Although it may seem like odd behavior, many cats do scratch the wall, instead of objects that, to us, seem more appropriate to scratch. This can be annoying behaviour to deal with but you must first understand why they scratch the wall so you can properly address and correct the unwanted behaviour.
WHY DOES MY CAT SCRATCH THE WALL?
Your cat may use a wall for scratching because it’s nice and sturdy, mimicking the trees they would typically scratch in the wild. They may choose a wall to scratch, instead of their scratching post, because they’re looking for new exciting ways to sharpen their claws, stretch their back, or mark their territory.
6 REASONS YOUR CAT MAY SCRATCH THE WALL
Let’s look at the reasons your cat may scratch the wall to see if one reason makes more sense to explain your cat’s behaviour.
1. SHARPEN THEIR CLAWS
It’s your cat’s natural instincts to sharpen their claws. In the wild, they need sharp claws to hunt, fight, and climb trees to escape predators. They remove outer layers of their claws and sharpen and smooth them by scratching at trees.
Trees are strong, sturdy, upright objects that allow cats to put their backs into their scratching. The bark allows them to get their claws into crevasses and shed the outer layers of their nails to sharpen them.
Although your cat may already have a scratching post to use to sharpen their claws, they may be using the wall instead because it has a texture, height, or sturdiness they prefer.
Your cat may simply be getting a good stretch in, and while they’re reaching up the wall, their natural instincts to scratch also kick in. A wall provides a nice, tall, sturdy surface for your cat to stretch upright.
Cats like to stretch in different ways, just as we do. Stretching on the floor, at an angle, upright, on their back, etc. will stretch different muscles. If your cat’s scratching post isn’t tall enough for them to reach up and stretch, they may be resorting to your wall.
3. MARK THEIR TERRITORY BY SCENT
Cat’s paws have scent glands, which release pheromones when they knead, scratch, and stretch. In the wild, cats may shred the tree bark, which allows them to leave more of their scent behind. If you happen to have wallpaper on your walls, your cat may love that they can shred that outer layer and leave their pheromones on all the shredded pieces of paper.
This theory as to why cats scratch walls may be especially relevant if you have other pets in the home or have moved into a home that had pets. Your cat may smell another animal’s scent on the wall (or maybe just a scent they don’t like) and they’re doing their best to replace it with their scent.
4. MARKING THEIR TERRITORY VISUALLY
Scratching the wall is likely leaving marks behind, which may also be used by your cat as a visual cue that the territory is theirs. Although there might not be any other cats or pets in the house to explain this behaviour, it can be instinctual.
5. BOREDOM OR EXCITEMENT
Contradictory yes, but if you monitor your cat’s behaviour and pay attention to when they scratch the wall, you may get a better idea of whether they’re doing it because they’re unhappy or because they’re happy.
Your cat may have a scratching post nearby, but they may have grown bored of it and are looking for an exciting new surface to scratch. In the wild, cats use trees for their scratching and have a wide variety to choose from with different shapes, sizes, textures, etc.
They may also be looking for a new surface to scratch if their scratching post is worn out and doesn’t allow them to really get their claws into it. A wall is a harder surface they may want to try out.
Your cat may also stretch out on the wall if they’re happy to see you. If they scratch the wall beside the front or back door, they may be showing their excitement for you being home. If they scratch the wall beside your bed, they may be happy to see you in the morning (or want you to get up and be with them in the middle of the night).
I had a cat that would use my leg as a stretching spot and naturally, his claws would come out. He wasn’t trying to scratch me, but rather, was showing that he was happy to see me and wanted to be picked up. I learned to quickly free my hands when I saw him approaching so I could use both hands to pick him up and stretch him before his claws got into my legs.
6. LOOKING FOR ATTENTION
Your cat loves getting care and attention from you and if you’ve been busy or have changed your behaviour because a new pet or baby is in the house, they may be trying to get your attention, even if it’s negative attention (i.e. you’re upset with them).
My cat always knew, if he scratched the chair in the front living room, it would get me off the couch. Once I was up, he would have my full attention to let him outside, fill his food dish, pick him up and bring him to the couch with me, etc.
WHY DOES MY CAT MEOW AND SCRATCH THE WALL?
If your cat scratching the wall is accompanied by their meowing, they’re most likely trying to get your attention. You’ll have to pay attention to the type of meow they make, as it could be a sign of distress.
If it’s the middle of the night and your cat is scratching the wall and meowing, they’re probably trying to wake you up. If the meowing doesn’t seem to be directed at you, they may be trying to get outside because they hear another animal out there. Or they may even hear rodents or insects in the walls and are trying to get at them.
If the meowing seems more stressed and drawn out than their typical meow, they’re more likely letting you know they’re unhappy for one reason or another. It may be that their food dish is empty, they want into or out of a room, or they’re dealing with some type of physical or mental discomfort.
An older can may be dealing with changes to their body they’re not used to; not being able to jump up on objects, sore joints, deteriorating eyesight, etc. A young/middle-aged cat may also be dealing with anxiety or physical pain that cause them to meow loudly.
If your cat’s meow seems more stressed than their regular meow, talk to your veterinarian. It’s a good idea to make sure they’re not indicating an issue with their health when they scratch the wall and meow.
WHY DOES MY CAT SCRATCH THE WALL AT NIGHT?
It’s likely your cat is scratching the wall at night to get your attention and/or to indicate they want something. They may simply want you to wake up and give them attention or they may want to be fed.
It’s important not to react to this behavior. If your cat is trying to get your attention in the middle of the night and their scratching the wall works (you get up or talk to them), they’ll continue to do it in the future because it works. As annoying as it is to be woken up by them, ignore their behaviour in an attempt to train them not to do it and let them know scratching the wall is not a useful tool to get what they want.
You may also want to feed them closer to the time you go to bed to be sure they’re not getting hungry in the middle of the night. A good dose of playtime can also help tucker them out before bedtime so they’re not as energetic in the middle of the night.
WHY DOES MY CAT SCRATCH THE WALL AFTER EATING?
Cats have natural instincts to bury their food after they’re done eating to hide it from predators or to keep it from attracting predators.
If your cat has started this behaviour all of a sudden, it’s always a good idea to talk to your veterinarian to rule out any health issues (cats express their discomfort in ways that don’t always make sense to us).
It may be perfectly normal and healthy behaviour, even if it is new. As cats get older, they do change their behaviours and it doesn’t always indicate a health issue (but it’s always best to check).
If the new behaviour isn’t due to a health issue, it may be that they’re eating less than they used to and have some food left in their dish. The scratching behaviour may be their natural instincts kicking in to “cover” that leftover food.
They may also be scratching the walls if they’re unhappy with a recent food change. Or, on the other hand, they may like the new food and be showing their excitement for it. You must pay attention to your cat’s behaviour in general to try to find the answer that fits your situation.
If you fill their food bowl and they smell their food, then look up at you and meow, they may be expressing their discontent for it. If you don’t give them another option, they may eat it and show their discontent after again eating, by scratching the wall.
On the other hand, if they meow excitedly for their food and dig right in, their scratching the wall afterwards may be a sign that they’re excited about that food. We’ll never know for sure why cats exhibit certain behaviour but it helps to consider a wide variety of options to try and find the reason.
HOW DO I GET MY CAT TO STOP SCRATCHING THE WALLS?
You can get your cat to stop scratching the walls by first understanding why they’re doing it and then treating the cause. You may give them another scratching post to use and place it in front of the wall they like to scratch, try giving them more attention, or use positive attention to reinforce good behaviour and draw them away from “bad” behaviour.
1. TALK TO YOUR VETERINARIAN
If this behaviour is new, you will first want to rule out any health issues and only your veterinarian can do that. Although scratching the wall may seem unrelated to a health issue, we have to remember that cats hide their illnesses well and have strange ways of expressing them.
It may not make sense to us, but your cat can’t exactly tell you they need to see a doctor. So they may use times when they know they can get your attention, out of the ordinary, to try and tell you something is wrong.
2. NEW SCRATCHING POST
If you think your cat is scratching your walls in an attempt to sharpen their claws, try making or purchasing a new cat scratching post and placing it in front of the spot they like to scratch. As they learn to scratch the post, instead of the wall, you may be able to (very) slowly, inch the scratching post away from the wall and towards a more appropriate spot.
Try to first determine what they may not like about their old scratching post so you can be sure to buy one they’re more likely to use. It may be that the material is too soft and doesn’t allow them to really dig their claws in.
Or perhaps their existing scratching post is not sturdy enough and easily tips over when they put their back into scratching. In this case, try a sturdier scratching post.
The scratching post may have the wrong height or orientation for your cat’s preferences. If they’re scratching a wall, they like the upright position the wall allows them to be in. Avoid a scratching post that forces them to scratch horizontally or isn’t tall enough to allow them to fully stretch out.
3. GIVE THE RIGHT KIND OF ATTENTION
Cats don’t learn through punishment; they learn from positive reinforcement. It’s better to remove your attention from them when they’re exhibiting “bad” behaviour, redirect them to something positive, and then give them positive attention.
You can clap your hands to make a loud noise that encourages them to stop scratching the wall when you catch them. But it’s likely best not to run over, pick them up, and ask them why they’re scratching the wall (that’s too much attention towards the “bad” behaviour). And it’s definitely not helpful to hit or yell at them; this is punishment and won’t help. Cats are smart and they may even increase the bad behaviour to get back at you for the punishment.
Instead, stop them from the bad behaviour using as little attention as possible (e.g. pick them up and move them to their scratching post but don’t talk to them or hold them). When they scratch their scratching post, then give them positive attention. Using an excited tone, tell them: “Good job! You’re a good boy/girl”. You may stand there and watch them as they scratch away and continue to give encouragement. They’ll love having your attention.
You can continue to reinforce this good behaviour by picking them up and giving them cuddles, scratches, and kisses once they’re done scratching the scratching post. You may even lead them to the treat cupboard and give them a treat.
4. INCREASE PLAY TIME
If your cat is scratching the wall out of boredom, it may not be boredom with the scratching post leading them to this behaviour, but just boredom in general. Try playing with your cat more. This can also be an activity to reinforce positive behaviour.
If you catch them scratching the wall, lure them away with a toy. Several minutes of playtime with you may be enough to tell them that behaviour is better and more rewarding than scratching the wall.
It may even be beneficial to drag toys across the scratching post you want them to use, to help encourage them to scratch it.
5. DON’T DECLAW YOUR CAT
I know it may seem like a good solution to your cat ruining your furniture and your walls, but declawing a cat is incredibly cruel (there are studies to back up that claim, such as this one).
It’s not only painful for your cat, even long term, but it can lead to other behaviour you won’t be fond of, such as being aggressive and not using their litter box.
I hope this article has helped you determine why your cat is scratching the wall 🙂
You may also be interested in: Why Does My Cat Scratch the Mirror? (7 Ways to Stop It)