Cats Need Scratching Posts and Mats

Cats need to scratch on textured items for several reasons.

Scratching on objects is not an optional thing for cats.

  • Their claws grow in layers, like onion skins, so the cats periodically need to scratch to work off the dead outer layer.
  • Cats scratch to deposit their scent from their paw pads, marking territory, making the area familiar and comforting to them. Territory is of great importance to cats.
  • Cats scratch items for exercise. They will often hook their claws into something and pull, being able to work out kinks and stiffness in their muscles. Light scratching does not result in that deep muscle toning.
  • Cats use scratchers to work off stress and anxiety.
Some of what humans call "behavior problems" are due to the cats not having been provided with acceptable items to scratch on.

Without human approved items provided for cats to scratch on, the cats will have to make due with items in the home, such as scratching on furniture. Chasing off or punishing cats for scratching on furniture will not stop cats from scratching in general, since scratching is a need of cats. One must provide cats with items to scratch on, that both the humans and cats find acceptable. If not, don't get upset with the cat for scratching on furniture due to no other choice.

Cats need both horizontal scratchers and vertical scratching posts. While many cats seem to perfer one over the other, all cats do scratch on both horizontal and vertical surfaces. Most cats prefer sisal or jute rope wrapped posts rather than carpeted posts. Most cats like the inexpensive flat corrugated cardboard scratchers. For cats who mostly prefer upright scratching, a scratching post with a wide, carpeted base can serve for both vertical and horizontal scratching.

Do not replace a well worn scratching post or flat mat until it is far gone. The cats like their "personalized" scratchers, full of their scent. Introduce a new scratching item next to the old one before the old item is removed.

It is not so much of a matter of training cats to use a scratching post, but rather, simply providing them with one!

Scratchers need to be in the rooms in which the cats spend a lot of time.

Because one important reason that cats scratch on items is to deposit their scent from their paw pads, thereby marking their territory, scratching posts and mats need to be in the rooms cats spends a lot of time in and which the cats perceives as their territory (or want to make theri territory). This will often be the same rooms the humans spend a lot a time in, since pet cats tend to like to be with their humans.

If you are concerned about appearances, there are many stylish flat scratching items for sale for cats, as well as beautiful and unique posts and towers which cats can scratch on and use for climbing and napping. One can even make one's own scratching item to suit one's decor ideals.

Incredible & Unique Cat Furniture Designs

Incredible & Unique Cat Furniture Designs

If a cat doesn't seem to use a scratching post, move it to another area in the room that the cat might like better. The post needs to be in an easily accessable area, not shoved in a far corner behind objects or furniture where the cat never hangs out. When cats have a need to scratch, they don't think, "Where in this room would the humans think it is ok for me to scratch?" Rather, the cat will simply go to the most convenient item.

Multi-cat homes need multiple scratchers.

In a multi-cat home, be sure to have more than one scratching post and flat scratcher in the most commonly used rooms- more than one per room.

While the cats might all seem to get along and spend time together in the same room, one cat might have claimed a certain post or flat scratcher, and take exception with seeing a housemate cat using it. This might not result in an actual fight, but cats can and do use silent, intmidating body language that humans often do not recognize as such. The more timid cat will be reluctant to use that scratcher and will then scratch on something else in that room, such as the couch. If threre is more than one scratching item in the room, the more timid cat will have an alternative acceptable item to scratch on.

A scratching post or flat scratcher is sometimes used as an outlet for tension, so in a multi-cat home where the cats might not all be so pleased with one another, one cat will sometimes give the scratcher a workout instead of venting the upset feelings on the other cat.

The more cats there are in a home and the more scratching items there are, the better. It can and does help all the cats co-exist better. Not to mention it helps the furniture!

It is never to early or late to introduce scratching posts or mats.

7 week old kitten on flat scratcherEven if one has tiny kittens who do not yet have old outer layers of claws to remove, and are too young to be concerned with marking territory, be sure to introduce scratching surfaces so they get used to them as the thing to dig their claws in and scratch on. The 7 week-old kitten on the left is interested in exploring and playing on the flat corrugated scratcher. She is learning that the corrugated cardboard is good for gripping with her claws. She will remember this and will use corrugated scratchers to scratch on as she gets older.

If you start out kittens at a young age with various kinds of cat scratchers and posts to explore and climb on, they will keep using them as adults because they are used to them and considered them as their toys. Gently direct them away from items you don't want them to scratch on, and towards the items that you do want them to scratch on. Never hit a kitten or cat for inappropriate scratching. It is not humane or necessary. A sharply spoken "No!" (but not loudly shouted) suffices in most cases. In some cases, pairing the word "No!" with a squirt from a water pistol works, until after some time the word "No!" alone is effective.

Cats that did not previously have scratching posts and had used furniture to scratch on will use a scratching post or flat scratcher with some mild encouragement, provided various conditions are met regarding placement, size, stability, texture and how the humans behave about the matter. The new scratcher must be placed next to the item of furniture the cat has been using. Put a furniture cover or blanket over the furniture, with double sided sticky tape on the bottom of the furniture item area accessible under the cover. The goal is to make the furniture less desireable, and the new scratcher more desireable. Give the cat a treat when you notice the cat using the new scratcher or even lying on it. Gently dissuade the cat from using furniture. It will take time if the cat had been using furniture to scratch on for years, so patience is needed.

Never hold the cat's paws on the scratcher and move them to make scratching movements. The cat will get upset and might then not want to use the scratcher. Many cats don't use a new scratcher immediately, likely due to it smelling "alien", with the store and packaging scents still strong. Cats tend to be suspect of new things. After some time for the new item to start smelling less "alien", the cats will voluntarily explore it, but not usually with a human hovering around.

The cat might still scratch on the furniture at times, but will do so less often if suitable scratching items are made available in the locations the cat has shown it wants to do it's needed scratching.

Horizontal and Inclined Scratchers
Scratching Posts

Horizontal and Inclined Scratchers

A favorite horizontal scratcher for most cats is a corrugated cardboard scratcher.  They are sold in pet stores, department stores such as Target and Wal-Mart, and even in many grocery stores.

Kittens playing on and in the Cosmic Alpine ScratcherA variation of the corrugated cardboard flat scratcher is the inclined model.  One is sold as the Cosmic Alpine Scratcher.  Kittens really love playing on the Cosmic Alpine Scratcher, and in the cutout hole which has a dangling toy.  This early play gets them used to realizing how good the corrugated cardboard is to dig their claws in, which they remember when they get older and need to groom their claws.    

Jolie using the Cosmic Alpine ScratcherAdult cats love the inclined scratchers too. Adult cats can be tempted to use the corrugated cardboard scratchers at first by putting catnip underneath the corrugated cardboard, but once they have used them, they just keep using them without any catnip as they discovered how good they are for scratching on. We have two Cosmic Alpine Scratchers and they have been used daily by our cats for many years- the same two Cosmic Alpine Scratchers, since they last for years! (Though the one our 15 pound cat uses the most has lost some of it's incline.) 

With both the flat and inclined corrugated scratchers, you get long use out of them as the corrugated cardboard is reversible.  Also, you can buy refills for the frames.

Snookums scratching on flat sisal scratcherCats also like to scratch on a flat sisal wrapped board .  These are usually sold to be hung on a door knob, but are used more by cats when placed flat on the floor, since many cats don't like their scratcher to move while using it.  Simply cut off the hanging cord so a cat doesn't wind up with it's head stuck in the hanging loop.  Sisal wrapped boards can be found in pet stores, as well as on-line pet stores. The sisal boards can also be screwed onto a vertical surface, which we did in our former outdoor enclosure.

There is a sisal mat sold for cats with the fun name of Fat Cat Kitty Hoots Big Mama's Scratch-O-Rama Scratchy Mat. It is 14 Inches by 17 inches, and is infused with catnip. Also good for horizontal scratching is a textured welcome mat made of sisal sold for humans to wipe their shoes on.

Scratching Posts

A scratching post needs to be very stable, with no tipping or wobbling when the cat uses it.  A post also needs to be high enough so a cat can get in a full body vertical stretch when digging in it's claws.  Most scratching posts sold in grocery stores and department stores such as K-Mart and Wal-Mart are only tall enough for kittens.  For an adult cat, the post should be at a minimum of two feet tall, but that is really too short to avoid some cats from being tempted to use that nice, tall back of your stuffed chair for a real good full body stretch.

You might find some tall enough single posts in some pet stores.  For a great selection, including a whopping 50" high post, you can order from http://www.angelicalcat.com/c1_scratch_posts.shtml.  Some cats like to scratch on carpet posts, especially if that is all they have, but sisal allows better gripping and pulling to help get off the old outer layers of the claws, and many cats prefer the sisal over carpet. 

Smart Cat Ultimate Scratching PostThe Smart Cat Ultimate Scratching Post, is an excellent scratching post.  It is covered with fibrous and durable sisal material, rather than being wrapped with sisal rope.  Sisal rope wrapped posts sometimes wind up with the rope getting gaps after a period of time, depending upon how the sisal rope was affixed.  With the sisal "cloth", that can't happen. The Smart Cat Ultimate Scratching post is 32 inches high, to allow a cat to get in a good body stretch.  It has a wide base so it does not tip, even with very energetic scratching on it or a cat climbing on it. Smaller cats will even enjoy perching on top of it.

A great option to wind up with a very tall scratching post, plus high perching areas that cats love, is to get a cat tree or tower. www.angelicalcat.com has a very large and unique selection.  Some pet stores also have cat trees and towers.  Many have at least one sisal wrapped part, which many cats prefer and is also neater, since carpet posts wind up with little bits of carpet fibers on the floor around the post.

You can also make your own scratching post by affixing sisal rope around a post.