As a cat owner, you likely have been an accidental victim of your feline friend’s sharp claws. Or, your furniture has taken a beating as your cat drags their nails against the fabric. While scratching can be a frustrating behavior for cat owners to deal with, it is an instinctive, natural urge for our feline friends that must be fulfilled.

However, the difference in opinion between you and your cat regarding acceptable scratching surfaces can damage your relationship. To learn how to cohabit peacefully—and why your cat simply can’t stop scratching—check out our Caring Hands Animal Hospital team’s rundown on feline scratching behavior.

Why your cat needs to scratch

Scratching is a normal feline behavior that satisfies many physical and mental needs for cats. This instinctive action allows your cat to:

  • Stretch stiff muscles and joints — When your cat first wakes up, they perform a full-body stretch to work out all the kinks that formed while they were curled up sleeping. There’s no better way to achieve this than by stretching out to scratch the top of a scratching post. Scratching flexes many joints and muscles in your cat’s legs, paws, and spine, helping to keep their body strong and limber.
  • Take care of their nails — Cats take care of their claws through regular scratching. When your cat claws up furniture or another more suitable surface, they shed dead nail sheaths and frayed fragments. By removing splintered nail pieces and worn sheaths, your cat minimizes their risk of catching a nail in the carpet, furniture, or your clothes.
  • Communicate with other cats — Cats have special glands in their paws that secrete pheromones, which are chemical substances that convey different types of information. Pheromones may allow your cat to feel safe and secure, signal mating availability, express emotions, or share their health status. Cats rely on pheromones to communicate with other cats when they leave these lingering messages on common areas, like scratching posts.
  • Mark territory — Cats are highly territorial, and they mark their territory through scent and visual cues. By doubling up on pheromone signals and claw marks, they can clearly outline their space to other cats.
  • Provide stress relief — Although it may seem as if house cats have a comfortable lifestyle, they actually can suffer from stress, especially if they lack adequate environmental enrichment. By giving your cat plenty of opportunities to scratch, they can burn off a little steam generated by stress and boredom.

How to choose the best scratching surfaces for your cat

Cats often have strong preferences about scratching surfaces. You may notice your cat is drawn more to the rough fabric of your armchair instead of your leather sofa, or they prefer the vertical placement of the scratching post by the window instead of the angled pad next to their bed.

By assessing your cat’s preferences, you can provide scratching surfaces they will use rather than your furniture and household items. Most cats generally prefer sisal rope over other textures, but offer your cat corrugated cardboard, wood, and carpet remnants to see if they like different surfaces. Place scratching items in vertical, horizontal, and angled positions to see what your cat prefers. Ensure each scratching surface is at least as long or as tall as your cat when they are fully stretched out so they can get the most out of a scratching session.

How to teach your cat to scratch in acceptable areas

Contrary to a popular misconception, cats can be trained, although their attention span is shorter than a dog’s. The premise of training your cat is the same, though: Focus on rewarding the behavior you want, and refrain from punishment.

Teach your cat to scratch where you want them to by:

  • Doling out rewards — Tasty treats, a chin scratch, and a massage session can do wonders when teaching your cat acceptable scratching behavior. Positive reinforcement is an excellent way to encourage your cat to scratch where you want.
  • Using attractants — Use attractants like pheromones and catnip to entice your cat to scratch on a post or pad. 
  • Playing with toys — Dangle a feather wand or favorite toy near the scratching post, and drag it along the surface to encourage your cat to climb. Once they reach the top, reward them with a minute of playtime, then repeat the process.

Another key way to encourage acceptable scratching behavior is to trim your cat’s nails regularly. For help cutting your cat’s claws, schedule an appointment with our Caring Hands Animal Hospital team.