Selecting a Scratching Post for Your Cat

It's a feline fact of life – cats have an instinctive need to scratch. No matter how hard you try, you will not train your kitty to stop scratching; asking a cat to stop this natural behavior would be like asking us to stop blinking.

Scratching removes dead nail material from their claws and establishes their territory by marking with the scent glands on the bottom of their feet. If no appropriate scratching area is made available, a cat will satisfy her urge by shredding the couch, carpets, drapes and stereo speakers. However, you can train your cat to forego scratching your precious possessions if you give her acceptable outlets for her scratching urges. That's where scratching equipment comes in. Get the right scratching gear and place it correctly, and you can have your cat and furniture, too.

Carpeting is not always a feline's favorite scratching material. Carpet can also become frayed from repeated scratching and cats have been known to eat shredded carpet pieces. Also, it may not be such a great idea to train your cat to scratch on carpet, since he may have trouble telling acceptable carpet from the carpet covering your floors. Buy a post that provides other scratching surfaces, or a combination. For example, the perches might be covered with carpet for comfortable lounging, and the upright posts wound with sisal rope. Sisal fiber is durable, inexpensive, attractive to cats, and lasts longer than carpet. Natural bark and stripped tree trunks are also good choices; just be sure the bark is bug-free and the trunks are not chemically treated.

Scratching equipment comes in a variety of styles, shapes and price ranges, from simple scratching pads to elaborate carpet-covered skyscrapers. Let your pocketbook, house size and your cat's needs be your guide. Scratching equipment comes in four basic varieties:

Scratching Pads

The least expensive scratching equipment is a scratching pad that lies on the floor or hangs from a doorknob or wall. Pads are generally flattened and elongated, rectangle or round, or are cut into novelty shapes (mice, fish, bunnies, etc.). Floor models are sometimes wedge-shaped or come with extensions that allow one end to be raised to make the surface more attractive to your cat. Generally made of corrugated cardboard, sisal rope, carpet or other inexpensive, rough material, these are beneficial when space and funds are limited. The downside is that cats often find them less intriguing than posts and condos. Some come treated with catnip to enhance interest.

Make your own: A piece of sturdy scrap carpeting, turned with the jute backing facing up, makes a cheap and effective alternative.

Scratching Posts and Trees

Scratching posts and trees are the most common scratching items, and come in many shapes, sizes and prices. The most simple posts are short, round and wrapped with carpet, sisal rope or other cat-attractive material. A sturdy base maintains stability. For best results, get one tall enough that your cat can stretch to her full height when scratching.

Cat trees are usually taller than posts. Floor-to-ceiling adjustable trees are equipped with tension poles to hold the trees in place; these are popular since cats enjoy climbing and like to view their territory from above. This type of tree will help keep your cat off the drapes and bookcases. Tall cat trees also provide exercise opportunities and increase the available territory, helpful in multicat households.

Make your own: You don't need to be a carpenter to build a simple scratching post; they're easy to make. Building your own saves money, too. Buy a square or round piece of plywood at least 18 inches across and a 4-inch by 4-inch untreated pine or redwood post three or four feet long. Be sure the base is heavy and large enough so the post will not tip over and frighten tabby into scratching elsewhere. Glue the base to the 4×4 with carpenter's glue. When it's dry, turn it upside down and nail or screw the base to the 4×4 for extra support. Wrap the post with sisal fiber rope using a hot glue gun (be careful not to burn your fingers) or carpet glue (make sure it's nontoxic to cats). That's it.

Cat Condos

Since cats enjoy a room with a view, cat condos combine scratching surfaces with comfy perching and hiding places. These, too, range from simple to lavish and from inexpensive to costly. Usually made with concrete building forms (the large, sturdy cardboard tubes used to set concrete), condos are covered with carpet and offer several cubby holes. Since cats have an instinctual desire to explore dark, den-like places, condos quickly become popular with the feline crowd.

Make your own: Cat condos are a bit more complicated to build since they usually require cutting holes in, and gluing carpeting to, concrete building forms. However, it can be done if you have the time, patience and basic tools.

Cat Playgrounds

Cat playgrounds combine scratching surfaces with a stimulating variety of other elements, satisfying your cat's natural desire to scratch, climb, perch, play and hide. Hideouts, perches, dangling toys, cubbies, tunnels and other cat-pleasers are included in various combinations and designs. The sky – and your budget – is the limit with these pieces of cat furniture.

Some of these cat playgrounds are beautifully sculptured and decorated to resemble things like trees, cabins, pagodas, pueblos and castles. Some offer places to conceal litter boxes. These multifunction units are attractive to cats and are often nice enough to display in your formal living room. However, don't buy one so beautiful and expensive that you won't want your cat scratching on it.

Placing the Post

Location, location, location, just like in real estate, is vital to successful scratching post placement. Place the post near a sunny window or draft-free corner where your cat likes to spend time, or in front of a frequently scratched piece of furniture. If you put the post in an out-of-the-way place, the cat may shun it for the couch closer to her favorite human. If your cat still ignores the post, try moving it to another place. She may not like the location if, for example, another cat has staked a claim in the area. By moving the post, or getting several, you give her options.

Make the problem areas less attractive by putting double-sided tape on the scratched areas and aluminum foil on the floor below the scratched area. Some cats dislike the feeling and sound of foil and most cats hate things that stick to their fur. Double-sided sticky tape used in carpet installation works well; check with your local hardware store. Make sure the tape won't harm your cat or furniture. You can also try taping inflated balloons to the problem areas. When your cat pops one with her claws, she will avoid scratching there again. However, only try this when you're home, so you can pick up the balloon pieces before your cat tries to eat them.

Also available are training devices that keep pets off forbidden areas by making annoying sounds. They are available at pet supply stores, catalogs and websites. Buy one guaranteed safe for cats.

If your cat still ignores the post and continues scratching in inappropriate places, try rubbing the post with catnip or her favorite treat to make it more appealing. Scent the post with your own odor by draping it with well worn, unwashed t-shirts. Your scent will make the post seem familiar. Put her on the post and show her what to do by gently moving her paws on the post. When she uses the post correctly, praise her and give her a treat. She'll get the idea.