HomeBehavior & trainingCat Scratching: Train a Cat Not to Scratch

Cat Scratching: Train a Cat Not to Scratch

Is your new cat scratching everything in sight? It’s natural, but not necessary. Here are proven ways to discourage that behavior.

by Adrienne A. Kruzer, BBA, RVT, LVT, | March 8, 2024

Cat Scratching: Train a Cat Not to Scratch

Laura Stolfi / Stocksy

Good news: You can train a cat to not scratch your favorite surfaces. Scratching can be prevented through a mix of tempting your kitties with claw-friendly objects and positive reinforcement. 

Of course, finding an acceptable outlet for their scratching requires a clear understanding of why these adorable little creatures like to unleash destruction on your favorite furniture in the first place. Some household items are just too tempting for a cat. You wouldn’t leave a hamburger out in the middle of your living room floor and expect a dog not to eat it. So you may need to donate your wicker hamper to a charity or put it behind a closed door to protect from your cat. 

With that in mind, we’ve created an expert-approved collection of suggestions (including the do’s and the don’ts) on how to get your cat to spare your couch, furniture, curtains, rugs, and more.

Why do cats scratch?

Cats have claws for a reason: It is natural for them to scratch things. This behavior is a perfectly healthy part of their emotions, physical needs, or feline instincts. They may scratch because they enjoy it, and it relaxes them. It likewise allows them to stretch, mark their territory, and maintain their nails. Unfortunately, your belongings may become collateral damage in the process. Why? It helps to understand the perfectly logical reasons why cats like to scratch specific surfaces.

Why is my cat scratching furniture?

Cats scratch furniture because they like the height, texture, vertical surface, and accessibility of furniture. But they also scratch because it’s fun with benefits: cleaning and removing dead layers from their claws. Sometimes, they even scratch to communicate with other cats, through pheromones they’ve left behind, by marking a territory with their claws.

Why is my cat scratching the carpet?

Carpet is easy to scratch without much effort or reach (compared to furniture). Also, cats may enjoy the texture of carpet between their toes. They do this for enjoyment, to stretch, to maintain their claws, or to mark their territory with pheromones.

Why is my cat scratching my curtains?

A cat might scratch or claw up curtains because these pieces of hanging fabric are fun to play with: to catch, hang on to, and paw at. Your cat may see shadows created by the curtain that they think they can catch, or they may like to climb curtains to see what’s outside or behind them. Additionally, some cats may like how the fabric feels and want to mark it, by scratching it to leave behind pheromones.

How to train a cat to not scratch

There are five steps you can take to discourage cat-scratching. Scratching is a natural cat behavior, so it is something that can be managed or controlled, but not stopped. Here’s how to encourage your cats to scratch the right things.

Step 1: Prepare your home

Start by covering any tempting surfaces that you’d like to remain unscratched. For example, cats often like rough fabrics, so furniture such as recliners and couches can be temporarily covered with smooth bed sheets to make them less appealing as scratchable surfaces. Next, wash anything you can with warm water to remove scent marks previously left by your cat, because cats are attracted to pheromones. You can also simply remove things from harm’s way, by putting these items in a room, cabinet, or closet that your cat cannot access.

Step 2: Get some scratching posts

Plan on purchasing (or building) two or more different types of scratching posts, because cats like options. Place one where your cat is likely to scratch, such as next to a couch or in front of a curtain. And put the other scratching post close to where your cat normally sleeps, since cats like to stretch and scratch when they wake up.

Scratching posts should be sturdy and ideally at least three-feet tall, enough to allow your cat to completely stretch. Bark-covered logs, burlap-covered boxes, carpeted posts, cardboard-packed ramps, and posts covered with sisal rope are few good options. (According to one study, rope is the most popular scratching-post material.) Avoid soft or fluffy carpeting on posts, since cats don’t usually like to scratch these kinds of materials. Each cat is different, so if your cat ignores one post, try another material.

Step 3: Use positive-reinforcement training

After placing scratching posts in key locations, you’ll want to attract your cat to the posts. Use catnip and treats to direct your cat to spots they’re welcome to claw. Entice your cat to investigate the new post by scratching it yourself to make a pleasant noise. Play games with your cat on and around the post, and attach hanging strings, balls, or bouncy wire toys to it. When your cat uses the post, reinforce their good behavior with verbal praise, pets, and treats.

If your cat claws an inappropriate surface, never punish them with physical force (hitting, kicking, throwing things), a loud voice, or a noisemaker. If you’re aggressive with your pet, you’ll get reactive behaviors from them in return — and no one wants that. Water-spraying should only be used as a last resort, with behaviorists recommending you calmly mist an area close to your cat (but not on it) with room-temperature water from a spray bottle. (The spray sounds like a cat hissing, and most cats don’t like water spray.) However, this can stress your cat, make your cat afraid of you, or not even work if your cat catches on that they can scratch surfaces when you’re not looking.

Step 4: Provide other scent marking ‘stations’

Encouraging your cat to practice better scent-marking behaviors may decrease cat-scratching. Providing self-grooming arches, bunting combs, or cardboard at your cat’s chin level can encourage them to bunt (a.k.a. head-butt) or rub on those items. These items can be placed in locations where your cat normally bunts.

Additional ways to discourage cat scratching

If you’ve tried all the above — claw-proofing or hiding precious items, adding an assortment of scratch-friendly objects, using positive reinforcement, and creating scent-marking spots — and are having a hard time making progress, there is still hope.

Try deterrent sprays — in moderation

Deterrent sprays are only temporary measures to discourage cats from scratching things and need to be frequently reapplied. But they are not recommended, because they may scare your cat away from a room or elicit adverse reactions, especially if your cat has respiratory issues like asthma. So if you opt to use them, do so sparingly. This will not be a long-term solution.

Use nail caps

If none of the above is working, special cat-nail covers or caps can be applied, using nail glue, to your pet’s freshly trimmed nails. These tiny pieces of vinyl are shaped like cat nails and last about four to six weeks. There are both clear and colorful nail-cover options, but they should only be used on cats who never go outside.

Find a cat behaviorist

If you’re at your wit’s end, remember to keep your cool. There is no shame in reaching out for help to train a pet who’s bent on scratching everything in sight. A cat behaviorist can direct you towards more humane, productive ways to lead your cat to the well-trained-kitty promised land. Just make sure you find one that’s properly licensed.

Commonly asked questions

How do you make your home cat-friendly?

A cat-friendly home is safe, fun, and comfortable, creating an environment where your cat can be better scratch-trained. Remove all toxic plants — and cover or hide cords — that your cat could scratch or chew on. You should also establish places where your cat can hide, sleep, and retreat. 

What should you buy for a new cat? 

There are a variety of supplies you need to buy for a new cat. Be sure to purchase litter and litter boxes, a collar, food, dishes, a brush, toys, a carrier, and beds. And to get a head start on training your cat to scratch the right things, buy at least two different scratching posts.

Should you declaw a cat who scratches?

No, you should never declaw your cat. This surgical procedure is now illegal in a number of places, because it often causes chronic pain and behavioral issues. Instead, take a deep breath, stay patient, and invest your energy in the above tactics, detailed in both “How to train a cat to not scratch” and “Additional ways to discourage cat scratching.”


Owner Observations Regarding Cat Scratching Behavior: An Internet-Based Survey 

Common Feline Problem Behaviors: Destructive Scratching

Adrienne A. Kruzer, BBA, RVT, LVT

Adrienne A. Kruzer, BBA, RVT, LVT

Adrienne Kruzer is an accomplished veterinary technician and writer with over 15 years of hands-on experience caring for domestic and exotic animals.