Welcome desperate furniture lovers… and cat lovers too! Skye Blake reporting in to help you discover how to train your cat to use a scratching post… and not your furniture!
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
Who Is Skye Blake?
Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian or behaviorist) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you!
Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides and explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, linking you to experts on each page.
All sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.
Why Do Cats Scratch Furniture?
“Why do cats have to scratch furniture?”
That’s the million-dollar question for people at their wits end watching their leather sofa and chair being shredded.
You may have even given up and decided the cats can have the sofa and you’ll get a new one… someday.
Scratching things is part of your cat’s nature… discover more at “Why Do Cats Scratch Furniture?“
What’s a Scratching Post?
Since scratching is as much a part of life for us cats as breathing, people need to provide surfaces we can use.
There are different surfaces available but the most common one is the scratching post.
You know, that thing sitting forlornly in the garage gathering dust.
Scratching posts are simply a sturdy post covered in tight fiber carpet or tough rope like sisal.
There are posts that stand alone on a base and others that are part of a larger structure like a cat tree.
Angled or horizontal scratchers are available and are usually made from wood, rope, and/or corrugated cardboard.
This gives cats variety since some prefer horizontal or angled scratchers.
Once you figure out what type of scratching posts your cat likes and where to put them, the next step is to retrain your cat to use the new surfaces instead of the furniture.
There are many choices of scratching surfaces but the main things to consider are…
- Surface texture (the rougher the better) – sisal, yes… carpet, no
- Stability – sturdy base that can’t be knocked over
- Length – tall or long – must allow a complete s-t-r-e-t-c-h
Mistakes people make when adding scratching surfaces in their home…
- Not getting the right kind to fit each cat’s preferences
- Not getting enough
- Putting them in wrong locations
Cats have different scratching preferences… some like vertical scratching, others prefer horizontal, while still others like angled surfaces.
Of course, being cats, some of us like combinations of the three!
Before you buy or DIY, look at the surfaces your cat’s been scratching…
Are they vertical like the legs of sofas and chairs, horizontal like the arms, or a combination?
Consider the texture your cat prefers as well. It’s been shown that cats prefer to scratch materials that have long, straight fibers.
Short, stubby fibers aren’t as interesting and don’t seem to satisfy cats as much.
It should allow the claws to sink into it and shred or feel like it’s shredding.
Trees are a natural scratching signpost because the bark allows both scent and scratch marks.
Some examples of materials popular with cats are burlap, sisal, corrugated cardboard, untreated wood, and some types of carpet.
It’s smarter to avoid carpet covered scratchers… a cat may not understand why it’s ok to claw a carpeted scratching post but not your expensive oriental rug.
Size & Stability
Most scratching posts and some horizontal scratchers aren’t big enough.
They wobble or fall over when a cat tries to use them!
The way to judge a good scratcher is to think of how tall your cat gets at full stretch, then add 6-10″ height or length.
You might even be able to measure that stretched length… it’s going to be different for a Burmese than a Maine Coon cat.
Consider, too, that kittens will grow and will need regular cat sized scratchers.
A base must be at least 20″ square to be stable, so when a cat uses it, she’s sitting or standing on it, adding her weight to the base and making it more stable.
You can also wedge the base under the sofa or weight it on one side to help stablize it.
Horizontal and angled scratchers also should be the length that allows your cat to comfortably scratch and stretch.
Often people only get one scratcher, especially if they have one cat.
This might be enough but for many cats it’s not… especially if there’s more than one at in the household.
They don’t have to be the same but there should be at least one surface available in every socially important area.
You could have a large cat tree in the family room, scratching posts in a bedroom, cardboard scratchers in the living room, etc.
Where you put scratching surfaces is just as important as what kind your cat prefers.
Tucking one into a corner of the living room or basement and expecting your cat to go there instead of the chair won’t work.
This is because cats don’t typically scratch much around the perimeter of their territory.
Use spots where your cat has been scratching as a guide, including doorposts and floors since wood is a natural scratching surface.
Scratched areas are going to be where your cat spends time… and where you spend the most time because your scent is strongest there.
This is why beds, sofas and chairs get the most shredding… you are there!
Mixing her scent with yours shows that you both own the territory, so take it as a compliment!
Once you have an idea of what your cat prefers, put scratching posts or flat scratchers near the furniture of choice.
They can also be mounted on walls, cabinets, and corners at “cat stretch” height.
Setting a cat tree next to a favored sofa or chair gives your cat a good “yes”, replacing the sofa with a satisfying alternative.
These are purrfect because cats sleep on them, then stretch and scratch when they wake up.
The 2-Step Training
You brought it home, your cat sniffed at it, decided it wasn’t a threat and went back to shredding the sofa.
You may think he’s just being a jerk, but it’s not deliberately against you, so don’t take it personally.
There’s a two-step process you can do to make your home a place where cats can scratch without ruining your furniture…
- Provide a “no” – you can’t scratch here
- Provide a “yes” – you can scratch here
Deterring – “No”
The way to express “no, don’t use that chair to scratch on” is to make the object undesireable.
It’s the chair telling him he doesn’t want to scratch there, not you!
Don’t punish your cat… that includes yelling, swatting, spraying, and throwing things.
You’ll only damage your bond of trust… discover more at “How to Discipline a Cat“.
A popular deterrent is sticky double-sided tape that’s put on the area where a cat has been scratching.
Cats don’t like the stickiness and will learn to leave it alone.
You can also use plastic carpet mats and attach them to furniture with the nubs facing out… your cat won’t like the texture.
Get creative… anything with a sticky or uncomfortable texture should work.
You don’t have to buy something if you have similar things around the house that are unappealing but won’t hurt your cat.
In most cases, having these deterrents attached to the furniture is temporary if you provide other options for scratching.
Attracting – “Yes”
Along with making your furniture say “no” by making it unattractive, give your cats scratchers that say “yes”.
“But how do I get my cat to use the new scratchers?”
If a cat won’t use a particular post, there’s something about it that doesn’t appeal to him.
Perhaps the angle, texture, location, or some combination doesn’t attract him… usually it’s the texture that’s the problem.
Discover more at “Why Do Cats Scratch Furniture?
The Steps to “Yes”
Encourage using specific scratchers by…
- Rubbing them with your cat’s body scent from his bed (not his face scent)
- Dragging his favorite feather or mouse toy over the scratcher to entice him to come there.
- Putting a small amount of catnip on the scratcher
Once she touches it and gets her scent on it, she’ll realize it’s something she likes.
If you’re going to rub something on the scratcher to add his scent, be sure it’s not something that he’s head rubbed.
Cats usually don’t scratch mark where they face mark so that could have the opposite effect than you want.
Don’t force her paw toward the scratcher… force never works with cats!
Avoid using pheromones or facial scent on any scratching areas.
Cats don’t like to do claw marks where they leave facial scent.
Reward her when she uses the scratching area with praise, petting, toys, or even brushing… whatever she likes best.
This gives her more reason to enjoy using those areas.
Training your cat using positive reinforcement is a fun and effective way to teach him what’s appropriate and what isn’t.
Clicker training is a precise method of teaching cats exactly what you want… and what they want to do for a treat.
It’s easy for you both to learn and, once you know how to do it, can be applied to any situation where you want your cat to behave a certain way.
Throw Away the Old Scratching Post?
If your cat has been using a scratching surface and it’s shredded, old and falling apart, most people just throw it out without thinking about it.
But let’s look at it from the cat’s point of view…
“It’s a work of art! I’ve gotten this signpost loaded with my claw and scent marks, which makes me confident that I own the territory and am safe.”
Then suddenly it’s gone!
“Wait… where’s my purr-fect signpost? Is my territory shrinking? Are there threats around me now?”
Your cat doesn’t care that it’s ugly and falling apart, so think twice before you throw it away.
If you want a new one, bring in an additional surface that might also be appealing and allow her to transition to it gradually.
If there’s nothing left to shred, you can rewrap it with sisal cord, leaving as much as you can of the original that has her scent.
Or just add another one next to it to give your cat an option.
Discover more about the importance of territory to cats at “The Territorial Cat“.
Here are some helpful videos…
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.
Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.
Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.
However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.
When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
“Decoding Your Cat”, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Editors: Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVB, Debra F. Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, Carlo Siracusa, DVM, PhD, DACVB, DECAWBM, pp. 202-203, 230-231
“Getting Started Clicker Training for Cats” by Karen Pryor, Waltham, MA, www.clickertraining.com, 2001, pp. 31-32, 60-62
“The Cat Whisperer”, by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York NY, 2013, www.bantamdell.com, pp. 240-254
“Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011, pp. 186-7
“Total Cat Mojo”, by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017, 267-273
Updated December 28, 2023