Ask A Vet: How Do I Teach My Cat to Use a Scratching Post?


Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!

Q: I just moved into a new apartment with my newly adopted six-month-old kitten. I also bought new furniture, and want to start out right. My last cat ruined my furniture by scratching it. What can I do?

A: Cats scratch on things for two reasons: To shed their claws and to mark their territory. To save your furniture from damage, you need to provide your cat with a scratching area and teach your cat how to use it. The requirements for a good scratching post are:

Vertical posts must be sturdy and tall enough for the cat to stretch its body. Horizontal marking posts are preferred by some cats. Try both types to find out what your cat prefers, or offer one of each.

The posts should be located in prominent areas in your home, not in the basement. Cats often scratch when they wake up from a nap so put one near the cat’s resting area. This is one of the reasons couches are being used frequently by cats.

There are many different kinds of scratching posts available in stores–or if you are creative, you can certainly make your own. Many pre-made posts offer resting space and scratching areas and are covered with carpet. Some cats don’t like carpet or get scared once they got their claws stuck and then stop using it

Attract your cat to the post using catnip, food or dangling toys. Spend time near the post encouraging your cat to interact with it. Play with the cat near the post and incorporate it into your play.

The most important step is to reward the cat every time he/she uses the post.

Once your cat is using the scratching post you have provided, you can teach him/her that other things are off limits. If you catch your cat scratching the sofa or chair, make those areas undesirable by covering them with aluminum foil or double sided sticky tape, or lightly spray the area with a lemon scent.  Do not spray or scold your cat, as this can make them fearful of you–your cat may even learn to scratch the sofa or couch in your absence. It's important to entice the cat to the scratching post and praise him/her for using it.                

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