Cat Scratching Behaviour

StefanieAnimal Behaviour

Molly S.


Cats are designed to scratch. There is no way around it. They have this elegant mechanism of hinged front claws that are tucked away until they are needed. In our conceit as their owners, we have previously adjusted their anatomy to suit our needs. Well, this unnecessary (and debilitating) surgery is no longer acceptable, so our cats and kitties are welcome into our home as they are. But, as with any pet with destructive behavior, there are training techniques, tools, and simple suggestions that can be used to smooth out the rough edges of your feline relationship.

Cats use their front claws for various functions. The front claws are mainly used for apprehension, warning, and marking, when they leave visible signals around their territory.

When we talk about bad scratching behavior, there are two separate issues. The first is scratching the owner. This usually happens when the cat is at play. Never use your hands or fingers to play with your cat. Always have your cat direct its play aggression at a toy. Whenever possible, keep your cat’s nails trimmed. Have a look here for some tips about cat nail trims.

Most of the scratching complaints I get have to do with inanimate objects in the house. Cats scratch things in the house for different reasons. Their nails grow in layers, and they need to shed off the outer sheaths. Scratching helps sharpen up their nails. They also get exercise and stretching when they scratch. Finally, they mark their house with scent and visual cues.

Suggestions for directing scratching behavior:

  • If you do not provide them with an item to scratch, they will pick something of their own. Get a scratching post as soon as you get a cat or kitten.

  • Cats will prefer certain textures. If they want to scratch fabric or wood, and you give them a post covered in carpet, that may not suit them. Find out what they are gravitating to and cover your post with something similar.

  • If they are damaging something, make it inaccessible, or try and cover it with something that feels different. I often tell owners to use double sided carpet tape on fabric furniture. Then make them a new post or cover a board in a similar fabric and hang it on a doorknob for them to scratch.

  • Get smaller cat posts and place them at the areas where you cat is damaging the furniture. This worked for a friend of mine.

  • If you have given up on a piece of furniture, remember that when you buy a new one, the cat may very well go back to that position to scratch. If it is an old chair, don’t throw it out. It is now your official cat scratching post. If it is an old sofa, keep some of the fabric to make new scratching posts, which may be more attractive to your cat than the new couch.

  • Cat scratchers do not have to be vertical. Many cats will scratch horizontally, indeed, some senior cats need to.

  • I have had some success with attracting my cats to a post by rubbing it with catnip, or feeding treats around it.

If you have tried everything and are still frustrated, please contact us. Every case is unique in how it impacts the family, so we tailor make our suggestions based on the consultation.

Base of a cat tree with two cat scratchers

Base of a cat tree with two cat scratchers

A cardboard cat scratcher

A cardboard cat scratcher

Small scratching post

Small scratching post