Cats scratch to mark territory and keep their claws sharp. Carpeted stairs are a great place for this instinctual activity. Unlike other parts of the house, stairs have not been claimed by human occupants.
Train your cat out of scratching the staircase carpet. This involves providing alternative scratching surfaces, such as cat trees and posts. Teach your cat that scratching is fine, but only on appropriate surfaces.
Do not tear the carpet up from your staircase. The cat will just scratch at the wood beneath. Instead, focus on training and providing alternatives. Any cat can be trained to temper its scratching instincts.
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My Cat Scratches Stair Carpet
Scratching is an everyday activity for most cats. Cats love to scratch at the carpet. Reasons for the behavior include:
- Marking territory
- Sharpening claws
- Filing long claws
- Relieving stress and tension
- Attention seeking
Most often, the cat is claiming territory. The sight of the scratches will pair with the scent in a cat’s paw pads. This means that other cats know the territory is claimed.
Your cat will also be sharpening its claws. Sharp claws are important to a cat. When hunting, felines like to remain stealthy. This involves moving low to the ground. Sharp claws help a cat dig into the ground and pull its bodyweight along. By scratching, a cat removes dead outer sheathes from its claws. Sharp, healthy nails will remain.
If your cat scratches carpet throughout the home, there will be an emotional reason. Your cat is likely stressed or seeking your attention. Many cats will focus their scratching behavior to one location, though. The carpet on a staircase is a frequent target.
Your cat may also be scratching for attention. If you ever spot this behavior, you will likely immediately stop it. If a cat feels neglected, it will do whatever it can to inspire interaction with you. This can include unwelcome behaviors, such as scratching.
How to Stop a Catch Scratching the Carpet
Offer alternative products that will satisfy this instinct. Scratching trees and mats, located in territory that cat considers its own, are essential. With other training techniques, your cat will lose interest in the stair carpet.
As part of the training process, assign your cat with its own territory. If possible, this should be an entire room that you rarely enter. A spare bedroom is ideal. If this is not an option, consider a laundry room or storage facility.
When your cat starts scratching the stairs, issue a command to cease the behavior. A short, sharp noise that gets your cat’s attention will work. In the same breath, pick up your cat and move it to this new territory.
Before attempting this, ensure the room is cat-friendly. You cannot allow your cat to think it is being punished for scratching. As scratching is so instinctive, your cat will deem this unfair. It’s like punishing a cat for meowing or grooming.
Fill the room with toys, a cat tree, a litter tray, and scratching surfaces. The purpose of this training is helping your cat understand this is where scratching is appropriate.
The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery surveyed 4,331 cat owners about scratching substrate preferences. The carpet was most commonly offered by owners, which makes sense. A cat that scratches the stair carpet will be familiar with the material.
Senior cats were particularly interested in scratching carpet. This is presumably due to the softer material under brittle claws. In addition, senior cats will theoretically have been scratching the stair carpet for longer. Old habits are the hardest to break.
It was found that other cats gravitated more toward scratching rope. Many cat scratching posts are coated in rope, so this will be easy to source. Cardboard and wood are also provided. You can find scratching toys in any pet store.
The study found that the most successful form of scratching substrate was a vertical cat tree. Cats preferred trees with at least two platforms, reaching around three feet in height.
If you provide these materials for your cat, you can encourage it to scratch its own property. The cat will enjoy this. Remember that marking territory is a big part of feline scratching behavior. If your cat has its own, undisputed scratching substrates, it will embrace them.
Not all cats will show an immediate interest in scratching substrates. This is because the cat does not know what they are for. Make the scratching post appealing with catnip. This will draw your cat in. Before long, it will start doing what comes naturally.
The study confirmed that unwelcome scratching ceased with the addition of substrates. This was particularly common in senior cats. Cats do not want to damage your property. They just want somewhere to exercise their instincts.
As your cat scratches, you will notice trees and posts becoming ragged and worn. This is how your cat likes it. Your cat’s scent will be all over the rope. Do not throw away these toys and replace them. You risk needing to start the training all over again.
Blocking Access to Stairs
If your cat cannot reach the stair carpet, it cannot scratch it. Place a baby gate in front of the stairs. You can still use the stairs, but the carpet is safe from your cat’s attention.
This will be effective to divert your cat’s attention away from the staircase. It will not resolve the cat’s instinct to scratch, though. This means that this technique could backfire if not used in conjunction with training. The cat will just look for something else to scratch.
This is why alternative substrates are important. Unable to reach its preferred spot, the cat will use scratching posts instead. Over time, the cat will lose interest in the stairs. At this stage, you can remove the barrier.
Consider the logistics of restricting stair access to cats. Keeping a senior cat on the lower floor may be beneficial. It can lead to less unnecessary movement. Your cat must have access to everything it needs though. This includes private space and at least one litter tray.
Your cat may grow distressed at being denied access to parts of the home. Cats like to hide and hoard treasures. A favorite toy may be agonizingly out of reach on an upper floor. Don’t leave the barrier up too long.
Deterrent Scents and Surfaces
You can keep your cat away from the staircase carpet by placing unappealing scents and textures. As with restricting access, ensure your cat has somewhere else to scratch. If you do not provide a surface, your cat will find one.
Cats have an uncanny sense of smell. A barely perceptible aroma to a human can be overpowering to a cat. If the cat dislikes the smell of your stairs, it will avoid them.
On the one hand, this means no more scratching. On the other, the scent may permeate the entire home. This will cause stress and anxiety. Do not expose a cat’s nose to a constant assault. It may take out its distress on the furniture or another carpet.
If you decide to use scent deterrent, cats dislike the following aromas:
- Citrus (lemon, orange or lime juice)
- Strong perfume or cologne
Mix up a small amount of these scents with water Apply the mix to a spray bottle and apply it to the stairs. Use this opportunity to train your cat. If your cat has somewhere appropriate to scratch, you can stop treating the stairs.
Cats also dislike the feel of particular surfaces and textures beneath their paws. This will cause less distress to your cat. Unlike scents, surfaces can be restricted to a small surface area.
The following materials and sensations will deter a cat from scratching:
- Heavy plastic
- Aluminum foil
- Sticky substances (i.e. double-sided sticky tape)
- Carpet runners
Just ensure the cat remains safe if you use this technique. Sticky surfaces, for example, may pull fur from a cat’s body. Limit the textures to the bottom stair. This will typically be enough to deter a cat from climbing higher.
Managing Stress and Anxiety
If your cat does not restrict scratching to the stairs, stress is the likely cause.
Applied Animal Behavior Science links scratching and destructive behavior to anxiety.
A cat with generalized anxiety is less likely to destructive. These cats will prefer to hide and avoid human contact. Your cat’s stress is likely stemming from a lack of attention and stimulation. Cats with separation anxiety, in particular, act destructively.
Schedule a strict timetable for your cat and stick to it. Cats draw comfort from routine and familiarity. Feed, pet, and play with your cat at the same time each day. Before long, the cat will understand this routine. This, in turn, will build trust in you as an owner.
The usual caveats apply here. You’ll still need to provide your cat with territory and alternative scratching materials. A calm, contented cat is just likelier to use them.
Spaying and Neutering
If you have not done so already, have your cat spayed or neutered. This is particularly advisable in male cats. Unfixed males are highly territorial. The cat will be driven to scratch and claim as much territory as possible. Testosterone also makes male cats prone to destructive behavior.
Spaying and neutering is a complementary method, not a fix-all to prevent scratching of carpet. It will make the re-education process easier, though. The cat’s territorial instinct will not be as strong. This will make the cat more agreeable to training.
Declawing a cat (onychectomy) is the process is surgically removing a cat’s claws. In theory, a cat with no claws cannot scratch surfaces. Unfortunately, it is not as cut-and-dried as that. An onychectomy is no mere manicure.
An onychectomy involves amputating the bone at the tip of each toe. This is the equivalent of cutting off your finger at the top knuckle. As a result, declawing cats is a controversial practice that leaves a cat less able to defend itself.
Some vets will not consider an onychectomy unless it is required to save a cat’s life. The process is painful and has long-term repercussions.
A cat that experiences an onychectomy will likely display different behavioral problems. The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association explains how a declawed cat is three times likelier to eliminate outside the litter box. The cat will also struggle to walk afterward. Claws aid a cat’s natural gait.
Always remember that scratching is an instinctive behavior for cats. It is rarely born of a desire to destroy. With training, a cat can be convinced to stop scratching carpet on stairs, and expensive leather furniture.