When your feline friend uses your new couch as a scratching post, you may question why your cat even needs those sharp, shredding claws. Your cat’s destructive scratching can seriously frustrate you. However, before you banish your kitty from the living room, remember that scratching is a natural and vital feline behavior. Our Veterinary Behavior Solutions team explains why cats scratch and how you can encourage appropriate scratching and develop a harmonious coexistence with your feline companion.

Why do cats need to scratch?

Scratching is more than a random behavior. For cats, scratching serves various purposes, including: 

  • Maintaining claw health — Cats’ claws grow continuously, just like people’s. Scratching helps a cat remove their old claws’ outer sheath to expose the new, sharper nail underneath. Cats practice this natural process to keep their claws sharp and healthy, ensuring they’re ready for anything, whether climbing, hunting, or defending themselves.
  • Stretching and exercising — A good scratch session allows a cat to stretch their entire body, from their back claws’ tips to their front claws’ outermost point. Doing this is an excellent physical exercise that helps your cat maintain their flexibility and agility.
  • Communicating and marking territory – Cats are territorial creatures. By scratching, they leave behind a visual mark and a scent they emit from their paw pads. This scratch message lets other cats know that the territory has been claimed.
  • Expressing emotions — Scratching can provide your cat with emotional comfort. This activity is a way for a cat to vent their feelings, be it excitement, anxiety, or frustration.

Should I declaw my cat?

In the past, cat owners often had their cats’ claws surgically removed to prevent unwanted scratching and clawing. However, a better understanding of feline wellbeing has shown that declaw procedures are harmful. Because cats have unique retractable claws, declawing is more complicated than simply detaching the nail from the toe. Onychectomy (i.e., declaw procedure) is a surgical amputation of each digit’s third phalanx, the equivalent of removing each of a person’s fingers at the first knuckle. Declaw procedures can leave cats with short- and long-term side effects, such as debilitating chronic pain and behavior issues. Fortunately,  humane alternatives can remedy this behavior issue, causing no harm to your cat. 

Should I punish my cat for scratching?

Because scratching is a natural and instinctive feline behavior, punishing a cat for scratching doesn’t eliminate the behavior and may cause them to fear you or their environment. Rather than punishing your cat for inappropriate scratching, encourage appropriate scratching by providing them with suitable scratching outlets.

How can I encourage my cat to scratch appropriately?

Encouraging your cat to scratch appropriate areas can help protect your furniture and help maintain your cat’s happiness. To encourage your cat’s appropriate scratching behavior, follow these tips:

  • Provide appropriate scratching surfaces — Provide your feline friend with scratching posts or structures that are tall enough for them to stretch fully while scratching. Each cat has a different material preference, so offer various options, such as sisal, carpet, or cardboard, to determine which surface your whiskered pal prefers.
  • Place scratching posts strategically — Encourage your cat to use their scratching posts by placing them near their food and water bowls and their favorite napping places. Make the designated scratching area more enticing by adding toys or hanging strings nearby. 
  • Provide positive reinforcement — When your cat uses a scratching post, praise them and offer treats and affection. Doing so positively reinforces the desired behavior and encourages them to scratch appropriate places.
  • Deter inappropriate scratching — Pheromones can reduce your cat’s stress and anxiety, decreasing unwanted behaviors such as inappropriate scratching. Apply pheromone spray to the area or object where your cat scratches inappropriately, or use a room diffuser to deter scratching. 
  • Trim your cat’s nails — Regular nail trims can help minimize the damage your cat’s scratching causes. When you keep your cat’s nails trimmed, you reduce the likelihood they will destroy your furniture.
  • Redirect inappropriate scratching behavior — If your cat scratches an inappropriate item, gently redirect their attention to the scratching post by enticing them with toys or treats. Redirection helps your cat associate scratching posts with positive experiences.
  • Mentally enrich your cat — Personally interact with your cat often through petting, snuggling, and playing. Encourage your cat’s natural behavior by providing them with perches, hiding places, and puzzle toys that simulate hunting and foraging.

Changing your cat’s inappropriate scratching behavior will take patience and consistency, but by understanding your feline friend’s needs and encouraging appropriate scratching, you can support your whiskered pal’s natural instincts without sacrificing your furniture. If you need support with problem cat scratching in your home, schedule an appointment with our Veterinary Behavior Solutions team.