If your cat spends a lot of time indoors, you’ve probably noticed some damage to your carpets, drapes, or furniture. Cats who venture outside can find trees and fences to sharpen their claws on, but even outdoor cats will scratch the carpet from time-to-time.
Cats scratch in order to sharpen their claws, mark their territory and exercise their limbs. Studies have shown that shouting at your cat is not an effective deterrent because cats need to scratch to stay healthy. Rather than punish your cat, it is better to offer them an alternative surface to scratch on.
Although scratching is a natural behavior, aggressive or compulsive scratching could indicate that your cat is stressed, anxious, or unwell. Cats don’t tend to make a fuss when they’re sick, so excessive scratching could be the first sign that something’s wrong with their health. In this guide, we’ll show you how to stop your cat from tearing up the carpet and help you to determine whether the scratching is symptomatic of an underlying health issue.
How to Prevent Cat Scratching Indoors
According to a recent survey, 83% of cats engage in some form of destructive scratching inside the home. Many cats scratch at the carpet, but sofas, curtains, and wallpaper can be targets, too.
To stop this damage from occurring, you’ll first need to understand why your cat is doing it. Then you’ll need to decide how best to intervene.
- The Location of the Scratching – Is your cat scratching all around the house or just sticking to one spot? The former indicates your cat is feeling stressed and insecure, whereas the latter indicates he is just engaging in natural behavior. The location of the scratching can also help you to understand what material he prefers to scratch, and at what height.
- The Intensity of the Scratching – Again, this can indicate if there are any underlying issues. If there are, it’s more effective to treat these first rather than merely covering the areas that the cat has scratched.
- Your Cat’s Age and Size – Providing your cat with an alternative place to scratch can help discourage them from clawing. Their age and size will determine what kind of scratching intervention will work best.
- Your Attitude – Consider how you respond to your cat’s behavior because this might inadvertently reinforce their behavior. Also, when trying to change your cat’s behavior try not to be too intrusive; studies have shown that this method is not effective. Cats are more likely to learn new scratching behaviors if they are not pushed prematurely by their owners.
- Your Budget – Good quality cat scratching posts are worth investing in, but some ‘anti-cat scratching’ solutions are quite gimmicky and are unlikely to help solve the issue. Homemade cat scratching substrates can be great options, too, so you don’t need to fork out huge amounts to solve this problem. We’ll discuss the options available throughout this article.
Why Scratching Is Important for your Cat
You might not always be aware of it, but most cats scratch their claws on a daily basis. As mentioned, it’s a natural and essential behavior for your cat’s health and wellbeing.
The primary functions of this behavior include:
- Sharpening Their Claws – A cat’s claws grow quickly. They need to remove the claw’s dead outer sheath regularly to ensure the new, sharper claws can grow through. Any surface that provides sufficient friction can help them achieve this. Your cat needs sharp claws to protect himself from predators.
- Exercise/Stretching – Clawing and scratching are most likely to occur soon after a nap. Indeed, claws provide some resistance while your cat stretches his front limbs, neck, and back.
- Scent Marking – When cats scratch a surface, they leave behind their scent. This scent lets other cats know this is their territory, but it also has a calming effect on your cat. Incidentally, cats also release scent from the glands in their cheeks; this is why they often rub against corners, cupboards and their owner’s hands.
Why Does My Cat Scratch the Carpet?
If scratching is occurring inside the house on a daily basis, this could indicate that something is amiss. Most cats will do at least some of their scratching outside the house, so unless your cat spends all his time indoors, regularly tearing up the carpets could signal one of the following issues:
- Your cat is stressed, anxious or doesn’t feel secure
- Your cat is bored and is seeking more attention
- Your cat is not getting enough exercise
But what if you can’t pinpoint any source of stress? Or, what if your cat seems to get exercise? It’s important to remember that very subtle changes can cause anxiety, and even small changes to your family’s daily routine can lead to your cat spending more time alone than normal. As such, don’t be too quick to dismiss these as potential causes of your cat’s scratching.
Is Stress Causing my Cat to Scratch Indoors?
To determine if your cat might be stressed, consider the location, severity, and frequency of your cat’s scratching:
- Aggressive Scratching – Are your cat’s movements quick and haphazard? This could suggest they are stressed rather than just sharpening their claws.
- New Behavior – Is it a newly acquired behavior? If so, this could indicate there is a new source of stress in their life.
- Near Doors and Exits – if the scratching occurs near the cat flap or doors, this may indicate your cat is anxious about intruders.
- Multiple Locations – This indicates your cat feels stressed or insecure because it is trying to mark its scent throughout the whole house. If your cat is scratching both the top and bottom stairs, this could indicate he is trying to scent as much of the house as possible.
Cats are very good at ‘putting up’ with things. They rarely moan or show outward signs of weakness because this makes them appear vulnerable in the face of predators. As such, abnormal scratching could be a subtle sign that they are stressed.
The following are also indicators of stress to look out for:
- Spraying urine around the home, including urining on your clothing.
- Refusing to use the litter box and going to the toilet in other areas of the house
- Withdrawal from or extreme dependence on their owner
- Flattened ears and constantly looking down with a vacant expression
- Shaking head
- Swallowing often as if there is something stuck in their throat
- A scruffy coat, including bald patches in the fur
What Causes Cats to be Stressed?
Anxiety and stress can be caused by many different factors, some we might not truly appreciate as humans. We know that moving to a new home, or adapting to a new family member (human or animal) will be stressful for a kitty, but what else might cause them to feel on-edge?
- A New Door or Cat Flap – Cats will ‘scent’ their gateway to the outside (i.e. the door or cat flap). Their scent helps mark their territory but also helps them to feel calm. If the door or cat flap changes, their scent will disappear, which can lead them to feel exposed. You can re-mark their territory by wiping their face with a soft, clean cloth and wiping this cloth on the door and cat flap. Alternatively, you could use a plug-in cat pheromone diffuser near the door to help them feel secure. Also, cat flaps can be stressful for cats if they’re worried about other animals entering the house.
- Extended Periods Alone – If you’ve suddenly changed your routine, your cat might be spending more time alone. Just a few extra hours alone per day can be disconcerting. Cats will usually adjust after several weeks of a new routine. Be sure to give them regular attention when you are at home!
- Noises – The vacuum, parties, fireworks, large groups; they can all stress your cat out. If it is party season, these disturbances might be happening too frequently for your cat to relax. If you enjoy entertaining others, make sure there is somewhere quiet your cat can escape.
- The Litter Box is Not Maintained – It is crucial to clean dirty litter out immediately, and entirely change the litter tray once every week or so, depending on how often your cat uses it. If you have multiple cats in the house, try to provide one litter box each.
- The Location of the Food Bowl – If your cat is forced to eat somewhere that is dirty, noisy, or close to other animals, it may become stressed. Position the food bowl in a quiet, clean (i.e., away from the litter box), and safe space where the cat won’t be disturbed. Cats that have grown up together may have no problems feeding together but it is usually best to feed cats in separate bowls, so they don’t have to fight for resources.
- You’re Stroking or Handling your Cat Inappropriately – Some cats such Siamese will thrive on physical contact and may even get stressed without it. Others are very independent and might not enjoy stroking and handling, or only want it for short periods of time. It’s important to recognize the signs your cat is giving off; is it purring, tapping for more attention, or is it just tolerating your stroking?
- Unneutered Stray Males Around – If other cats in the neighborhood are entering your garden, your cat could become very stressed. If there are unneutered cats in the area, you could contact a local rehoming charity for support.
The good news is these sources of stress can be reduced, if not eliminated. So, if you think your cat might be stressed, acting now could certainly help to reduce their destructive scratching.
Is My Cat Scratching the Carpet for Attention?
Although this is not the most common reason for scratching, it is possible that your cat is scratching for attention. When you see your cat shredding the carpet, do you immediately run over and pick him up? Perhaps you try to distract him with play or cuddles. If so, your cat might have learned that scratching earns your undivided attention.
If you shut your cat out of particular rooms in the house, you might find they scratch at the carpet close to the door frame if they feel neglected. If you only ever find scratch marks in this location, it could be that they’re crying out for attention.
Is My Cat Scratching Because It Needs More Exercise?
Cats are renowned for being lazy, but they’re also powerful hunters. Some cats need exercise to thrive whereas others are content living a very sedentary life. If you’ve recently changed your routine, and you have less time to actively play with your cat, they may have more energy to burn than usual.
Similarly, if your cat enjoys going outside in the summer, but prefers to spend the winter months inside, you might find more damage to the carpets and furniture during these months. In these cases, you might find that playing with your cat helps to reduce destructive scratching.
How to Stop Destructive Cat Scratching
Given that scratching is a healthy behavior, you shouldn’t try to eliminate it completely. Instead, focus your attention on helping your cat feel safe and happy, and on redirecting their scratching behavior from the carpet to somewhere altogether less damaging.
Follow these four steps, and you’re bound to see improvement:
1) Provide a Scratch Post or Scratching Substrate
The first thing you should do is provide your cat with some alternatives. Regarding scratching products, you can purchase vertical posts or horizontal substrates. Posts are usually made from wood and covered with sisal rope to provide the cat with enough friction.
Flat substrates are usually made from carpet, cardboard or burlap. These can be made quite cheaply as you might already have suitable material around the house.
In general terms, vertical scratching posts are considered more effective for reducing destructive scratching, but there are scenarios when horizontal substrates might be more suitable.
- Vertical Posts – According to the Journal of Feline Medicine, vertical scratching happens about five times more often than horizontal scratching. Young and agile cats will almost certainly require a vertical post. Some of the cheaper scratching posts are easily knocked over so be sure to purchase a sturdy scratch post.
- Horizontal Substrates – Cats aged over ten years tend to prefer to scratch on flat surfaces. A small proportion of younger cats also prefer to do this; they may use their claws to pull themselves across the carpet.
Take a look at your cat’s current scratching behavior to predict what kind of scratching product he might prefer. Some cats will use both, so it’s great to offer a variety if you can.
If you have more than one cat in the household, try to offer them at least one scratch post each, and position these throughout the house.
How to Get Your Cat to Use the Scratch Post
When you first introduce a scratch post, your cat might not show much interest. Most owners take an intrusive approach when encouraging their cat to use the post.
For example, many owners will clap their hands loudly when they see their cat scratching the carpet, pick the cat up, and then place it in front of the scratching post. They will repeat this often in the hope that the cat will ‘learn’ what to do.
This method sounds logical, but evidence suggests that it does not work in practice. According to a survey conducted by the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, cat owners who tried this strategy did not have much success in changing their cats’ behavior.
Specialists are not sure exactly why this is the case, but it could be because this approach is too intrusive and disrupts the cat’s natural behavior. Most cats scratch if they need to stretch or feel more secure. If an owner interrupts this behavior part way through, it might disturb the cat’s natural behavior mechanism, so scratching becomes unnecessary.
So, if the seemingly most logical method doesn’t work, is there anything else you can try to encourage your cat to scratch his post rather than the carpet?
Try these gentler approaches and see if you have any success:
- Place the scratching post near your cat’s bed as most cats like to scratch after a nap.
- During play, dangle a toy near the scratching post to encourage your cat to explore it (don’t do this if your cat is already scratching elsewhere).
- Try placing catnip inside or around the scratching device to entice your cat.
- Cats mark their territory with scratching. They will often return to the places they’ve marked their territory because the scent is calming. You could try wiping a soft, clean cloth around your cat’s cheeks and then rubbing this on the scratch post to help scent it.
- Is another cat using the scratch post? Cats won’t enjoy sharing their scratch posts so try to provide at least one per cat (ideally two or three).
2) Protect the Carpet and Furniture
Once you’ve provided your cat with some alternatives, you can start protecting your carpet and furniture from further damage. You can purchase protective products or make these yourself.
For example, if your cat is clawing your leather sofa, you can purchase protective strips that will discourage your cat from scratching. You could also place a soft blanket over each end of your sofa as your soft materials do not provide enough friction for scratching. You can also purchase plastic protective mats for carpets.
If you’ve had a look at the products out there, you might be wondering whether the cat scratching carpet sprays are effective. These products contain essential oils such as Lemon and Eucalyptus which are quite overpowering for a cat. They mask the cat’s scent, so discourage him from returning the places he’s already scented (scratched).
Although these products might work for some cats, they’re not the best option for cats who are anxious or stressed. As mentioned, the cat’s scent helps him to feel calm, so if you eliminate his scent with strong oils, your cat might become even more stressed. As such, he might start scratching somewhere else.
3) Help your Cat Feel Secure
A secure and happy cat is less likely to become a compulsive scratcher. What’s more, a healthy and happy cat is much more inclined to learn new patterns and behavior and experiment with alternative scratching materials. We’ve already discussed how to help your cat feel more secure but here are a few additional suggestions:
- If you’re going to install a cat flap, choose one with sensor technology. These can be programmed only to allow your cat to enter.
- Try a plug-in cat pheromone diffuser if your cat seems on-edge.
- Make sure there is no competition for resources. If you have more than one cat, ensure they both get enough food, water, space, and attention. Feed them in separate bowls.
- Have somewhere the cat can escape to if you have visitors round or you’re vacuuming.
- Pay attention to the way you stroke and handle your cat. Try to read their signals and don’t keep stroking them if they seem uncomfortable. Many cats will tolerate being overhandled, but this can lead to stress further down the line.
4) Provide enough Attention and Exercise
Cats can start to claw if they are bored, frustrated or require more physical activity than they’re currently getting. If your cat spends all its time indoors, you should spend at least 10-15 minutes a day playing with him. Cats love to chase, so dangling their favorite toy in front of can provide stimulation and exercise.
If your cat spends a lot of time outdoors, you may not need to engage him in play, but still, make sure you’re giving him attention on a regular and consistent basis.
Should I Trim My Cat’s Claws?
Cat’s needs their claws to protect themselves, so you should never trim your cat’s claws if he spends time outdoors. Some owners like to trim their cat’s claws, but it is usually not necessary unless the cat is old or unwell. Added to which, most older cats will not tolerate this unless it was introduced to them when a kitten. If you’re unsure, it is best to speak to your vet for advice.
Cat scratching can cause significant damage to carpets and soft furnishings. This may result in hundreds of dollars of damage if you don’t encourage your cat to modify his behavior.
It is important to remember that scratching is a natural and necessary behavior, so it cannot be stopped completely. By all means, cover up valuable furniture and carpets to prevent your cat from destroying them. But also, provide your cat with a suitable alternative scratching post, make sure he’s getting enough physical activity, and help him to feel secure in his environment. If you do all this, you’ll have a happy cat and a beautiful home.