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Why Do Cats Scratch & How to Keep Your Furniture Safe

Why Do Cats Scratch & How to Keep Your Furniture Safe
Written by Elizabeth Italia, UW-AAB
—Feline Behavior Specialist 🇺🇸

When some cat parents get new furniture, they’re more worried about their cat scratching than excited to upgrade their space.

So, how do you get your cat to scratch appropriate things and not furniture, area rugs, and carpets? First, I’ll explain why cats scratch. Then, I’ll share tips on how you can redirect them to cat scratchers and posts.

Reasons Cats Scratch

There are three main reasons cats scratch, and none of them have to do with disliking the color of your new love seat:

  1. Scent Marking - Cats have scent markers in their paw pads, so when they scratch something, they’re actually leaving behind pheromones as guidance for later, telling themselves and even other cats that an object is, “Okay to scratch,” or even a “safe spot.”

    This is why it’s more difficult to redirect cats that have already been scratching something to another object. It’s also the reason why once one cat starts to scratch an area, it quickly becomes a party.

  2. Nail Health - Contrary to popular belief, it’s not mainly to keep nails sharp, but more to keep nails healthy. Scratching is the best way for cats to shed dead pieces of nail.

    You may notice the outer pieces of the nail on the floor around areas where cats scratch. This is normal. In the wild, many cats will scratch on trees to keep their nails healthy.

  3. Instinctual Stretching - While you may stretch your arms over your head, cats extend their arms and scratch. Pay attention, and you’ll notice a lot of scratching is also timed around downward dog and other types of stretches. It feels good to your cat.

Ways to Deter Scratching

It’s much easier to teach your cat proper scratching locations before they continuously make the corner of your couch their favorite spot. This is because once their scent is on your couch over many repeated sessions, it will be hard for you to remove the scent and curb the habit.

But since most frustrations are around current scratching, we’ll review some ways to redirect your cat. Then, we’ll discuss shopping for the right scratchers.

  1. Let go of your anxiety. Cats are extremely sensitive to energy. The more they can feel your anxiety, the more they are stressed and will scratch as a form of habit and comfort.

  2. Don’t yell. Sort of like a child, if you’re giving your cat attention, even negative attention, you’re reinforcing their behavior. Simply move the cat to a more desired location.

  3. Is your cat trying to tell you something? Maybe they’re hungry or don’t feel well. Make sure your cat isn’t doing it to communicate. Since they are non-verbal creatures, they will resort to actions as a way of expressing themselves.

  4. Use tin foil, blankets, double-sided tape, or furniture protectors on hot spots. All of these textures are unappealing and should curb the behavior. There are specific types of double-sided tape that are extra wide and made to deter cat scratching.

  5. Spray with scents that are unappealing to cats. There are a number of deterrent sprays on the market. You can also try putting citrus peels near their favorite scratching sights.

  6. Cut your cat’s nails on a regular basis. By cutting your cat’s nails, you’ll remove pointed tips as well as help remove the outer pieces of dead nail that are ready to come off (these dead pieces often fall off when you cut the tip). Indoor cats don’t need sharp nails to hunt, fight, or climb.

    They can be uncomfortable to walk on, getting stuck on the carpet and getting pressed into the paw pad if on hardwood. Long nails are also destructive to your furniture or to you while you’re handling them. A cat with long nails can’t retract them much, so they scratch unintentionally.

  7. Try pheromone sprays and diffusers. There are many types of pheromone sprays and diffusers out there. Some advertise calming while others are supposed to deter scratching.

    While they don’t work on all cats, many cat parents have success with them. They are very affordable and worth trying. After all, a bottle of spray is cheaper than a new couch.

  8. Do all appealing activities near appropriate scratchers. Move all enrichment and feeding rituals to an area with an appropriate cat scratcher. This means feeding, playing, brushing … all of it should be centered around the scratcher.

It seems like a lot, but the good news is, most of the above are temporary until your cat develops the habit of scratching in appropriate locations. You don’t have to keep foil over the corners of your couch forever.

Now, let’s look at how to find the right scratcher.

Shopping for Scratchers

  1. Direction matters. Some cats are horizontal scratchers. Some are vertical. Some are both. Provide your cat with both options until you determine what they prefer.

  2. Material matters. I’ve found the most success with corrugated box scratchers, but there are many materials. I also have a very tall podium scratcher made of a material similar to carpet that is a kitty fav. Some also posts have rope wrapped around them. Again, try different types until you land on one (or a few) that your cat likes.

  3. Location matters. Don’t stick a scratcher where your cat doesn’t spend their time. Place it near places where they like to lounge, or, even better, locations they always walk by so that they will be exposed to their scent frequently.

  4. Quantity matters. Covering your home from room to room with a million scratchers will not deter your cat. In fact, it will likely make the scratching worse, because it will spread the “safe place to scratch” pheromone everywhere. One scratcher is enough for small rooms, while larger rooms are better with 2-3.

  5. Scent matters. Many scratchers come with catnip. Apply the catnip to the scratcher by rubbing it between your fingers first to release the scent, then let it fall onto horizontal scratchers or rub it into vertical scratchers.

    This will attract cats who feel the effects of catnip (a small percentage do not). For other cats, try putting treats on or around the scratcher. 

    Another way to get cats to scratch an area is to make sure another cat has scratched it a few times first. Once one marks, they all seem to want to join in. If you’re in a multi-cat household, you should automatically see this happen.

    If you’re not, talk not your other friends with cats, and see if you can swap gently-used scratchers. Just make sure your friend’s cat is healthy before exchanging.

  6. Play matters. Many cats will scratch scratchers during playtime. Others have anxiety or excess energy and scratch unappealing places because of it. To help them, make sure you play with your cat for 15-30 minutes a day, and always in a room where a scratcher is close by.

    It’s all about keeping your cat happy and making it easy, accessible, and appealing to use their scratcher.

Prep for Trial & Error

It’s a fact of cat ownership that you’re so excited to show your cat what you got them, and they hop in the box instead. That’s okay! Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as learning what does work.

If your cat doesn’t like a scratcher, you can always donate it to an animal shelter or rescue organization. And then, move on to the next option. You’ll eventually find a scratcher that meets your cat’s needs and keeps your furniture safe.


Article by  🙋‍♀️
Cat Behavior & Fostering Specialist

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