Cats have a need and natural urge to scratch their claws on something from time-to-time. This can have to do with maintaining their claws, marking their territory, stretching, etc. It may also have to do with ways they've learned to interact with you such as getting your attention or expressing emotions and releasing energy. They tend to go to the same objects over and over again. Unfortunately, if cats are not provided their own scratching items then they're more likely to use furniture, carpet, walls, woodwork, or other items you may not want scratched up.
Trying to get your cat to simply stop scratching altogether goes against natural instinct. If you're considering declawing your cat you'll want to first read up on this controversial procedure. The best solution is simply to offer one or more items that can be used for scratching and redirect your cat away from the items you don't want scratched.
The first thing that probably comes to mind is a scratching post. It could take the form of an upright post, a flat or inclined surface, a part of another structure such as a cat tree, or a variety of other shapes and configurations.
Three important considerations for a scratching post or alternative are:
- Will your cat use it?
- Will it last?
- Can you live with it in your space?
Will your cat use it?
Cats have preferences for what they like to scratch. One of those preferences has to do with orientation of the item and another has to do with the feel or texture of the scratching surface.
A scratching post usually sits vertically or upright. Your cat reaches up on the post and pulls down on the scratch.
A scratching pad often sits horizontally or flat on the floor but sometimes at an angle. A cat reaches out in front and pulls back.
Your cat may give you clues as to its preferred scratching orientation (e.g., a tendency to reach up and want to scratch the furniture/walls or reach out and scratch the carpet).
Three materials are generally used for a scratching surface with scratching posts and pads.
Sisal rope is the most common material you'll likely see used on scratching posts (other ropes besides sisal may also be used). Sisal fabric may be used as a cat scratching material as well. The fabric may be wrapped around a post, lay flat on the surface of a scratcher, or even be used by itself as a scratching mat.
Carpet can be used by itself on a post or other scratching surface or in combination with other materials. It's very often used on the base of scratching posts as well.
The third type of material commonly used for a scratching surface is cardboard. There are generally two types of cardboard used with scratchers: 1) corrugated cardboard, similar to what you might find with a cardboard box, can be considered disposable because it doesn't last as long as other materials and 2) high-density cardboard which lasts longer and can come in a wide variety of shapes (e.g., loungers that your cat can lay on).
Each material will have a different feel or texture and your cat may have a preference more for one than the others.
In addition to the posts and pads there are many items not specifically made for scratching that may include scratching surfaces (e.g., cat trees).
Full body stretch
Both a post and a pad should allow your cat to fully stretch the body which means it has to be tall or long enough to accommodate the length of your cat's outstretched body. A vertical scratcher will have to incorporate your cat's full length in its height but a horizontal scratcher can often be shorter because your cat is more in a bent at the hips position when scratching horizontally.
Stability of post
Your cat also has to feel safe using the post. If the post doesn't have a solid base and wobbles, or worse yet tips over, while your cat tries to scratch it then your cat may avoid it. This can be especially true of cats that attack or jump up against the post when using it.
Some posts or pads can have a funny smell to them that turns your cat away from it. Often those smells will dissipate over time. You may just have to be patient until it does or you can do things to try to get rid of that smell (e.g., airing it out in some way or spraying it with something more appealing to your cat).
You also may want to be sure and place the post or pad in a location where your cat is going to use it. It shouldn't be far from where your cat hangs out. If you're cat has already begun scratching something of yours then you already have a good clue as to where you need to place the post or pad. If your cat hangs out in more than one place you may simply want to get more than one post or pad.
There are also some tricks you can try to draw your cat to the item (like sprinkling some catnip on it, spraying it with something to attract your cat, placing favorite toys by it, etc.).
Will it last?
Sisal rope (the rope typically used to wrap a scratching post) is probably the most durable material commonly used. The rope can also be replaced when it wears out as relatively simple DIY project.
The dense cardboard items may start to look shredded over time but they often have multiple sides where you can just flip the item over to get a new scratching surface.
The cheaper corrugated cardboard pads will have the least durability and you may want to think of them as disposable items. They're sometimes sold as a pack where you just throw one away a pull out another.
Carpet is often used as part of some item (i.e., the base of a scratching post, the covering for a cat tree, etc.). How long it lasts will depend on how often it's used as a scratching surface. It should last longer than corrugated cardboard but probably not as long as sisal rope.
When it comes time to replace a scratching post or pad, you may want to simply put the new one next to the old one and allow your cat some time to claim the new one before getting rid of the old one.
Can you live with it in your space?
Most scratching posts and pads are obvious as to what they are and show their wear from frequent use. You may not be able to hide them away if it means your cat won't use them when you do so. That's where the concept of cat furniture comes in. Cat furniture doesn't look like typical cat items. It's meant to fit in with your other furniture in some way. Often made of dense cardboard, they're usually a little more expensive but may be worth the cost to you if you don't want your space to look like a cat playground.
Cat lounger scratchers come in a variety of shapes that not only serve a dual purpose (cat lounge and cat scratcher) but also don't look like a typical cat scratching item.