Cats Need to Have a Scratching Post, This Is Why

Cats need a scratching post as scratching is instinctive to them and provides benefits, including:

  • Exercise and stretching
  • Territory marking through vision and scent
  • Removing shedding nails
  • Sharpening claws

Cats who aren’t provided with scratching posts may claw other household objects.

A survey found that over 50% of housecats scratch inappropriately. This likely isn’t a surprise to anyone who has cats, but did you know that providing scratching posts is the first step to fixing this problem in your household?

Notice that I didn’t say it would resolve your problem completely—training is a huge part of cat behavior, and you need to train your cat to use a scratching post just like you’d train a new puppy to fetch a ball or only chew on chew toys.

With the right scratching posts and teaching methods, you can be well on your way to a house without holey curtains, frayed rugs, and scratched-up furniture.


Cats need to be Able to Scratch

It’s important for humans to understand cat behavior and psychology if we’re going to give our furry friends the best lives possible. This includes understanding that cats don’t scratch to annoy us or ruin our things—they’re fulfilling an instinct.

Cats get many benefits from scratching. It exercises and strengthens their muscles and allows them to stretch their bodies. Scratching also makes visual markers as well as putting a cat’s scent onto an object, which they use to mark territory.  

This doesn’t mean your cat is being territorial in a problematic way, just that they’re marking the space they live in as their own.

They also scratch because their claws shed continuously, kind of like their fur. If you’ve ever found what looks like a shell of a cat claw around your house, that’s what you were seeing. Scratching helps to remove this part of the nail to unveil the new growth underneath.

All of these things also contribute to why declawing is an abusive practice—on top of the intense pain, and lifelong health problems declawed cats endure, they also lose the ability to perform an instinctive, beneficial behavior.


If you don’t Provide Scratching Posts, Your Cat will Still Scratch other Items

If you want to be technical, cats don’t need scratching posts. But if you don’t provide your cat with one, don’t get angry when they scratch up everyday items in your home!

It’s nonsensical not to provide your cat with an appropriate way to scratch, whether you’ve bought a cat tree or you’re someone who doesn’t mind a clawed-up sofa.

Since most of us do mind our stuff being destroyed, we have to find another way for cats to do what’s instinctual to them, and that means providing scratching posts.


Multiple Cats need Multiple Scratching Posts

Have you ever heard that you should have one litterbox per cat, plus one more?

I like to extend this rule to scratching posts. This means providing two scratching posts for one cat, three posts for two cats, and so on.

Of course, it’s never a bad idea to provide your cats with more to do! If you want to fill your home with cat trees and scratching posts, your cat will certainly be thankful.

With multiple cats, you should also ensure you’re spreading out scratching posts just like you would for other resources like litter boxes. Put the posts in different rooms, or opposite corners of your living area.

This helps each cat feel that they have their own space, and decreases the risk of someone hogging the entire scratching area.


What to do if my Cat Still Claws Furniture or Carpeting?

First, I have to urge you to never declaw your cat. Many believe only the nails are removed or that declawing is harmless, but it’s actually a surgery that amputates part of your cat’s toes. It’s painful and leads to lifelong behavioral and health problems.

No pet owner should care more about their furniture than the health and wellbeing of their animal. Especially when there are so many humane solutions to problematic scratching, which are in this article.  


Training takes Time

As we discussed, proper training is essential after buying a scratching post for your cat. You can’t expect their behavior to change overnight, especially if you’ve never shown your cat how you want them to behave.

Make sure you’re being consistent and using positive reinforcements to teach your cat the right way. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts here.


Try Different Types of Scratching Posts

I can cite every study out there, but the truth is that every cat is unique. What most cats like, won’t necessarily be what your cat enjoys.

The best place to start is to look at what your cat enjoys scratching already. Try to mimic this material somewhat. For instance, if your cat likes scratching your doors, try hanging a scratching pad from the doorknob. If they enjoy climbing onto a bookcase and scratching the wall, try purchasing a tall cat tree.

Otherwise, you can keep trying alternatives until something sticks. This can get expensive, though, and I recommend looking for cheap solutions rather than spending hundreds of dollars on something your cat ultimately won’t use.

Once you know what they like, you can make those more costly purchases and know that your money won’t be wasted.

Try scratching posts or mats that your cat can scratch horizontally, or provide higher-up scratching areas like the top of a cat tree.

Your cat may prefer different materials or sizes of scratching posts. Cats tend to stretch upright on their hind legs when scratching, so it should be tall enough for them to do so.

If the post wobbles, your cat may fear it’ll fall over onto them and cease using it.


Try Using Non-Carpeted Scratching Posts—Some Cats can’t Tell the Difference Between these and Furniture

If you have a carpeted scratching post but find your cat still scratches items with similar looks or textures, they might think all carpet is okay to scratch. Sometimes, cats can’t differentiate between things like people can.

Try training your cat to scratch another material, like sisal rope, and see if this solves your problem. Keep in mind that this training may take time, since your cat won’t understand why the old rules have suddenly changed.


Test Different Locations

If your cat seems uninterested in a scratching post, try moving it to another location. Great places include near their bed,a place where they often sleep, in main living areas, or near the front door.

Also try placing it in an area you know your cat likes scratching in already, such as next to or even in front of the sofa.

If you don’t like the scratching post  being so close, you can try moving it away slowly once they’re used to using it.


Nail Caps can Help Prevent Scratching Damage

If your cat is still scratching during training and you want a solution to prevent damage from your furniture, you can try using nail caps that go over your cat’s claws. These are humane and don’t hurt your cat in any way, but they do help your furniture stay in one piece.


Use Deterrents to Stop Cats from Scratching

Double-sided tape is my personal best friend. It stops my cats from scratching furniture, climbing up to eat my plants, you name it!

Others say covering the place you don’t want to scratch with foil works for them.

Essentially, you want something that won’t feel good on their claws. Of course, you only want to provide discomfort to deter your cat—don’t purchase objects that will hurt them in any way.

Unfortunately, objects that cause harm too often include recommended cat-preventative scents. Things like citrus essential oils are incredibly concentrated, and it can hurt your cat to inhale them.

Similarly, scents like menthol that cats hate  are toxic if they lick or eat the product—and that includes the chance of them getting it on their paw and licking it off later while cleaning themselves.

Make sure you’re thoroughly researching whatever deterrent you consider using. I typically do a separate search to check if a recommendation is toxic to cats, as some sites give faulty and untrustworthy recommendations in this area.


I have Scratching Posts—why is my Cat Still Clawing at Closed Doors?

Chances are, your cat isn’t clawing at a scratched door to satisfy their urge to claw. This is especially unlikely if you have scratching posts in your home and have trained your cat to use them.

Instead, your cat probably has a different need they want fulfilled. They might want to get your attention, to be allowed near you, or to go outside.


How to Stop Your Cat from Clawing at Inside Doors

If you don’t need an inside door to be closed, consider leaving it open so your cat can walk in and out freely. If you can’t or don’t want to do this, you’ll need to train your cat to leave the door alone.

Make sure you give them plenty of playtime and attention while you’re available. When you’re behind the closed door, whether it is to an office or bedroom, make sure your cat has other things to do.

At bedtime, the best thing is for them to sleep! Tire them out beforehand.

During the day, provide toys they can use on their own. Puzzle toys are great for keeping them occupied for longer stretches of time.

If your cat is very stressed being away from you, they might have separation anxiety. This is when a cat feels anxious when they’re away from their human family. It will take work and time to get them used to feeling safe while alone.


How to Stop Your Cat from Clawing at Outside Doors

If your cat is clawing at an outside door, it is most likely because they want outside. However, this doesn’t mean you should let them.

Outdoor cats face many risks and have much shorter lifespans than their indoor companions.

You may receive some complaints from your cat when you begin to keep them inside, but it will be best for them in the long run.

One way to make keeping them inside much easier is to have them spayed or neutered, if they aren’t already. The ASPCA has an excellent list of low-cost spay and neuter programs if you’re having trouble affording the procedure.


Choosing an Effective Scratching Post

Choose the Right Material

Outdoors, cats tend to favor wooden materials like trees or fences for their scratching. Keeping this in mind, there’s no problem with replicating this for your indoor kitty. You can buy a wooden scratching post, bring in some clean wood from outdoors, or even get crafty with some store-bought wood panels.

Other common materials for scratching posts include cardboard, carpeting, and sisal rope.

Cardboard is a cheap option, but it’ll need replacing more often. Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to buy cardboard scratching posts made for cats. Making your own might be cheaper, or you can just lie out a shipping box for kitties who like to scratch horizontally.

Carpeting and sisal rope tend to be more expensive. When choosing between these options, it might be best to consider the age of your cat.

A study found that cats under 9 preferred sisal rope, while older cats preferred to carpet-covered scratching posts. Older cats also tended to prefer standing posts to multi-level cat trees, probably because they were easier for them to use as they aged.


Choose a Post that’s Taller than Your Cat

A general rule is that a scratching post should be about as tall as your cat can reach while standing on their hind legs. This allows them to stretch out completely while scratching, which will help them to enjoy the post more.

When it comes to horizontal scratching posts, your cat should be able to stand on them while scratching.

If we look back to the study mentioned earlier, we can also see that most cats prefer a scratching post or cat tree with multiple levels that’s at least 3 feet tall. The exception to this is cats over 10 years old, as they prefer one-level posts and these can be shorter.

Of course, you should pay attention to the size of your cat. Personally, five of my cats are from the same litter. Their mama is tiny, but they are giants! One of them can reach my countertops from the floor. Because of this, I  try to find scratching posts to accommodate their height.

This also means that, if your cat is short, they might not need as tall a scratching post as the average cat.


Choose a Post with a Sturdy Base

Your scratching post should remain upright when your cat scratches it, and it shouldn’t wobble. After all, your cat won’t want to scratch something they fear will topple over on them!

Unfortunately, there is a lot of low-quality cat furniture being sold that’s especially inappropriate for large cats.

If you’ve bought an unsturdy post and don’t want to give up on it, you can try installing a wider or heavier base, or mounting it to the wall to prevent it from tipping over.


How to Train Your Cat to Use a Scratching Post

Your cat probably won’t automatically claw their scratching post and nothing else. They’ll need to be taught to do so, and this can require patience.

The easiest way to train your cat to use a scratching post is to sprinkle some catnip onto it. They’re much more likely to go after the catnip than to continue scratching plain old furniture.

You can also use treats and praise as positive reinforcement when they’re scratching the right things.

Don’t punish your cat for scratching the wrong thing. Some sites recommend loud noises or spray bottles as punishment, but in my experience, it just doesn’t work as a long-term solution.

The thing about punishing your cat, that actually extends to humans and other animals as well, is that it will stop them—but they’ll continue the behavior when they think you’re not looking. Or, worse, they won’t understand why they’re being punished at all and will learn to fear you.

Punishment like this also serves to scare your cat away from the area. If they’ve run away or are hiding someplace, you have no chance to redirect their behavior and show them where they can scratch.

Instead of punishment, I recommend gently removing your cat’s nails from whatever they’re scratching and carrying them to the scratching post. Encourage them to scratch there, and give them a treat or praise when they do.

This will take time, but eventually they will learn what the rules are. Even better, you won’t damage your relationship with your cat in the process.


Trim your Cats Claws Regularly

Your cat will enjoy scratching—as well as everyday life!—much more if their nails aren’t getting caught on their scratching post. Some cats’ nails even get caught on the carpet as they walk when they’ve grown out too long.

If you don’t cut your cat’s nails for extremely long periods, you risk them growing into the paw pads and causing serious damage to your cat’s feet.

Before you begin, make sure you know where to cut. You can really hurt your cat if you cut their nails too short.

The Humane Society has a claw trimming guide that’s super helpful for those who haven’t done it before.


Writer: Katelynn Sobus

I am a freelance writer who specializes in the pet industry.  My full bio