Tabby cat stretches and scratches.

Each cat in the home should have their own scratching post

© 5 second Studio - Shutterstock

How to teach your cat to use a scratching post

By Greta Inglis Dog Behaviourist | Animal Behaviourist

Updated on the

Scratching is a natural behaviour for cats, but as owners, it can drive us crazy. Here we look at ways to teach your cat or kitten to use their scratching post.

Cats scratch for a multitude of reasons, and with increasingly more cats living indoors, knowing how to channel this behaviour can be beneficial. Scratching furniture or carpeting is frustrating for owners - but do remember - your cat isn’t trying to upset you.

Cats have an innate need to use their claws. It’s up to us as owners to train our cats on when and where it is appropriate to do so.

Why do some cats seem to know how to use a scratching post without training? 

Some lucky owners find their cats are superstars when it comes to using a scratching post, seemingly without much encouragement. The following reasons all come in to play, and if your cat has learnt that the post is the place for it, you can consider yourself the owner of a clever kitty.

Scratching to stretch

Cats need to scratch in order to stretch their muscles, and in particular their spines. This is an important part of your cat’s day, in order to maintain physical wellbeing.

Maintaining claw condition

Stropping - the act of dragging the claw downwards from a vertical position, or backwards in a horizontal one - removes the old, worn outer layer of the claw.

Territorial Marking

Another reason cats tend to scratch the same place repeatedly, is to mark their territory. While scratching, the cat deposits scent from the interdigital glands between their toes, providing information to other cats.

Why does my cat not use the scratching post?

If you’ve found your cat prefers scratching furniture instead of the post you bought specially, you’re definitely not alone. Many people find their cat seems to fixate on their favourite piece of furniture or areas near the windows and doors. This could be a sign of insecurity, whereby your cat feels the need to signal their territorial boundaries to other cats. Unfamiliar cats coming in to the home can be deeply unsettling to resident felines.

If you have more than one cat at home, each cat needs their own scratching post. An extra one should also be available. Cats prefer not to share, and will return to the same post. 

Boredom can also be a contributing factor to scratching in the home. Creating a window perch can offer mental stimulation for your cat. 

Excessive scratching of surfaces, furniture or carpeting, may also be due to anxiety.

Read behaviourist Karen Wild’s advice on how to communicate with an anxious cat.  

If your cat doesn’t seem anxious or insecure, yet is continuously scratching your furniture, it may be that the scratching post available just isn’t doing the trick. 

What is the best material to use for a cat scratching post?

Scratching posts typically come in three different materials: corrugated cardboard, sisal rope or carpet. Charity group International Cat Care emphasises the importance of finding a material your cat likes.

The material must resist the pull from the cat’s claws. This is important, as any give will make it less appealing. The scratching post must also be in a position your cat enjoys. You can work this out by observing your cat. Do they seem to choose vertical surfaces or horizontal options?

Do consider your cat’s age as well. For kittens and younger cats, a vertical option may encourage stretching and help their muscle development. Older cats may require horizontal options, to protect more fragile joints and bones. Scratching pads may be better suited to our senior feline friends.

How do I get my cat or kitten to use the scratching post?

To teach your cat to use a scratching post, do remember:

  • The post should be tall enough for your cat to fully stretch their hind legs and back, reaching the top with their front paws. A post that is too small may discourage your cat from using it!
  • The post should be sturdy. A scratching post that wobbles may make your cat nervous or unsteady.
  • The material should be able to withstand deep scratches. This is important for claw health.

Teaching your kitten to use the scratching post

Step one - Once you’ve covered your furniture in fabric to protect it, place the scratching post in an area your kitten naturally chooses to scratch. Cats and kittens love to scratch and stretch as they wake up, so placing the post near their sleeping spot may be a good idea.

Step two - Encourage your kitten to engage with the scratching post, using their favourite treat or by playing with them near it with an exciting cat toy. If your kitten goes near the post, reward them with attention and treats.

Step three - Practice this over multiple sessions, encouraging each interaction with the post. You can dangle their toy over the top of the post, or hold treats near the post, rewarding them each time they reach out and make contact with their paws.

Can I teach an adopted cat to use a scratching post?

You can! It’s never too late to teach an old cat new tricks, bearing in mind that with more established behaviour patterns, they may need a little more encouragement. Start with the steps above and try to make the post really interesting…

You can do this by using an enticing spray such as Feliscratch, or natural catnip to draw your cat towards the post. 

Make sure it is in a prominent position, as cats won’t want to mark their territory in a hidden location. Placing it near a door or a window, can help encourage them to use it.

Positive training for your feline friend

Teaching your cat or kitten to use a scratching post takes time and patience.Telling your feline friend off for scratching inappropriately may make them anxious and nervous of future handling.

Take a look at our advice on how to stop your cat from scratching the carpet.

It is important to build positive associations when teaching them to use the scratching post; your home furnishings will thank you in the long run.

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