Why is my cat scratching at the furniture?
Scratching is a natural and very important behaviour for the cat. However problems can arise when cats scratch furniture or other objects in the house that the owner deems undesirable.
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Why do cats scratch?
Scratching serves quite a few purposes. Firstly it helps to sharpen the cat's claws and shed the outer layer of the nail. Secondly it acts as a method of scent marking. Glands between the cat's paws contain pheromones which get deposited onto the scratched surface. This serves the purpose of marking the cat's territory and communicating their presence to other cats without having to come face to face. The visual marks left by scratching also informs other cats of their presence. An increased incidence of scratching and marking territory can also be caused by stress and anxiety.
My cat has a scratch post so why does he still claw my furniture?
This depends on the type of scratching material offered, where it’s located, the size of the scratch post, the stability of it and how many scratching facilities there are versus how many cats are in the household.
Common problems with scratching facilities:
The scratching post is located in the wrong area. Cats usually like to scratch soon after waking, so scratch posts should be located near to sleeping areas. Also at entry / exit points are a good area to include scratch facilities. Putting a scratching post near a high traffic area or noisy appliance may be off-putting for the cat, making them less keen to use it.
The scratch post is too small. Most cats like to stretch up onto the scratching post with their front legs which gives them a wonderful stretch. Scratching posts come in various heights, so make sure you get one tall enough for your cat (they will usually outgrow their kitten one). Some cats may prefer scratching horizontally rather than vertically. Scratch mats and scratch boxes are available for cats who prefer this method of scratching rather than on vertical posts.
The scratch post is unstable. When cats reach up and scratch, they put pressure on the post so the base needs to be stable enough to not wobble when they do this. Some posts are sturdier than others. If the post wobbles or gets pulled over, this frightens the cat and can inevitably lead to a negative association with that scratching post, and avoidance of it.
The material on the scratching post is not what the cat likes. Some cats do actually prefer softer carpet material over sisal carpet or rope. To find out which one they prefer, offer them the choice of two and see what they spend more time scratching on. Some prefer vertical sisal rope rather than horizontal rope which is wrapped around a post in the majority of commercial scratching posts - it's easier to scratch.
There are not enough scratching posts in the household. The rule of thumb for all cat resources is one per cat, plus one extra. So if you have two cats in the house, ideally there should be a minimum of three scratching posts. These should also be spread out around the house in the appropriate areas.
What else can I do to stop my cat scratching my furniture?
There are some extra management steps that can be implemented to reduce the incidence of scratching undesirable areas, as well as enforcing all of the above tips:
Place an appropriate sized scratching post in front of the current areas the cat is scratching
Apply catnip to the scratch post / mat to encourage the cat to use it
There is a product available called Feliscratch, which is a coloured liquid that is applied to the desired scratching areas. The coloured liquid acts as a visual cue to encourage cats to scratch over it.
Feliway spray (synthetic feline facial pheromone) can be applied to the areas the cat was previously scratching. The pheromone deposited by the spray can lessen the chance of the cat needing to scratch the area to re-mark it.
NEVER reprimand your cat for scratching furniture or other items you do not want them to. This will likely increase their anxiety, leading to an increase in marking behaviours. We must never discourage natural behaviour, just do as much as we can to provide appropriate outlets and redirect it to the appropriate object.
If cats are provided with ample resources and scratching facilities from a young age, this really will reduce the incidence of them scratching areas they shouldn’t. If a problem has already developed, hopefully the above tips can assist in the management and improvement of the problem.
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This article was written by Amy Everden RVN, CSQP, ISFM CertFN. Amy is a registered veterinary nurse (RVN) who has worked in a variety of first opinion practices and a busy 24 hour veterinary hospital. In 2019 she completed her certificate in Feline Nursing with distinction.