Why Do Cats Scratch?

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Are your chairs, window screens, and rugs all turning to confetti beneath your cat’s lethal claws? If so, you may be wondering how you can stop this behavior. It’s one of the few drawbacks of owning a cat, because part of their natural instincts are to scratch things. If you’re looking to keep your cat from destroying your home, you need to learn why cats scratch things.

cat with a sign that says I scratched a leather armchair

Why Cats Scratch Things

1. To Maintain Their Claws

Before cats were domesticated, they relied on their razor-sharp claws to help them hunt for food. They would climb trees so they could pounce on their prey from above, and they had to keep those claws sharp so they were always at the ready.

Just because your house cat is now domesticated and is served his daily meals from a bowl on your kitchen floor, that doesn’t take the natural hunter instincts and desires away.

Scratching is how cats maintain their claws. It not only helps them sharpen the claws but also trim them, since it removes the old outer part of the claws.

2. To Mark Their Territory

Another reason cats scratch is to let other cats, and even their humans, know that the house and yard belong to them. When cats scratch, they release scent from special glands in their paws that help them mark that spot as theirs. If you see your cat pawing at the door or furniture, it’s generally for this reason.

Favorite places for cats to scratch to mark their territory are commonly used entrances and exits from the home, particularly the front door, their favorite sleeping areas, your bed, and any boundary that they feel is being challenged in some way.

cat scratching a tree

3. To Release Pent Up Energy

Another reason that cats scratch is to work the kinks out of their bodies and burn off some of their energy. Kneading is another way a cat might be working out energy and pent up stress, though they often don’t use their claws when kneading.

4. To Show Its Feelings

Cats have feelings, too. They need a way to express they way they’re feeling. And oftentimes scratching is a way they do that. If your cat is scratching at multiple spots around the house, not just their favorite armchair, it might be an indication that your cat’s not happy. It can also be due to outside influence, such as another pet in the house or nearby neighborhood pets.

cat scratching a rub

Ways to Prevent a Cat From Scratching

No one loves when their cat tears up the arm of the couch or ruins a rug with their scratching, and that’s not even to mention the interminable sound that it makes while they’re doing it. If you are fed up with your cat’s scratching, there are a few ways to help prevent it.

You may be planning to declaw your cat to stop this behavior, but that should be a last resort. Before you have this surgery performed, you may want to try some alternatives that are not so harmful to your pet.

Provide a Scratching Post

One simple way to prevent cats from scratching is to provide them with scratching pads or posts. You can shop for a wide variety of scratching posts, including posts that are part of an elaborate condo. See our recommended posts above (click the photos to go to Amazon).

You can also make your own simple scratching post, using a 2′ tall piece of four-by-four, a 2′ x 2′ piece of heavy plywood as a base, and a carpet remnant. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to provide somewhere for the cat to do its thing.

Cat Scratching Post Basics

  • Your post must be vertical, sturdy and tall enough: at least 90 cm
  • Place near your cat’s sleeping area or close to the areas of unwanted scratching
  • Have at least 1 post per cat

Once you have a scratching post or pad, be sure you place it right next to his favorite piece of furniture. After he is in the habit of scratching the post, you can try moving it a bit further from the furniture, but you should do so gradually.

Pet Repellant Spray

If having his own personal scratching post doesn’t deter your cat from ruining the furnishings, try using a pet repellant spray, such as Bitter Apple, on the furniture. (You may want to test the spray on an obscure part of the upholstery first to be sure it doesn’t discolor the fabric.)

If you don’t want to risk spraying your furniture, try covering the material with aluminum foil or tape that is placed sticky side up. Your cat will not care for the feel of these materials and should willingly turn to his scratching post instead.

Furniture Protector

Once you’ve provided a suitable scratching post and acclimated your cat to it, you can buy some furniture protectors to cover the parts of the furniture that your cat often attacks. These protectors will discourage your cat from scratching your furniture and effectively protect your fabric upholstery from pet claw damage.

The protectors are clear so you can attach them to the sides of your couch and chairs. Your cat won’t be interested in scratching there anymore because the protector is slick and they can’t dig their claw in.

Declawing

For cats that still insist on scratching, declawing may be the only option. As long as your cat does not leave the house, this should be safe. However, declawing is painful and there is some risk to the procedure, since your cat will be under anesthesia during the surgery, or could get an infection.

Some people recommend using nail caps instead, but these caps do have a tendency to fall off and will need to be replaced occasionally. The caps are applied in a similar manner to the way manicurists attach false nails. The nails are shortened and then the caps are applied with a non toxic adhesive.

CONCLUSION

It’s not possible to stop a cat from scratching entirely. It’s a part of their kitty nature that you’ll just have to get used to. But there are ways to keep your cat from ruining the furniture. Have you tried one of these techniques or another that’s worked for you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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cat holding a sign

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