer just the opposite, and would love a large mat or a horizontal scratcher. Watch your kitty for a while, and try to match your choice of object to her preferences. Some cats enjoy a bit of both, so variety helps!

Training a cat to use these items doesn’t have to take a lot of time. A little catnip goes a long way for most cats! Both dried catnip and catnip sprays are effective, though some cats are immune to its effects. Playing around the post often, dangling a feather toy from it, or scratching it with your own fingers can spark your feline’s interest in the post. Additionally, be sure to praise your kitty each time he uses them with lots of praise, petting, and favorite treats.

However, your finicky feline may be reluctant to give up her old scratching spot, even if there’s a better alternative available. In this case, you can try purchasing sprays to deter them – citrus scents seem to work for some cats – or cover the furniture for a time in double sided sticky tape, or aluminum foil, which are both unpleasant to scratch. (You can remove them after she no longer shows interest in that spot.) Often the best solution is a cat repellent device like a CatScram electronic cat repellent, or a Scat Mat indoor pet training mat. Additionally, you may need to use pet odor removers to try and cleanse the spot of her prior markings. She may be coming back to the same spot just because it smells familiar and safe.

It’s much easier to train young kittens into good habits than break the habits of adults, so if you’re just getting a kitten, start training young and provide ample scratching objects for her pleasure. But even adult cats can learn to transition their scratching from your furniture to an acceptable object, as long as you have persistence and patience!

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