Destructive Scratching

How to Redirect the Scratching

Cats that scratch your favorite sofa or expensive drapes are not on a mission to destroy your home, but rather wish to satisfy certain needs. Scratching is largely a marking behavior that deposits scent from special glands on the cat’s paws into his territory and removes the translucent covering, or sheath, from the claws. The scratch marks and claw sheaths left behind may also be displays of confidence.

Because scratching is an innate behavior like grooming or burying waste, it can be difficult to stop. However, cats can be taught to scratch on more appropriate objects like scratching posts. The following tactics will help you redirect your cat’s scratching behavior and reduce any destruction.

Identify scratching preferences

To find out what your cat prefers to scratch on, observe her carefully. Does she prefer carpets, drapes, wood, cardboard, rope, sisal or some other surface? Does she scratch vertically, with her paws stretched out above her head, or does she prefer horizontal surfaces, or maybe at a sloped angle? Once you have figured out your cat’s preferred target materials and orientation, you can buy scratching posts and/or scratchers that suit her needs.

Provide items that match scratching preference

Scratching posts, pads, lounges, etc. of all shapes, sizes, and textures are available at most pet stores and online. A carpet-covered post would be a good choice for cats that scratch carpets. If your cat prefers couches and other nubby surfaces, choose a post covered in sisal or some other rope-like material. The scratching post should also match your cat’s preferred scratching orientation. A cat that climbs and scratches on drapes would probably prefer a post tall enough for a long stretch, such as those that mount on a wall or door. However, a cat that likes the horizontal motion of scratching on a carpet might be more likely to use a flattened cardboard box, or a log placed on its side.

Some owners get creative and build their own scratching posts and kitty activity centers. You can cover pieces of wood with carpet, fabric, sisal, or other materials, then nail them together to create a “cat tree” with climbing perches. This will help keep your cat entertained and satisfy her need to scratch. Any scratching post you buy or build should be sturdy enough that it does not topple over during use, and should be at least as tall as your cat standing on her hind legs with front legs outstretched.

Redirect your cat’s scratching behavior by placing the post next to an area your cat likes to scratch. It can then be gradually moved to a location of your choice. If your cat scratches in several locations, provide a post near each one. Take your cat to the new scratching post and reward her with treats, strokes, and praise for using it. You can also entice your cat with treats or catnip placed on or around the new post. Do not discard the used scratching post when it looks ragged and worn—that means the post is well used and is serving its intended purpose!

Make unacceptable targets unavailable or less attractive

The only guaranteed way to stop your cat from scratching a given area or object is to restrict access. However, if this is not practical, there are booby traps you can set up to discourage scratching. Build a tower of plastic cups that topples over when bumped to startle your cat when she begins to scratch. Covering items with blankets, sheets of plastic, or double-sided tape may also deter scratching.

Because scratching has a scent-marking component, cats are more likely to re-scratch areas that already have their scent. To help break this cycle, try using an odor neutralizer to deodorize these areas.

Regularly trim nails

You can further minimize scratching damage by regularly trimming your cat’s nails. If you do not know how, ask your vet to teach you. This is something you can learn to do over time. All About Purrs will come out and teach you this skill as well.

Punishment does not work

Cats do not respond well to punishment because they see no link between the punishment and the “crime.” Punishment only teaches your cat to fear you. Worse, it may lead to aggression. Yelling, squirting a water bottle, or startling your cat with a loud noise when he scratches teaches him that your presence, rather than the act of scratching, brings punishment. If your cat is punished for scratching only when you are present, he will simply learn to scratch when you are not there. Effective deterrents to scratching, such as the “tower of cups” booby trap mentioned earlier, are consistent, immediate, and are less likely to result in a cat associating a negative stimulus with its guardian.

Declawing is NOT an option

It’s important to understand what declawing actually involves. It’s not just the removal of the cat’s claw – it’s the severing of the entire first joint. It’s basically an amputation, or rather, 10 amputations. Most cat lovers consider the surgery inhumane. In fact, New York is the first state in the country to outlaw the practice of declawing cats.

Many cats recover without complications but some cats experience tenderness or sensitivity in their paws long after the initial healing period. Some cats remain reluctant to have their paws touched for the rest of their lives.  And, declawed cats tend to bite more, in part because their first line of defense, their claws, has been removed.

The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery published research indicating that declawing increases the risk of long-term or persistent pain, which can result in behaviors such as litter box avoidance, aggression/biting and over-grooming. You can read the results of the study here: Pain and Adverse Behavior in Declawed Cats


Unfortunately, some innate, normal cat behaviors become destructive within the confines of a house. As cat guardians, we need to find a balance between protecting our valuables and our cats’ health, while still satisfying our cats’ natural needs. In some cases, consultation with a veterinary behaviorist or cat behavior consultant may be helpful to address destructive behavior and to devise management strategies that will enable you and your cat to live in peace and good health.

Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine
July 29, 2019
Why Cats Shouldn’t be Declawed
Pam Johnson-Bennett, Cat Behavior Associates
Pain and adverse behavior in declawed cats
Nicole K Martell-Moran, Mauricio Solano, Hugh GG Townsend
First Published May 23, 2017
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