Why Do Cats Scratch Posts?

Why Do Cats Scratch Posts?

Why Do Cats Scratch Posts? Experts Explain How Cat Scratching Works—And How To Redirect It

Cat scratching is one of the many cat behaviors that can be confounding to humans. Why do cats do it? Is it good for them? Why do they choose your brand new couch, and how can you get them to stop? Cat scratching posts are one of the best ways to redirect cat scratching—and they have some unexpected health benefits, as cat expert Joey Lusvardi explains.

Why Do Cats Scratch Posts?

Scratching is an innate behavior in cats that serves multiple purposes. “The first is the one most people are likely familiar with, which is keeping cats’ nails healthy. It helps remove any old damaged layers of their nails so they stay nice and sharp if a cat needs them for hunting or defense,” explains Lusvardi, owner of Class Act Cats and a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

But there’s another important function of scratching that cat parents may be less familiar with: communication with other cats. “First, it provides a visual marker so other cats can see that the cat was there. Second, cats have pheromones, special chemicals used for communication within the same species, in their paws, and when they scratch, they deposit those pheromones on whatever surface they’re scratching on,” Lusvardi tells us.

Those pheromones tell other cats about the cat that scratched there, including information about their health, sex, and breeding status. That marker offers the scratcher a sense of security in their territory, and according to Lusvardi, it can even help ease conflict between multiple cats—and by extension injuries. “I almost always have clients who have fighting cats add in more strategically placed scratchers for their cats,” he adds.

Beautiful white persian cat and scratching post

There are, of course, physical benefits of scratching, since the action helps cats stretch their tendons and muscles. But there’s also a hidden mental component, which plays a significant role in a cat’s overall health. “Allowing cats to exhibit natural, species-specific behaviors like scratching prevents them from becoming frustrated and stressed out. Stress has many negative effects on health over the long term and results in cats that are more likely to develop unwanted behaviors,” Lusvardi notes.

Because scratching is innate, feels good, and reduces tension, cats will do it on whatever feels best—your couch, carpet, cabinets, even curtains. This makes it important to choose a scratching post that appeals to your cat in order to redirect scratching behavior to places more appropriate than your new velvet recliner.

So What’s the Best Kind of Scratching Post To Redirect a Cat?

Since scratching is a natural and necessary behavior for cats, providing them with a quality scratching post is as important as providing them with food, water, love, and a litterbox.

The best kind of scratching post is one that is extremely study so it can’t be knocked over and also allows for maximum cat stretching. ”You want a scratcher that is tall enough that your cat can really stretch out and dig their claws in to get a nice, satisfying scratch,” explains Lusvardi.

When cats stretch, they’re long—which is one reason tall scratching posts like the SmartCat are a good idea.

The material a scratching post is made of is also an important consideration. “If your cat is scratching somewhere you don’t want, picking a post with a similar material to whatever your cat is scratching is a great place to start. Many cats like sisal rope or carpet to scratch, but cardboard or wood may appeal to your cat as well. Try a few different materials, and your cat will let you know what they like by using it!” Lusvardi advises.

An additional consideration is the configuration of the scratcher. The most popular cat scratchers fall into three general categories: post or vertical scratchers, horizontal scratchers, and cat trees.


How To Get a Cat To Use a Scratching Post—and What To Do If They Won’t

Unwanted scratching is a common cat problem—and it’s important to find good solutions.

Lusvardi recommends against punishing a cat for misdirected destruction. “Scratching is a natural behavior in cats, and punishing it isn’t helpful or effective. It will result in frustration for the cat and may cause worse behavior problems. Plus, if you’re not around, your cat will likely go scratch that spot or somewhere else anyway! It’s better to give your cat a more acceptable location to scratch.”

He also isn’t a fan of sticky products that stop a cat from scratching in a particular spot, since, as he points out, “If you don’t provide them with a more appropriate alternative, they will just move down the couch and scratch there.”

The kitten lies on a ruined chair with its claws. The cat spoils the furniture in the house with its claws.


Here’s what he’s found does work to redirect a scratch-happy cat:

  • Reevaluate the offered scratching post. If a post is not sturdy enough, long enough, or of a material that appeals to your cat, they might not use it. It’s a good idea to start out with a variety of budget-friendly posts to see what your cat(s) gravitate toward and then target your cat scratching investments towards those types of products.
  • Consider the location of the scratching post. “Scratching serves a communication function for cats, so they like to scratch right as they get into a room or in intersections,” says Lusvardi. “A great place for a scratcher is straight in front of a frequented doorway or hallway. In my experience with clients, many of them have their homes laid out so the first thing a cat can go to in a room is a couch or chair. That’s inviting the cat to scratch it!” The bottom line? The location needs to be appealing to the cat, even if the humans aren’t thrilled about it.
  • Model scratching behavior. Some cats need a little bit of a push to get them to use scratchers. You can draw them into the scratcher in a few ways. “If you get down and scratch the scratcher yourself, making sure your fingernails come in contact with the material enough to make a scratching noise, it can signal to some cats that that object is a place to scratch.”
  • Offer some incentives. Another option is using catnip, silvervine, or valerian root to draw cats to the scratcher. They are all cat attractants, and one of the effects they have on cats is that they cause cats to scratch at things. If you take a little bit of catnip and rub it on the scratching post, it can draw your cat in. Silvervine and valerian root are two catnip alternatives that can work on some cats that don’t respond to catnip.

How We Chose

The cat scratchers featured here were selected based on a combination of our own hands-on testing, a comprehensive look at customer reviews across a wide variety of retail platforms, and interviews with cat behavioral experts. We prioritized height, claw-appeal, popularity, and flexibility. We’re also guided by the experience of living and playing alongside our own much-loved and strongly opinionated kitties, who are never stingy with their feedback.

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