Cat Behavior: Scratching

Cats tend to inflict the most property damage by scratching. In a survey of cats not presenting for behavioral problems, owners reported 60% of the cats scratched furniture.

Why cats scratch

Scratching is a normal behavior that serves a variety of purposes including scent marking, visual marking, stretching of muscles and grooming of claws. In studies of free-living cats it was noted that scratching behavior increased when other cats were present as compared to when the cat was alone. The social implications of scratching should be explored if scratching is a problem.

What do cats like to scratch

Cats may have a preference for material and orientation for scratching. One study identified fabrics with a longitudinally oriented thread were preferred over tightly woven knubby fabric for scratching. Some cats prefer to scratch on horizontal surfaces while others like vertical surfaces. Observing individual cats will identify their personal preferences. Cats often target prominent locations for scratching and areas near their resting spots.


Tips to help cats scratch appropriately

Cats must be given and taught appropriate places to engage in scratching behavior.

  • If a cat is scratching inappropriate items, it should be provided appropriate sturdy scratching posts in prominent locations (near areas of rest or previously scratched targets). Proper use of the post should be praised.
  • Encouragement to scratch on the post may be aided by placing treats on the post, playing with toys near/on the post or placing catnip on the post.
  • A well worn/used post should be retained instead of replaced.
  • Inappropriate scratching surfaces should be made unavailable or aversive (eg. double stick tape, foil).
  • Placing a bell on cat’s collar to track cat’s location in house and scratching activity can help with the appropriate delivery of remote punishment (water squirt) for scratching behavior. Remote punishment is often unsuccessful at curtailing this problem since owners are often inconsistent with its delivery.
  • Nails should be trimmed regularly as this may decrease the damage inflicted upon targets. Soft Paws are another treatment option; these pliable nail caps are glued onto the nail and prevent destruction.

Source: Jacqui Neilson, DVM, DACVB