Furniture scratching by cats is one of those things that falls into the category of “normal feline behavior that bothers humans.” Scratching is an essential feel-good behavior for cats that allows them to stretch their back muscles and mark their territory (both visually and through the scent glands in the paws). Cats often scratch human furniture such as couches, chairs, stereo speakers, hampers or carpets because they aren’t provided with other scratching outlets, or when what they are provided with does not fit their needs.
A critical way to stop cats from scratching the furniture is to give them something to scratch that they like. Through three experiments, a new publication sought to assess the scratching preferences of housecats, and also looked at whether adding an olfactory supplement would increase scratching of objects. The manuscript, “Scratcher preferences of adult in-home cats and effects of olfactory supplements on cat scratching” was recently published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
A total of 36 housecats participated in the study, from the comfort of their own homes. In each experiment, cats were presented with choices for scratching, and preferences were assessed by measuring the amount of time, and the frequency of visits the cat made to each, over the course of a week. A video camera was set up to record feline visits to the scratching posts.
In the first experiment, cats were simultaneously presented with a standing cardboard scratcher and a cardboard scratcher pad to see if they preferred vertical or horizontal scratching.
In Experiment 2, cats were given the choice of four vertical scratchers, each of which was covered with a different texture (cardboard, sofa fabric, carpet, and rope).
Finally, the third study gave the cats the choice of two vertical cardboard scratching posts, one of which had an added olfactory stimulus (either catnip, silver vine, or the product Feliscratch provided in a sock), and the other that had a matching control stimulus (an unscented sock).
So what did the cats like? In Experiment 1, results suggested that the cats showed a stronger preference for the vertical, standing scratcher over the S-shaped cardboard pad. The cats in Experiment 2 spent more time scratching and paid more visits to the cardboard and rope compared to the sofa fabric. The response to the carpet was more middle-of-the-road “meh.”
In Experiment 3, the catnip and silver vine were both successful in increasing scratching interactions, compared to the unscented sock. There was no such effect of the Feliscratch treatment, which resulted in similar levels of scratching as the unscented sock.
Now, it’s worth noting, in case you were wondering, that Feliscratch is produced by the same company that brought us Feliway. It’s advertised as “a simple answer to cat’s inappropriate scratching in the home.” I’ve shared my opinions on Feliway before, and based on the comments, it’s definitely both the most popular and most hated blog post I’ve ever written (note: if you submit a comment that is rude or insults me, I will not post it).
I obtained a free sample of Feliscratch a few years ago, and tried it out with my own cats. It stained my scratching post, as promised, which I wasn’t super-thrilled about. To boot, my cats didn’t just NOT scratch more, they actively avoided the scratch post I placed the Feliscratch on for several weeks. So, once again, in my experience Feliway promises more than it generally delivers, and this study adds more doubt (at least in my mind) about its efficacy.
On the other hand – a quick, cheap and positive way to enhance your scratching posts is to add a little ‘nip or silver vine to them!
Although not an airtight study, these experiments point to the importance of offering choices for your cat when it comes to scratching opportunities. We can use cats’ OVERALL preferences to guide what we provide for our cats, while understanding that each individual cat may have their own preferences. And how do you know you’ve picked the right scratching post? When your cat uses it and not the couch!
BONUS: My general tips on preventing furniture scratching:
- Find out the texture(s) your cat likes best! Offering choices, just like in this study, is a great way to figure out what your cat likes…and they might like multiple textures or angles!
- Provide your cat something tall and sturdy to scratch (AT LEAST 3’ high). Small, kitten-sized scratchers are not tall enough, and scratch pads that hang on a doorknob are too wobbly to be comfortable.
- Provide multiple scratchers in different locations of your home.
- Location matters: Don’t hide the scratchers in the back corner of your office or in the basement. Scratch posts should be placed in prominent locations, including near where your cat likes to eat, sleep and greet you.
- You can lure your cat to explore the post with toys or catnip/silver vine, but DO NOT carry your cat to the post and move their paws on it. This is an aversive experience for most cats that will steer them AWAY, not toward the post.
- Praise your cat and dole out treats for scratching post use. Positive reinforcement works!
Zhang, L., & McGlone, J. J. (2020). Scratcher preferences of adult in-home cats and effects of olfactory supplements on cat scratching. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 104997.