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Why does my cat scratch the furniture?

Cats naturally perform scratching behaviour for a variety of reasons, such as to maintain their claws, mark territory (cats deposit scent when they scratch as they have scent glands around their paw pads), and as an emotional outlet (e.g., frustration, anxiety, excitement). While these scratching behaviours are essential for cats to perform, they can pose problems to owners when cats damage furniture.

Punishing a cat for natural scratching behaviour is ineffective and counterproductive. For example, verbal (e.g., shouting “No!”) and physical (e.g., hitting) punishment has been associated with higher reports of unwanted scratching [1].

Strategies to adopt

You can address scratching behaviour by providing your cat with:

  • Enrichment, physically and mentally stimulating activities (e.g., play, puzzles, toys)
  • Scratching objects (e.g., flat scratching surfaces, scratching rope and scratching posts), applying attractants to encourage the use of the ‘approved’ scratching objects
  • Reward based training, try providing additional rewards when your cat scratches the ‘approved’ objects (e.g., offer a food treat after they scratch their post)
  • Restricting access to things you do not want scratched (e.g., thick covers over furniture) [1]

Scratching posts

Scratching posts come in all shapes and sizes, from vertical models to horizontal squares. They can be covered with a variety of materials with different textures (e.g., rope, soft carpet). Ensure scratching posts allow your cat to fully stretch, and are sturdy enough for them to lean against. Cats may have individual preferences so you may need to try different styles.

If your cat has been targeting a certain area in the house, place a scratching post in front of the damaged furniture/carpet. If you have more than one cat, provide at least one scratching post each as some cats will ‘take ownership’, preventing others from using a particular scratching post.

See Keeping Your Cat Safe And Happy At Home for more information on cat behaviour and creating a cat friendly environment.

Strategies to avoid

A cat’s claws should not be removed for non-medical reasons. This procedure, referred to as ‘declawing’, is major surgery that involves amputation of part of the digit (equivalent to part of a finger) [2]. Declawing can be psychologically and physically traumatising for a cat [3], affects their ability to engage in natural behaviours, and can lead to poor animal welfare [4]. Declawing is illegal in many jurisdictions and the Australian Veterinary Association and the RSPCA both consider declawing of cats to be unacceptable.


[1] Cisneros A, Litwin D, Niel L, Stellato AC (2022) Unwanted Scratching Behavior in Cats: Influence of Management Strategies and Cat and Owner Characteristics. Animals 12:2551

[2] Australian Veterinary Association (2018) Surgical alteration of companion animals’ natural functions for human convenience.

[3] Grier KCK, Peterson N (2005) Indoor cats, scratching, and the debate over declawing: when normal pet behavior becomes a problem.

[4] Broom DM (2015) New research relevant to companion animal welfare. Companion Animal 20:548–551

[5] Ellis SLH, Rodan I, Carney HC, Heath S, Rochlitz I, Shearburn LD, Sundahl E, Westropp JL (2013) AAFP and ISFM Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines. J Feline Med Surg 15:219–230

[6] Rodan I, Heath S (2016) Feline behavioral health and welfare. Elsevier, St. Louis, MO.

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Updated on June 17, 2024
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