House cats look small and cute, but evolutionarily, they haven’t changed much from their wild ancestors. The lion in your living room purrs and cuddles, and plays with adorable toys, but they also retain a need to use their claws and teeth to maintain their mental and physical health. Scratching is important feline behavior, and if you don’t provide your cat with a healthy outlet, they’ll find items to claim as their own, damaging your household furnishings and personal items. 

Our Pioneer Animal Hospital team knows that inappropriate behavior is a top reason pet owners rehome cats or relinquish them to shelters, and we want cats to stay with their people. Learn why scratching is important for your feline friend’s mental health and how you can set up your whiskered pal for scratching success.

#1: Scratching for feline communication

Cats scratch to convey information to other nearby cats about their health, age, and breeding status, and to mark their territory. The gouges your feline friend creates by scratching offer a visual message, while glands in their feet emit chemical pheromones only other cats can detect. Whether your whiskered pal shares the house with other cats or only with humans, they will still instinctually scratch to communicate. To ensure their messages are clearly displayed, they will often scratch vertical items, such as doorframes in high-traffic home areas.

#2: Scratching for feline stress and anxiety relief

Scratching also emotionally benefits a stressed or anxious cat by releasing their brain’s feel-good hormones, soothing minor discomforts. Cats can stress over many things, including strange outdoor cat odors, upsetting interactions with humans or other pets in the home, visitors, home renovation, boredom, or physical illness. Cats may choose vertical or horizontal surfaces for stress-relief scratching.

#3: Scratching for feline physical health and nail maintenance

The last way scratching benefits a cat is physically. The act of scratching stretches and strengthens your feline friend’s toes, feet, and legs, including the muscles used to control and retract the claws. When your cat scratches, they remove old, outer nail husks to reveal the claws’ sharp points underneath. If your cat cannot remove their claws’ outer husks, their nails can become thickened and painfully impacted. Scratching for nail maintenance may be performed on vertical or horizontal surfaces.

Encouraging appropriate scratching in cats

Providing cats the opportunity to scratch is crucial to their overall health and to protect your belongings. Start by placing multiple vertical and horizontal scratchers in high-traffic areas your whiskered pal frequents. Sisal, cardboard, and carpet are popular textures that many cats enjoy, but if you aren’t sure about your feline friend’s preference, offer them various scratching textures. Ensure your cat can put their full weight into the scratching post without knocking it over. 

Encourage your furry pal to use their new posts by sprinkling catnip on and around the scratchers, and let their curiosity do the rest! You can also play with your cat near a scratching post, tempting them with a wand toy so their claws eventually contact the post. They will likely become intrigued by the texture. Reward your four-legged friend with something they enjoy (e.g., treats, play, brushing) anytime they use their scratchers.

Discouraging inappropriate scratching in cats

gray cat using vertical scratching post

Scratching is normal for cats but this behavior is unacceptable if they are destroying your home furnishings and personal items. If your feline friend scratches inappropriately, follow the tips we discussed earlier and consider these additional pointers: 

  • Choose scratchers that resemble the items your whiskered pal is already inappropriately scratching, and place them as close as possible to the existing sites. 
  • Deter your cat by spraying previously scratched items with synthetic feline facial pheromone (i.e., Feliway) to trick them into thinking they already marked that area. 
  • Place double-sided tape or a carpet mat’s nubby backside to steer your furry pal gently away from the items they scratched inappropriately and redirect them toward the appropriate scratchers. 

Reward your feline friend when they use the appropriate scratchers. If they scratch the old areas, never yell at or punish your cat, because the anxiety scolding causes can worsen their inappropriate scratching. To aid in protecting your furniture during this transitional training period, you can apply glue-on nail caps or more frequently trim your cat’s nails. 

Declawing is no solution to inappropriate scratching. This painful surgical procedure is actually a toe amputation that permanently changes the way a cat walks and moves. Declawing should only be considered when a cat’s scratching threatens an immunocompromised pet owner’s health. In such a case, rehoming may be a more appropriate solution to help maintain a cat’s health

Scratching is a natural cat behavior that helps keep your feline friend physically and mentally healthy. If your whiskered pal continues to scratch inappropriately even though you have followed our prevention and redirection tips, they may have underlying health or anxiety issues. Schedule a visit with our Pioneer Animal Hospital team, so we can determine the underlying cause for your furry pal’s inappropriate scratching and discuss additional tips for living happily side by side with your four-legged pal.