Scratching behaviour in cats

Scratching is a normal feline behaviour that serves a range of important functions for a cat. However, in the interest of a happy co-existence with your kitty, it’s important that this behaviour is directed onto appropriate surfaces. Training is best started early on in kittenhood. Read on for tips to help save your furniture.


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Why do cats scratch?

Scratching is a normal feline behaviour. 

It’s used to groom nails, for marking territory (both visual as well as scent signals) and to help cats stretch and condition their muscles.  Most cats have 5 claws on each front leg and 4 claws on each hind leg, for a grand total of 18 claws.

Given that scratching serves a range of functions for a cat, it’s not a behaviour that can be stopped.  It is however a behaviour that needs to be directed onto appropriate surfaces.  Your kitten needs you to help them understand what is okay to scratch and what isn’t.  The effort you put in will be a life saver for your furniture and other valuables.

What do cats like to scratch?

In general, cats are attracted to textured surfaces and items they can sink their claws into.  However, different cats prefer different scratching surfaces, so initially you might like to offer a range of surfaces and see what your kitty is fond of.  Common materials to try are sisal rope, cardboard, carpet, rough fabrics and wood. 

Cats will often have a scratch after they wake from a nap and when they want to mark their territory.  They also like to scratch when they’re excited about something.

How do I prevent my cat scratching the furniture?

Ideally begin training to use the scratching post while your cat is young.  Supply both vertical and horizontal surfaces covered with your cat’s preferred material.  Make the scratching surfaces desirable by placing catnip or treats on them and train your cat by encouraging them with a toy held part way up, and reward the cat for using it.

If the cat prefers another material, such as the couch, attempt to get an appropriate item covered in a similar material.

Never punish your kitten or cat if you see them scratching an item they shouldn’t, as this will only teach them that scratching the item while you are around is scary.  Your cat will likely continue to scratch it when you are gone.

A better method is to cover the inappropriate item in double sided sticky tape or another material such as plastic which makes the item aversive at all times.  Meanwhile, positively reinforce the cat with praise and treats when they scratch the appropriate item.

Nail care can also help reduce inappropriate scratching.  Pair nail trims with positive reinforcement eg treats to create a positive association for your cat.