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Why is my cat scratching the furniture?

Informative image: cat scratching furniture Kingsteignton vets

Cats love to scratch! Unfortunately, they don’t always distinguish between expensive new furniture and things like trees, which can lead to friction between us...

There are three main reasons why cats scratch:

Firstly, to sharpen their claws. Cat claws are continually growing (like fingernails), and to keep the tips sharp for hunting, cats scratch to shed the old husks and reveal the needle-sharp new claw underneath. This is often associated with stretching as they make sure their muscles are warmed up before going out to hunt.

The second reason is to mark their territory. Many people know about cats spraying urine to tell other cats where they are, but scratching is also important to cat diplomatic relations. The visible scratch marks on a tree or whatever warn “intruders” that they are approaching your cat’s territory. If they come closer, they’ll be able to smell your cat’s scent on the surface. This is because cats have scent glands on their paws, so their smell is deposited whenever and wherever they scratch.

Most cats have three tiers of territory:

At the centre is their “Core Territory”, where they sleep and relax, which is off-limits to all but the most favoured of friends or relations. For domestic cats, this is usually the house they graciously share with their owners and any other cats who live there. If they don’t get on with the other cats in the house, one may leave; or they may each select a room or area as their Core, and relegate the rest of the house to...

The “Hunting Territory” - the next layer out - where cats explore and hunt. This is often shared with many other cats, but usually on a “timeshare” basis, so they don’t directly meet. Its size is variable, depending on the availability of prey (for domestic cats who are fed, it’s often only a few tenths of an acre; or the parts of the house that aren’t Core).

The final tier is the “Outside Territory” - that which the cat has no specific territorial claim over. They may move through it to get somewhere else, but this area is probably claimed by other cats, so they will be very cautious in doing so.

Cats like to mark at the boundary of each area - you can think of it as a “Warning, other cats live here” sign at the edge of the Hunting Territory, and a strong “Keep Out!” on the borders of the Core.

The third reason cats scratch is to communicate - by scratching in front of another cat, they are saying “look, I live here”. By scratching in front of a human, they may be trying to make the same point, or inviting us to play with them. Occasionally, particularly manipulative or Machiavellian cats may be trying to get our attention by doing something that they know we’ll always respond to!

But how can I stop them ruining the furniture?!

Ultimately, you have to work out why they’re scratching - if they’re doing it to get your attention, it sounds like it’s working(!), but you need to teach them what surfaces are allowed and which aren’t. The same applies to scratching to sharpen their claws. In these situations, providing them with a proper scratching post (of whatever material or texture your cat in particular prefers) will help. You can then discourage scratching on other items by putting double sided sticky tape on it (cats hate the stuff!) or using a commercial “anti-scratch” product containing a chemical that they don’t like the smell of (e.g. a very weak solution of menthol).

Most excess scratching, however, is caused by territorial anxiety - and no matter how many times you provide another surface, or try to make the place less friendly, they will continue to use it. This is because, for whatever reason, they’re afraid that their territory is being invaded, and they’re trying to keep the intruders away. This may be triggered by a genuine invasion by another cat or cats, but it can just be a marker of generalised stress - changes in the environment or the family, or strange people in the house, for example. The only way to deal with this is to reduce your cat’s stress levels:

●     Try to find out why they’re stressed and remove the problem.

●     Use pheromone products (e.g. Feliway).

●     Use milk protein products (e.g. Zylkene).

●     See a cat behaviourist (if this is needed, call us and we’ll be able to recommend one).

●     In severe cases, come in and talk to us and our vets may be able to prescribe a short-term calming medication to help.

If in any doubt about something your pet’s doing - give us a ring!