Cat scratching provides a normal outlet for an instinctive feline behavior. Cats are hardwired to mark territory. All cats scratch. You cannot stop this innate behavior.
As a result, indoor cats often target furniture or other “illegal” objects to satisfy this urge. Clawing behavior that damages expensive furniture can shatter the loving bond we share. Cat scratching tops the list for reasons cats lose their homes.
By understanding the benefits of cat scratching, you can better provide your cat with a healthy environment that offers legal scratch opportunities. To purr-suade your cats to change allegiance to an object, you must first figure out your kitty’s scratch preferences. That includes the scratching surface, configuration of the object, and location.
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The Benefits of Cat Scratching
Most cat lovers recognize that scratching serves as a marking behavior. Both the visible claw marks and the scent left from the cat’s paws identify the object and location as owned by the cat. My Karma-Kat likes to use my denim-covered leg as a moveable scratching post, sort of a back-handed compliment.
The physical action of scratching grooms the claws. Stretching out, digging nails into the surface, and dragging them backward helps shed the outer layer to reveal needle-sharp nail tips. That stretch feels good to cats, too, sort of the way we feel when we climb out of bed in the morning and stretch out stiff muscles.
Some cats use scratching as a greeting behavior when you return home. They’ll have favorite times of the day to indulge, like after meals or a nap, or when they outwit the goofy dog.
In fact, cats need to scratch. Scratching not only offers physical benefits, but it’s also vital to your cat’s emotional health. The action relieves stress. The scent and visual marks signal that the owned territory is safe, which calms the cat down. That’s why excited cats watching critters through the window may scratch more. Scratching often increases in stressed cats, so yelling at kitty for illegal clawing increases stress and makes clawing worse.
There are many types of commercial scratch objects for you to provide legal opportunities and protect your furniture. Too often, though, humans pick out something we like and then wonder why the cat refuses to use it.
To choose the right object and successfully redirect kitty claws there, listen to your cat. The objects he or she scratches will tell you exactly the type of scratching object (and location) the cat prefers. It’s simple. Give your cat what he wants—and needs.
8 Different Cat Scratching Products
You have a variety of options from which to choose, from cardboard for cat scratching to a cat scratching post with carpet. There are also cat scratch pads available with different textures.
- SCRATCH STYLE: The ideal scratching object depends on your cat. What’s his scratching style? Does he reach up to claw vertical objects, or stretch out on his tummy and prefer horizontal surfaces? My first cat liked to lay on her back and scratch the underside of my furniture, pulling herself along. The ideal object should be tall or long enough to accommodate the cat’s full-length stretch, and stable enough it won’t tip over on him.
- CLAW SURFACE PREFERENCE: If your cat targets something in your home, look for an object that duplicates that surface. Maybe he claws the carpet by the front door, likes the wood on a windowsill, or the corner of the mattress. If the arms of the sofa prove irresistible, find an object with similar fabric or upholstery.
- LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! Cats want to admire their scratch-graffiti. Marking behavior has as much to do with the location as the object. Where does your cat claw the most? Since this territorial instinct marks important feline real estate, popular locations include important pathways (the hall or stairs); lookouts (windows or doorways); and resources (litter box, food bowls). Don’t hide the new cat tree in a back room. Place it in the prime real estate location and slowly make it more attractive, and the illegal target less attractive, to redirect claws.
Cardboard for Cat Scratch Ops
Many cats enjoy cardboard scratchers. People noticed that kitties not only enjoy sitting in boxes, they also may like to claw them. Commercial cardboard scratches come in a variety of designs, from rectangles or circles of corrugated cardboard to cardboard pressed into fun designs. You place them on the floor for horizontal scratching wherever your cat prefers. Some can be mounted on the wall or hung from doorknobs for vertical scratchers.
Probably the most economical choice, cardboard for cat scratching often comes in multi-packs or with replacement inserts. Not all cats like them, though, and a heavy-duty scratcher leaves them tattered and a bit unsightly. Cats prefer the clawed-up version, though, and each time you replace it with a new one, the cat may need to be retrained to use it.
Sisal or Hemp
Another popular scratching surface for cat scratch pads is sisal. Also used to make ropes, cats like sisal or hemp because it shreds in a satisfying way under claw assault. You’ll find sisal mats attached to various structures that can mount against the wall or hang from the doors. Often, sisal rope wraps around one or more posts of a cat tree.
Sisal costs more than cardboard but lasts longer and tends to have more universal cat appeal. You can also order sisal rope to replace tattered-looking areas. Karma-Kat adores this sisal-wrapped scratching post that has never tipped over and looks brand new after years of scratching. I have it next to our sofa in the middle of the room, and he prefers it to scratching the furniture.
One of the most popular items are cat scratching posts with carpet. Many cats enjoy scratching the carpet, often on one side of a door. That may be due to frustration when the door closes denying access, along with marking entries as important territory. Matching the type of carpet on the cat scratching post with carpet helps give the cat what she wants while preserving your floor covering. However, be sure to match the texture, not the color (cats can see some colors but don’t really care about it). Harsher textures that give claws a workout work better than soft, fluffy fabric.
Wood Cat Trees
Most commercial cat trees are built on a framework of wood. Some offer cats a wood option for clawing. There are few options for wood-only cat trees like this one, but they are ideal for the kitty targeting your stairway banister. Because cats want to see (not just smell) their paw-marks, cedarwood that shreds offers an ideal surface. It also smells wonderful. Since we live on 13 acres and have native cedar trees, Karma-Kat has the benefit of a couple of cedar logs we leave available for horizontal scratching. Yes, you can do it yourself on the cheap! Read on.
Cork claw posts also provide a fine surface for claws but won’t last long. Soft enough for the cat’s nails to really dig deep, pieces that fall off may make a mess. Cats that lounge on desks and target your corkboard may benefit from this product. If you have a dog like our Shadow-Pup who eats everything, broken-off pieces could be a pet hazard.
Upholstery or Fabric Scratch Surfaces
Since cats target upholstery so often you’d think creating a commercial post with the fabric would be popular. Alas, I’ve found no commercial options using upholstery, but you can easily make something yourself with remnants from your local furniture store. Again, we have one I made more than twenty years ago for our first cat, and Karma-Kat still uses it. I wrapped a small wooden plank with quilting batting for padding, then covered it with several layers of upholstery.
With Karma, I certainly could make something new using denim or an old pair of jeans. Again, think what your cat targets, and get creative with old quilts, burlap, blankets, or sweaters. How about an old sweatshirt you plan to retire anyway? Wear it, don’t wash it, and your scent will help make it irresistible when it covers your homemade scratch object.
Don’t limit yourself to one type of cat scratcher, either. Cats like variety and may prefer a horizontal burlap scratcher next to the food bowls, with a multi-surface cat tree in the family room. Most cat lovers have more than one cat, too, so the 1+1 rule applies: one scratcher per cat, plus one, so they don’t argue over ownership. You can DIY, or purchase high-dollar kitty gyms, and sometimes swap scratchers with other cat-loving friends if your feline snubs what you’ve got.
At my house, we have three cat trees with multi-surfaces (carpet, cedar, sisal, velour)—one at the top of the stairs, and one on each end of the living room by windows. In addition, we have two cedar logs (one in the laundry by the litter box, the other in my office), and a sisal scratcher by the sofa. And finally, Karma has the upholstered board next to the piano. I guess we’re ready for another cat!
How about you? What do your cats prefer to scratch? And how many scratch objects do you provide? Do tell!
About the Author: Amy Shojai, a certified animal behavior consultant, is the award-winning author of 35+ pet care titles and pet-centric thriller fiction. She lives in North Texas with her furry muses.