How To Encourage A Cat To Use A Scratching Post

TL;DR: Scratching posts are a great way to prevent your cat from destroying your furniture but only if you can get your cat to use them. Reasons for why a cat might not use her scratching post include an undesirable location, the wrong surface or style for your cat’s taste, or a lack of stability.

Providing your cat with a variety of scratching posts and placing them appropriately are good ways to encourage the use of scratching posts. Restricting access to previously scratched items and enticing your cat to the scratching posts with toys, catnip, pheromones, and treats can also help.

There are plenty of great things about having pet cats. As we cat lovers know, living with torn-up furniture is not one of them. Recent studies have shown from 52 to 83.9 percent of cat owners report undesirable scratching behavior. According to an internet survey, only 55 percent of cat owners provide their cats with a scratching post.

Guilty as charged

Even if you do have scratching posts, you may find that your kitty still prefers to scratch and destroy your furniture. After we recently moved and got rid of many shredded household items in the process, we were more determined than ever to learn how to encourage a cat to use a scratching post. Before buying new furniture, we decided to try a step-by-step approach and have had much success.

Why won’t my cat use the scratching post

If your cat won’t use the scratching post, there are many reasons why this might be the case. It could be that the scratching post is not well placed, too small, or the wrong style for your cat’s preferences. Cats tend to ignore scratching posts in inconspicuous places and scratchers that are too short for them to exercise and stretch their muscles.

Perhaps your scratching post isn’t strong and sturdy enough for your cat to feel secure using it. If a scratching post moves around or wobbles and seems like it might fall over, your cat probably won’t want to use it. Besides, she might get injured if she does. Scratching boards that hang on doorknobs are unpopular with most cats for this reason.

Not having enough scratching posts is another possible problem. Cats mark their territory by scratching and like to scratch in more than one place. If you have multiple cats, each cat should have a scratching post of her own.

How to encourage a cat to use a scratching post

First things first, you should not use punishment to discourage cats from scratching. Punishment is not an effective strategy, and it can lead to stress and anxiety. Scratching is a natural activity for cats and provides them with many benefits, so punishing them for it is likely to confuse them.

If punishment isn’t going to work, then what will? The key to treatment for destructive scratching is a three-step approach. 

First, you should provide your cat with appropriate scratching options. Then, you will need to discourage her from scratching inappropriately. The final step is training her to use the scratching posts. Training cats to use scratching posts takes time and patience, but this step-by-step approach can help.

Step One: Provide your cat with appropriate scratching surfaces

The best scratching options for your cat depend partly on her preferences. It might take some trial and error to determine what surfaces and types of scratchers your cat prefers. Some cats prefer vertical scratching posts while others like to scratch on horizontal or inclined surfaces that they can sit on while they scratch.

Tall, upright scratching posts or cat trees are popular with many cats. When choosing an upright scratching post, look for one that is at least three feet tall and has a wide base so it won’t tip over. Multi-level cat trees seem to be the most effective at reducing inappropriate scratching behavior.

Good kitty, bad kitty

Most kitties like scratchers that are made from sisal rope. Cardboard is also a popular choice for many cats. If your cat scratches your carpet, you might want to try a scratching post made from carpet material. If your cat has spent time living outside, wood might be her preference.

You might even consider making your own scratcher for your cat. For our cats, all of whom we rescued from outside, we made a coffee table from a hollowed-out piece of wood that we happened to find while on a walk. It has become our cats’ favorite scratching surface, and it also serves as a place for them to play and hide.

Au naturale scratching pad

A scratching post can be made by wrapping carpet or rope around a post that is about 4-by-4 inches and 3 feet high and attaching it to a thick board. A cardboard scratching box can be made out of recycled cardboard cut into strips, which are glued into the bottom of a cardboard box.

In short, provide your kitten or cat with several options to give her choices and to see what she likes best. It doesn’t hurt to get creative and have some fun in the process.

Step Two: Discourage your cat from scratching inappropriately

Once you have acquired some good scratching options for your cat, you will need to discourage her from scratching inappropriately. Common strategies such as startling cats by yelling or spraying them with water, applying aversive material to household items, and using commercial sprays actually don’t work very well. They might even make things worse by causing fear and anxiety, which can lead to more scratching.

A more effective technique is to begin by cleaning the area that your cat is scratching with warm water to remove any scent or scratching marks. Then, you will need to restrict your cat’s access to the items that she is scratching inappropriately until she is trained to use the correct surface.

When you do allow your cat access to the previously scratched furniture, it is important to encourage other types of activities in these areas. You can do this by putting bedding or food there and using Feliway Classic Spray, a pheromone product that reduces the impulse to scratch. 

Step Three: Train your cat to use scratching posts

Your final step, encouraging your cat to use scratching posts, begins with providing a variety of types of scratching posts and putting them in strategic places around your home. Place them near your cat’s resting areas, near windows, and next to items that your cat has scratched in the past.

Don’t force your cat to use the scratching post. Instead, entice her with toys, catnip, or a pheromone that encourages scratching. Visual marks such as vertical lines might also help to attract your cat to the scratching post. Be sure to offer plenty of praise and to reward your cat with treats and petting each time she uses the new scratching post.