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Why do cats scratch and how can you stop them from scratching furniture?

In our second behaviour focus post, Cats Protection Behaviour Manager Nicky Trevorrow explains how to discourage your cats from scratching areas of the home.

How can I stop my cat scratching the wallpaper or furniture?

Many owners find this behaviour frustrating particularly if their cat has already been given a scratch post.

The first thing is to understand why a cat is scratching. Scratching is a normal behaviour for cats and therefore they need an outlet in order to express their natural behaviours. The main two reasons that a cat will scratch is:

  1. For claw maintenance where they remove the outer sheaths of their claws. This tends to be more of a plucking motion with their paws.
  2. As a territorial marker – both a visual mark from the long scratch lines left behind and a scent mark from the scent glands in between their toes. Cats can also increase their scratch marking in times of stress.

So you can see from the reasons above that cats don’t scratch wallpaper or furnishings to be naughty or get revenge on their owners! In fact, textured wallpaper in particular is especially irresistible to cats as it meets their needs. This is why it is important not to tell a cat off for scratching behaviour, however frustrating it may be, as it does not stop the behaviour and will make the cat feel anxious, which could lead to the development of other unwanted behaviours.

tabby cat sitting next to homemade scratch post

Scratching is a normal behaviour for cats. Photo courtesy of jess2284 via flickr / Creative Commons

In order to stop the unwanted scratching, you need to provide the cat with a suitable alternative that meets their needs. A common pitfall is that some adult cats still have a short kitten scratch post that is now too small for them.

A cat's ideal scratching post

Ideally a scratch post should be:

Where to put a scratch post

Place the new post next to the area that the cat is scratching, eg a sofa. To make the sofa seem unappealing, cover the area being scratched with something shiny or sticky that will feel unpleasant under their claws such as black plastic bin liners, a couple of layers of foil or sticky back plastic. Always patch test first to ensure it doesn't cause any damage to your property.

How to encourage your cat to use their scratch post

Encourage your cat to use the post by rubbing cat mint leaves on it. Cat mint is the plant that catnip originates from and can be found in most garden centres. Alternatively you try using a quality catnip spray or dried catnip. Playing around the post with a fishing rod toy can help encourage a cat to use a scratch post. Avoid the temptation to lift up the cat’s legs and scratch the post with their paws as cats will generally find this very off-putting and avoid the post in future.

While many cats like to scratch vertically, others prefer to scratch horizontal surfaces such as carpets, mats and stairs. Understandably, these cats are unlikely to be interested in vertical posts and need scratching facilities that replicate what they are currently using.

two white kittens scratching a cardboard scratch pad

Some cats like horizontal scratching posts. Photo courtesy of Jennifer C via flickr / Creative Commons

For cats scratching wallpaper, there are corner posts available that attach onto the walls. There are a variety of different posts commercially available for vertical, horizontal or diagonal scratching, or perhaps you get inventive and make your own!

For more information, read our expert guide on managing your cat’s behaviour.

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