My previous cat ruined every chair that wasn’t microfibre, so I was determined to train our new kittens how to use a scratching post.
I can say, the techniques we used with our new kittens, and the ones I’m sharing in this article, have worked. Our kittens, Charlie & Arthur, don’t use our furniture, rugs, or carpets to sharpen their claws.
There is, of course, a period when kittens are just being kittens and they’re going to bite and scratch inappropriately.
But if you have patience during this kitten phase and are consistent with your training, it will pay off and your furniture will be safe.
Why do cats scratch?
Scratching is normal behaviour for a cat. Your kitten isn’t trying to be destructive or annoy you, they’re just trying to scratch their itch to….scratch.
Cats scratch posts and other objects because:
They’re marking their territory
Cats actually have scent glands between their paw pads and release their scent onto objects when they scratch them.
Cats are territorial, so even if there isn’t another cat or animal in the house, they still have natural instincts urging them to leave their scent and mark something as “theirs”. It’s kind of like when humans place their jacket on a seat to let others know it’s taken; cats use their scent.
Scratching also leaves marks on objects, so it’s a visual way cats communicate to other cats to stay away.
Cats need sharp claws to kill their prey, climb trees to escape predators, and to defend themselves in a fight. So they have a natural instinct to keep them sharp.
When they dig their claws into an object it helps shed outer layers of the claw, making them sharper.
Cats like to have a good stretch after a nap and sometimes, that stretch naturally turns into a scratch.
With that in mind, it’s important that your cat has several surfaces they can scratch. You can’t keep your cat inside without scratching posts and expect them not to scratch your furniture.
What is the purpose of a cat scratching post?
The purpose of a cat scratching post is to give your cat an acceptable way to exercise their desire to scratch. Without a scratching post in your home, your cat will scratch your furniture, carpet, rugs, and perhaps even walls. A scratching post allows your cat to behave as they would in the wild, where they would find a tree to scratch.
Does a scratching post encourage scratching?
A scratching post encourages positive scratching so your cat will be less likely to scratch furniture, rugs, carpet, or even walls. Cats have a natural instinct to scratch. It’s how they mark their territory, sharpen their claws, climb, exercise/play, and stretch.
If you’re worried a scratching post will encourage your cat to scratch more objects around the house, that’s not the case. A scratching post simply gives your cat an outlet to express their instinct to scratch.
A cat will scratch whether you offer a scratching post or not. The benefit of a scratching post is that it gives your cat an acceptable way to scratch.
Are scratch posts good for kittens?
Scratch posts are a good accessory for kittens and a necessity. They not only help your kitten develop their skills and burn their abundance of energy, they also give them something appropriate to scratch.
If you don’t offer your kitten a scratching post, they will find something else to dig their claws into, which is typically furniture. This may not be overly damaging when they’re kittens, but over time, cat scratching will damage surfaces beyond repair.
Is a scratching post necessary?
A scratching post is absolutely necessary for every cat. Having something to scratch is as essential to your cat as having a clean litter box to use. Cats need to scratch, it’s their natural instinct to do so. If you don’t offer your cat a scratching post, they will find something they can dig their claws into.
Scratching posts aren’t the most visually appealing object to have in a home. But if you train your cat to use one, you may be able to tuck it in the corner of a room without running into issues. However, if you begin dealing with unwanted scratching behavior (scratching the couch), that’s your cue to place the scratching post out in the open.
There are also several scratching post/board options to choose from. You can keep your cat happy without it looking like a cat lives in your home.
These are a couple of my favorite designs:
How to get a cat to use a scratching post
Now that you understand why cats scratch objects and how important scratching posts are, let’s explore how you can train your kitten to use them.
1 – Start young
Kittens need a scratching post by the age of 1 – 2 months. Once a kitten is around one month old, they’ll be learning to run, play, and climb, and will be exploring ways to use their claws.
As soon as you adopt your kitten, start training them to use a scratching post. The proper scratching post is just as important to have on day one as a litter box is.
If you allow your kitten to develop bad habits, you’ll have a hard time correcting them. It’s much easier to build good habits from the start using the tips in this article.
2 – Create barriers
Kittens love to explore, so you really can’t fault them for testing different surfaces to dig their claws into. Kittens also don’t weigh much, so they use their claws to climb to surfaces they can’t jump to yet.
No matter how many scratching posts you have in your home, your kitten will still test scratching the furniture.
Deterrents are the best way to teach your kitten what they can’t scratch. For me, that was:
- Corners and arms of sofas and chairs
- The backs of dining chairs and bar stools
I used sticky deterrents to teach them those are undesirable surfaces to scratch.
Be careful when using double-sided sticky tape on your furniture or another surface. It can leave a residue when you take it off after several weeks or months. It could even ruin the finish of your furniture.
I used these ones on my furniture. They’re clear and only sticky on one side. They’re designed to stick to your furniture, but I didn’t want to risk glue being left behind when I took them off. So I put the sticky side facing out. They come with upholstery pins that hold the sticky sheets in place.
To deter the kittens from climbing my curtains, I placed double-sided sticky tape on placemats and set those on the ground in front of the curtains. I purchased these cheap placemats and the double-sided sticky tape below.
After a few times of them attempting to scratch the arm of the chair and realizing it was sticky, they didn’t bother with it anymore.
Once the kittens turned about six months old, I was able to remove the sticky tape from our furniture. They aren’t interested in scratching that furniture, even with the sticky tape gone.
3 – Buy the right posts
When your cat is a kitten, a small scratching post will do. But you’ll need a tall, sturdy post once they’re bigger. So start with the right size now so it still suits them as they grow.
Look for a scratching post that is:
- Sturdy – in the wild, a cat would likely find a tree to scratch, so you want something that mimics that sturdiness in your home.
- Tall – when your kitten is full-grown, they need to be able to completely stretch out and scratch. If a post is too short, they won’t be able to fully scratch their itch and will look for something taller to scratch.
- Sisal – this material is the most recommended and tends to be the favorite among cats (source).
These are the scratching posts I can personally recommend. We purchased this one when we first brought our two kittens home.
We recently purchased this taller post, which the kittens also love.
The bed for the top is sold separately here. Our cats do love the bed. The only issue is that it’s not big enough for both of them (as you can see below).
They also have a cat tree with scratching posts built in. They love to use the bottom post to climb to the platforms. This one is similar.
I like the height (and color) of this scratching post. It’s next on my list to buy. You can never have too many scratching posts!
I have also learned that carpet isn’t an ideal material for a scratching post because cats may then think that any object with the same texture is okay to scratch. This is bad news if you have carpet in your home.
We’ve stuck to sisal for our scratching posts and it’s worked for us. Our kittens aren’t interested in tearing apart our carpet.
I can’t say the same for our last cat, Josh, and the carpet in our old home.
Josh had a carpeted scratching post and loved to scratch the carpet on our stairs and in the middle of our carpeted living room.
I can’t say for certain if the carpeted scratching post and Josh’s inappropriate scratching are connected, but I think it’s a pretty good indication.
In our old home, the previous owners had wrapped an exposed support post in carpet. It was in the middle of the basement living room and our cat Josh LOVED to climb it. It was about 6 feet tall and obviously sturdy.
This may be an option if you have an exposed support post in your basement. Instead of carpet though, I would purchase sisal rope and wrap that around the post.
4 – Proper placement
Remember, cats use scratching as a way to mark their territory. And they want to mark their territory in main areas (even if you don’t have another cat in the home).
As unsightly as most scratching posts can be, it’s important not to hide them in the corner of a room or an obscure place in the house.
If you train your cat to use scratching posts when they’re a kitten, the placement may not matter as much when they’re older.
You do want the scratching post to be along a path they would normally walk, or in a room they frequently use.
But our kittens are just over nine months now and they’ll find and use the scratching post wherever we place it. We don’t hide them, but we also don’t need to place them in front of a couch.
During the training phase, you’ll want that scratching post front and center.
If your kittens are starting to form a habit of scratching the arm of the couch, place a scratching post in front of the couch arm. You don’t want it so close that they might go back and forth between scratching the post and the couch. I’ve found about a foot between is good.
It may take a bit of positive training (explained in the next step), but they should start to favor the post over the couch.
5 – Positive training
This step is key and, what I believe is, the secret sauce to our training success.
From the day we brought our kittens home, we taught them that using the scratching post was rewarded.
Anytime they scratched the post, we’d get excited and tell them “Good job!!! You’re such a good boy!” and give them attention while they were using it.
We still do it to this day. Anytime we hear them scratching, we give them positive attention.
We even notice they’ll start scratching a post and then look back at us to see if we’re paying attention. Once we praise them, they go back to scratching it with vigor.
They also know our stern “no” voice.
When the kittens would start scratching a piece of furniture, rug, or carpet, we would immediately tell them “nooooo” in a deeper more stern voice.
6 – Show contrast
It’s important not to scold your kitten when they scratch something you don’t want them to.
You simply have to show them contrast.
>> Scratching the furniture gets a stern “no” and minimal interaction/touching/attention.
>> Scratching the scratching post gets excitement, attention, and perhaps even pets and affection.
When your kitten is scratching anything other than their post, tell them “no” in a stern voice, then gently pick them up and place them in front of their scratching post.
Never be rough with your kitten or forcefully place their paws on the scratching post. If you exhibit aggressive behaviour around the scratching post, they’ll associate the post with something negative and will avoid it.
The scratching post must be a happy place for your kitten.
Give them attention while they’re near it, and start praising them as soon as they claw at the post.
They’ll learn that scratching the couch doesn’t offer rewards while scratching the post gets them your love and attention.
7 – Buy multiple scratching posts
When your cat gets the urge to scratch in the upstairs living room, they’re not going to walk downstairs to find their scratching post.
Inappropriate scratching decreases as the number of scratching posts in a home increases (source).
A cat is going to scratch what’s closest and most convenient.
At a minimum, you should have a scratching post on each floor of your home.
If you’re dealing with a kitten scratching objects they shouldn’t, you should have a scratching post in each room they exhibit inappropriate scratching.
Multiple scratching posts also allow you to try different textures and orientations.
Sisal rope is the most recommended, and usually most preferred by cats (source), but some cats do prefer corrugated cardboard (as mentioned, carpet isn’t typically recommended, but find what works with your cat).
Most cats prefer a vertical post. But if you constantly find your cat scratching the carpet, rugs, or the seats of sofas, try a horizontal scratching post, or an angled one.
Remember, it should still be sturdy.
We purchased this scratching board a while ago and it’s so light, it does not stay in place, even when our 10-pound kittens are sitting on it.
Use the tips in this article consistency to see consistent results from your cat. As frustrating as it can be to have to get up from the couch (for the tenth time in an hour) to move your kitten to their scratching post, it’s essential to do so.
Don’t get lazy and yell at your cat to stop or spray them with a water bottle. Cats do not learn through punishment.
If you react to their unwanted behaviour in a negative way, chances are, you’ll see their unwanted behaviour increase.
My cat won’t use a scratching post
Cats won’t use a scratching post if it’s too small, too flimsy, or if it’s in the wrong location. Your cat may also avoid the scratching post if it’s not their preferred material or orientation.
The best way to determine why your cat isn’t using their scratching post is to assess which surfaces they are scratching. Then find a scratching post that mimics the size, material, and orientation (e.g. verticle or horizontal) and place it in the location they like to scratch.
For example, if a cat is scratching the arm of an upholstered chair, they like to scratch verticle surfaces that are sturdy, prefer a woven fabric they can dig their claws into, and most likely want their scratching post in the living room.
On the other hand, if a cat is scratching the seat of an upholstered chair, they would likely prefer a horizontal or angled scratching post.
How to attract a cat to a scratching post
Just like the litter box, most cats will be able to find a scratching post on their own. But if your kitten hasn’t had one in the home and they’ve been using your furniture, it may require a little encouragement to get them using it.
A cat wand
A cat wand is a great toy that can help get your cat’s paws on the post and keep your hands out of the way.
Dance the toy on the end of the wand around the post so your kitten must put their paws on the post to get the toy. They should start digging their claws in and climbing the post on their own.
Not all cats will react to catnip, but you can try using a catnip spray on the post to attract your cat to it. This catnip spray has the best reviews.
You may even try silvervine. It’s similar to catnip. You can buy it in loose form or sticks and rub it on the scratching post. If you purchase silvervine sticks, your cat can chew on them, which helps clean their teeth.
A reward at the top
Try placing a treat or two at the top of a scratching post or cat tree. The treat may even be a comfy bed or a great view out a window. These can act as incentives for your cat to use their post.
What do cats like to scratch the most?
Cats prefer to scratch sisal material that is wrapped around a tall, sturdy object (source). They need a material that is woven, but tough, so they can dig their claws in and pull. Scratching a post is mimicking a cat’s behaviour in the wild, where they would scratch and climb a tree. If you think about the sturdiness of a tree and the roughness of tree bark, it’s clear why cats prefer sisal rope and why taller and more sturdy is best.
Do cats use scratching posts when stressed?
Scratching is a natural behaviour for a cat, but excessive scratching can be a sign your cat is stressed. Cats scratch objects to sharpen their nails and stretch, but scratching is also used to mark their territory.
Scratching leaves marks on surfaces to act as visual cues that the space is your cat’s territory. Cats also release their scent from between their paw pads to mark their territory.
Marking their territory gives them a sense of security because it tells other cats to stay away. If your cat is feeling anxious or insecure, they may scratch more than usual, or scratch objects they wouldn’t normally scratch.
Even if you don’t have other cats or animals in or around the house, scratching can still be a sign of stress. It may be a new roommate, a change to your schedule, or even new furniture that is making your cat feel anxious.
If you notice other new behaviours from your cat, such as eliminating outside the litter box, hiding, grooming more than usual, etc. it’s a good indication that your cat is stressed.
I hope this article helps you successfully train your cat to use a scratching post 🙂
You may also be interested in:
- How to Discipline a Kitten that Doesn’t Listen
- How to stop a Cat from Climbing the Curtains (5 failproof steps)