House Torn Up? Teach Your Cat Where to Scratch

By J. Christy McKibben

“Ooh. That’s gonna require a BandAid.”

Cat scratching is destructive and worrisome for humans—but it’s normal and instinctual for cats. Your cat’s instincts encourage him to mark his territory by scratching. His instincts stimulate the need to sharpen his nails to climb trees and to keep predators away.

Yes, cats scratching can be frustrating (and in some cases, painful). But don’t get fed up or angry with your little boy. Do not declaw him. There is a way to teach your cat to stop the destructive scratching and to scratch only acceptable objects. It just takes a bit of effort and time. Once trained, you and your cat will be happier. Plus, your house will no longer be torn up. That’s a win, win, win!

Be Honest With Yourself

You’ve bought a new sofa, and your cat scratched it up. New curtains? Yep. Scratched up. New carpet? Well…you know the story. It’s destructive, and behavior you don’t want to encourage. Although it’s instinctual for him to scratch, he doesn’t always choose the correct items (bless his heart).

Let’s be clear: cats scratch. They will always scratch. You will be scratched. Other undesirable areas will sometimes be scratched. You need to get over this before you even think about adopting a cat.

Your goal with scratching should be to teach your cat what is acceptable to scratch. This includes providing him with plenty of items to scratch. He will not be perfect—but, you can teach him to do it to the correct objects most of the time.

Why Do Cats Scratch?

As mentioned earlier, one goal of a cat scratching is to mark his territory with his scent. Scratching also gives a visual signal to other cats that it’s his territory—“I’m a tough guy buddy, so don’t even think of messing with me!” Your cat climbs instinctually, so he needs to keep his nails sharp. Scratching will also get rid of his dead nails, exposing his newly sharpened ones. Cats love to use scratching to give big stretches to their entire bodies. Scratching will also flex your boy’s feet and claws.

How to Teach Cats to Scratch “Appropriate” Objects

So, you understand why cats scratch, that there’s nothing wrong with them and that you need to accept your cat as he is. You just need to adjust his behavior. You do that by teaching him where/what he can scratch, and where/what he cannot scratch.

So, every cat needs some scratching posts, pads, and/or other objects made for him to scratch. He will love the surfaces—they can be made of carpet, wood, cardboard, or ropes. You can even find DIY ideas online for building different models of cat scratchers and climbers. Don’t make the mistake of throwing the scratching objects out when they’re old and used up. Your cat will still love them because the objects have his smell on them. Just watch out for the staples; they will sometimes come out after a lot of use.

Cats have different preferences when it comes to scratchers. Some cats like certain sizes or shapes. Your cat may prefer vertical, horizontal, or angled scratching posts, boards, or toys. He may like tall posts so he can stretch his entire body while scratching. Be sure the scratching posts are nice and sturdy.

Catnip as Pixie Dust?

So, when starting this new process you may want to cover or remove the furniture or drapes your cat enjoys destroying. If you’re not removing the furniture, you may want to apply double-sided tape to the cover. Other ideas to apply to the cover include sandpaper, a bad smell, or aluminum foil. Remember, these applications are being used to keep your boy away from scratching the furniture. It’s not forever—it’s just while he’s learning.

You can also place your cat’s scratching posts in areas where he is likely to enjoy them (i.e. the place of destruction). Put catnip on the scratching posts to attract your cat. Stationary scratching toys with catnip may work too. It’s all about catnip and the location, location, location!

Now What?

As your cat gets used to the appropriate items to scratch, move the object every couple of days. No more than a couple of inches each day. Don’t take off any covers until your cat has gotten used to using the appropriate scratching item for a month or two. Remember, slow, slow, slow. Don’t remove all of the covers at the same time either. Positive reinforcement is crucial. Praise him when he uses the correct scratching item.

As a very last resort, you can clap your hands or squirt your cat with water, if he scratches an inappropriate area. You don’t want to do this if at all possible though—he may become frightened of you. Also, clip your cat’s nails on a regular basis. Visit the ASPCA’s website for instructions on how to correctly clip his nails.

Let ‘Em Scratch Away!

Scratching is part of who your cat is. He doesn’t need to be declawed—he just needs slow training as to what objects he can scratch. Your cat is smart, and the suggestions above should work. If they don’t, ask your veterinarian for more ideas; or visit the ASPCA’s website.

And, it is always essential to never forget…

“Those who will play with cats must expect to be scratched.”
–Miguel de Cervantes

J. Christy McKibben

Image 1 via Pixabay by Altera
Image 2 via Pixabay by


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