Learn why cats scatch - and why they're not being naughty!

An itch that must be scratched

Cats love to scratch. It keeps their claws in tip-top condition and helps mark their territory. Learn more about your cat's need to scratch and how you can encourage them to scratch a post rather than your treasured possessions.

Scratching - an introduction

Cats scratch for two reasons:

1. to keep their claws in great condition

2. to communicate with other cats and leave a reminder for themselves Scent glands between the paw pads produce a unique smell which is left on surfaces when cats scratch. This scent, combined with the scratch marks and discarded claw husks, leaves a sign for your cat and a message for other felines in the area.

Why is my cat scratching indoors?

Your cat needs to keep their claws in good condition, so if they have limited access to the outdoors, they will have to scratch in your home.

If your cat is scratching in many places in your home, including conflict areas like windows and doors, it is likely that your cat is scratching for communication reasons and feels insecure in these areas. Just as with spraying, the most common cause of scratching indoors is the presence of another cat.

The reasons for cats scratching can change over time.

Some cats learn that scratching certain objects (eg your sofa) means they get more attention. This is why it's important to praise your cat when they scratch a post and ignore them when they scratch inappropriate objects.

Prevent your cat from scratching your furniture

If your cat is scratching indoors to maintain their claws, you can try:

  • protecting the item with thick, shiny plastic sheeting (this is unappealing to scratch)
  • placing a scratching post next to the area where they've been scratching
  • choosing a scratching post with a heavy, stable base so it doesn't wobble or topple during use. It should be tall enough for your cat to scratch at full stretch. A vertical weave helps your cat run their claws downwards
  • providing a scratching pad if your cat prefers to scratch horizontally (eg cats that scratch carpets and stairs)

Once your cat is using the scratching post or mat, you can gradually move them to a more suitable location and remove the plastic sheeting. Cats often scratch and stretch when they wake up, so you can try placing their scratching post near their bed. Every cat should have their own scratching post, positioned in a different place to avoid conflict. Some scratch posts are infused with catnip. Alternatively you can try rubbing quality catnip on the post to entice them - or put a few pieces of cat food on the post.

Playing with your cat little and often throughout the day may help redirect their energy away from scratching.

Scratching caused by anxiety or stress

Is your cat scratching to mark their territory? This could be a sign that your cat is worried, or feels threatened by another cat in the area or in your home.

In addition to trying the advice suggested above, you may need to consider what is worrying your cat in order to permanently stop your cat from scratching your furniture. Don't just provide another scratching surface without helping them feel more secure and less anxious. You may need help from a qualified behaviourist to uncover the cause of their anxiety.

Related topics

Managing your cat's behaviour - Topic

Toileting - Topic

Spraying - Topic

Aggression - Topic

Photo credit

Banner image - Koen Eijkelenboom -