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A new study explores just why cats might scratch where we don’t want them to

Scratching behavior – so natural for cats, so frustrating for some cat owners. Scratching serves multiple functions for cats including marking their territory (with both visual and olfactory signals), conditioning their claws, stretching, and as an outlet for frustration. However, it is frequently identified as an undesirable or problematic behavior, primarily when it is directed at human belongings, such as a couch, expensive rug or favorite overstuffed chair.

A new study attempted to better characterize feline scratching behavior in the home environment, as well as some of the environmental factors that may make cats more likely to exhibit undesirable scratching. The manuscript, Evaluating undesired scratching in domestic cats: a multifactorial approach to understand risk factors, was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.


The survey took place in France and people were asked to participate if they had a cat who was engaged in undesirable scratching. Participants were included if they had just one cat (to control for potential conflict between cats contributing to scratching behavior).

Researchers asked cat owners questions about the caregivers (e.g., gender, number of people in the home, routine) and their cats (e.g., temperament/personality, sex, presence of other behavior problems). There were questions about the frequency and intensity of undesired scratching, as well as about the targeted areas for undesirable scratching, focusing on what had occurred in the last week. The survey also asked if cats were provided with cat trees and scratching posts. People had to provide at least one scratching post for their cat to be included.


Data for 361 Low frequency/intensity scratchers and 494 High frequency/intensity scratchers were analyzed (for a total of 855 cats). Cat-specific characteristics such as sex, breed, and body condition did not have an impact on whether the cat was a high or low scratcher. The personality of the cat was related to scratching behavior, such that cats were described as disruptive, destructive or aggressive by their owners were more likely to be high scratchers. Playful and active cats were also more likely to be “high scratchers.”

Characteristics of the household also had an impact on scratching behavior. First of all, the presence of children in the home was associated with more scratching. Regardless of whether the cat was a low or high scratcher, the scratching post was often in the same room as the problematic scratching location (for 65.7 – 74.7% of cats), and most cats also used the provided scratching post (63 – 74.8% of cats). Regardless, high scratchers were likely to scratch in many different places, although the sofa seemed to be the favorite target for all cats!


Perhaps most interesting to me is the finding that cats in a home with children were more likely to engage in high levels of problematic scratching. Scratching can be an outlet or response to environmental stressors, so it is possible that cats in homes with children scratch more as an outlet for stress. HOWEVER, before we encourage people to get rid of their children to make the cats happy, we must also consider that scratching is response to positive social interactions, such as those cats who scratch a “greeting” when we come home.

Cats also tend to scratch in areas that are considered “socially significant” which may be why the sofa is a common target. We sit on it a lot (and often the cat does too), and the sofa is usually in a high-traffic, relatively prominent area in the home. Also, because this study limited participants to single-cat households to limit variability, it means we still need more studies of the effect of multiple cats in the home!

It didn’t surprise me that cats who are high scratchers are also considered disruptive and destructive – and the scratching may be what gave them that label in the first place! However, cats who are bored and do not have enough stimulation in their environments may be frustrated, and engage in behaviors that seem disruptive and destructive in an attempt to resolve those feelings of frustration.

This study helps us better understand some of the factors related to scratching behavior. It also highlights the importance of the environment and emotional well-being when it comes to cat behavior. If you are experiencing undesired scratching in your home, here’s some tips on stopping it!

Preventing problematic scratching

I like to start with making a map of the home, and including all of the cat’s things, including their scratching posts and pads. Now add to your map the problem scratching areas. This will often help you identify where you may need to add or move some of your scratching posts or pads. I’ve written two different posts about mapping out space and resource use in the home (here and here).

Have LOTS of scratching options. We have three cats, four tall scratching posts, four tall cat trees, and three horizontal scratchers. We have zero problematic scratching!

Make sure scratchers are tall (if vertical), and sturdy. Offer both horizontal and vertical options.

Make sure the post is a material your cat likes. Research suggests they tend to prefer rope and cardboard, but some cats like carpet, jute mats, and even denim.

Place those scratchers in several different areas around the home, focusing on where your cat sleeps/naps, eats, greets you, and plays – and where you spend a lot of time.

Reward your cat with praise and treats for scratching post use!

Do not carry your cat over the post and move their paws on it. This is one surefire way to make your cat think that the scratching post is a scary, unpleasant place. You can use treats, catnip/silver vine, or toys to encourage them in the general area of the post. But using a scratching post is kind of like using the litter box. They know what to do, just make it nice for them!!  

Get cat-resistant furniture. Cats like tightly woven weaves, but microfibers aren’t as appealing to them for scratching.

Keep your cat’s nails trimmed. This is a topic for another post, but it shouldn’t be a traumatic experience for either of you!

Don’t use a spray bottle to try to stop your cat from undesirable scratching. Spray bottles are excellent for misting plants, not for changing your cat’s behavior.


Demirbas, Y. S., Pereira, J. S., De Jaeger, X., Meppiel, L., Endersby, S., & da Graça Pereira, G. (2024). Evaluating undesired scratching in domestic cats: a multifactorial approach to understand risk factors. Frontiers in Veterinary Science11, 1403068.

One thought on “A new study explores just why cats might scratch where we don’t want them to

  1. Our solution to cats scratching the sofa is to buy a low cost sofa and chair and place them where the cats will scratch them instead of more desirable furniture. Also a quilt cover over the arms and back that get the most attention will prolong the life of this sacrificial furniture. We have plenty of additional cat sitting and sleeping “cat scratching towers” and the cats almost never scratch them but use them constantly as sleeping and relaxation towers when chilling inside. Our neighbors three cats also come inside to eat and visit and they all tend to scratch the exact same spots, likely marking them as a familiar spot for further attention by other cats. Our cat scratching towers can be more costly than low cost furniture used to make the cats comfortable when inside and we get to use it too.

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