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Cat scratching posts: Succeed helping Your Cat Get Their Scratch On!

cat scratching post

A veterinarian’s advice on the best cat scratching posts and how to prevent your cat scratching furniture. Providing for a cat’s need to scratch is more complex than it appears! There are many parts and pieces to the wonderful world of scratch for cats. A vital part of prevention is understanding what your cat likes and why.

What Makes Great Cat Scratching Posts?

Texture Counts

Cats usually have preferences for what texture they prefer to work their claws on and that can change with their current needs and desires. For instance, the may prefer one texture for sharpening, and a different texture one texture for enthusiastic shredding (for entertaining themselves or clear territory marking). So the first part of providing the best cat scratching posts for your cats is to pay close attention to their preferences.

Watch what they seem to be drawn to in the house and see if you can arrange a scratching post to match their texture preference – wood, tight stretched fabric, carpet, etc. Also try a few different texture cat scratching posts to help figure out what your cat prefers. There is a WORLD of difference to a cat between hard wood, thick firm wound rope, soft wood, fabric, carpet, soft rope, and different types of cardboard. Each of these textures represent huge differences to a cat.

They are very attuned to different textures. Sometimes they want to sharpen their claws, sometimes they want to stretch and pull, and sometimes they just want to flay and shred. Different textures of cat scratching posts allow for different moments of feline happiness to be fulfilled. 

I had a lovely feral cat for years and she actually preferred a rough bark covered piece of hardwood.  I only realized that after one winter when I had firewood inside laying by the hearth.  So ever after that, I would periodically bring in a new piece of rough barked wood and lay it on the hearth for to assault.  She never used anything else in the house after that. 

If you do not have the type of surface they prefer then trying to redirect a cat scratching furniture will be more difficult. All the aversive efforts in the world will not help one bit if you do not provide the type of cat scratching post that they prefer. The first types to try which are easiest to find or make tend to be a tightly wrapped rope pole, a long compressed newspaper/cardboard mat for the floor, and a carpet covered pole.

Experiment with textures when trying to provide the best cat scratching post! You can rest assured the cats will enjoy your efforts.

Size Matters

The next aspect to consider is the sturdiness of the cat scratching posts as well as the length and height of at least some of the provided posts. Most cats prefer to be able to reach up high or across the floor beyond their full body length and really pull hard on something. Think of it like this = sometimes they like to get their stretch on while they scratch. This lets them really work their muscles and not just sharpen their claws.

So at least some of the provided cat scratching posts or scratch mats ideally needs to be tall enough or long enough to accommodate that long tall stretch. A tall sturdy example here. Any vertical posts especially should be very sturdy, they love sturdy as a choice! They cannot get their stretch on if the posts wobbles around or threatens to fall over on them with every use. Much easier to go grab a couch or a door facing instead!

Location, Location, Location: It’s Not Just for Human Real Estate

Last, the location of the provided cat scratching posts matters to some cats as well. Scratching is in part a visual territory marking activity and some cats are more territorial than others. Thus, some cats are more particular than others about exactly where they want to make their “marking display” visible to all and sundry. So consider setting up the new cat scratching posts near to any areas they already seem intent on clawing.

A Word on Aversives to Stop a Cat Scratching Furniture

Aversives do not usually work well long term to ‘train’ a cat to stop scratching undesired objects in the house. What is an aversive? Anything that acts to frighten or punish the cat – like spraying them with a water bottle, shaker cans, yelling or other loud noises, throwing things at them, etc.

One of the main reasons aversives do not work well for this tends be because many many cats make a game of trying to be quicker than you are with the aversive attempt. Usually the cats are quicker than the humans, so they ‘win’. To a cat gaming your aversive based system, managing to scratch even once is a positive reward for trying the unwanted behavior! Instant self-rewarding behavior is a strong motivator to continue that behavior. And practiced behavior is repeated.

Furthermore, active hand held aversives can indeed interfere with your relationship with you cat. They can associate you with the adverse event rather than the water bottle. It happens. But fortunately it can be avoided easily.

A positive interrupter cue tends to be better at helping to positively interrupt an unwanted behavior and get their attention so that you can then easily redirect their energy and attention to something more appropriate. Check out our article on How to teach and use a positive interruptor cue in cats.

Last but not least, the mightiest aversive in the world will not help stop your cat scratching furniture if you do not provide things that are acceptable to you and preferred for them to routinely work their claws on. It is your responsibility to provide acceptable cat scratching posts not simply spend all your energy trying to run them off various objects.

Deterrents for use on furniture

So, practiced behavior is repeated! Like the old adage says, “Practice makes perfect.” And that is true for animals or people. So limiting access to the targeted object in the house can be part of the strategy as well. Block room access if they are destroying something in a room you are not likely to notice they have even gone into – close the door for awhile. Don’t let them practice things you do not want them doing if you can easily avoid it while you are trying to set up new more acceptable habits.

Make the chosen objects less desirable to use for a cat scratching post. If you have real trouble with the lower parts of furniture then try temporarily making them unattractive texturally. Do that by buying special plastic furniture protectors or cat training tape (which is both hard and sticky on the outside). Cheap plastic carpet runners can be cut to size as needed and mounted to your furniture or walls with the prickly side out as well. If they are after door or window facings then there are door protector strips made for them as well which do not tend t be attractive to scratch against.

Cats tend to dislike citrus scents so you can try pinning or mounting citrus peels in chosen areas that need to be deterred or try a citrus deterrent spray. Citrus spray or scent alone does not tend to work well, but they can provide a great assist to the more physical deterrents discussed above. There are motion activated citronella sprays that might be useful for ‘watching’ areas that you cannot keep an eye or ear on.

Again, an important note, all the deterrents or aversive in the world will not help stop your cat scratching furniture if you do not provide things that are acceptable to you and preferred for them to routinely work their claws on. Scratching is a normal, natural, necessary activity in cats. You need to make proper provisions for them to be able to engage in scratching acceptably.

Reinforcing the Right Choice

Encourage interest in the preferred scratching posts by sprinkling cat nip on them. Provide treats and positive reinforcement often initially when they begin to use the preferred cat scratching posts. Be clear, consistent, and calm with a relatively benign response each time they choose the unacceptable scratching area. Be equally obviously clear and positive and delighted when they make the choice you desire.

Cats are extremely focused and persistent when they want something. So you have to be very consistent AND persistent when you are trying to train them to a different habit than they seem to prefer.

If they are actively scratching the ‘wrong thing’ then you need to use that positive interrupter cue, and once you have their attention then immediately redirect them. Not later. Then in that moment. Either shift their attention to what is acceptable or offer to play actively and distract them entirely onto a new activity. Alternatively, while they are learning, keep some treats or fascinating toys around that you can toss their way if you are too busy to break away. (See our Feline Enrichment article)

Try not to ever just focus on saying no as the only method. Cats can learn more rapidly than any walking talking toddler how to ignore repeated no’s or negatives. Always work on taking the time immediately to direct them to what is ok or provide a different distracting and engaging activity.

Don’t just rely on negatives and aversives for the ‘wrong’ thing. That will fail every time. Unless you intend to spend your life standing in place to fuss at them every single time – it will fail if that is the only focus. You always need to figure out what they prefer and provide an acceptable form of it and then encourage and redirect to that which is acceptable as the second part of most any behavior modification effort.

Final Tips for Helping Your Cat Get Their Scratch on Appropriately

Scratching and clawing up things is fun and necessary, but should never be the ONLY enriching activity to which they have access. A final step in stopping excess or unwanted scratching is to be certain and create a more engaging enrichment plan for your cat in general. We have an article on how to develop an enrichment program for your cat.

And finally, understand that kittens get a bad rap for scratching while they are little when really all they are doing is climbing. They are too little and lack coordination to jump very high effectively yet. Be aware of that and understand it is a relatively short stage. Sometimes providing a little stool or boxes that they can make a leap on before going higher will help decrease that ‘clawing’ their way up. They grow fast and through the necessity of clawing their way upward pretty quickly.