Why Do Cats Scratch at Carpet?

Unusual
Concerning

Introduction

A cat's claws serve many purposes — they help cats catch prey, allow them to interact with their surroundings, and offer protection from predators.

To keep their claws healthy, cats must scratch to remove the brittle outer layer and reveal the new nail growth underneath. This behavior is completely normal, healthy, and even relaxing to our feline friends. But this pastime can have disastrous results if your cat designates your flooring as their personal scratching post. 

Carpeted floors are especially appealing to cats, and they’re also costly to replace, so you must nip carpet scratching in the bud ASAP. We'll teach you ways to deter your cat from using the carpet and how to redirect them to a more appropriate scratching surface.

The Root of the Behavior

Unlike a dog's nails, cat claws grow in layers. Every couple of months, the outer layer of the claw will separate from the new growth and come off as the cat is scratching. Cats who are physically unable to scratch can develop painful overgrown nails that can damage the paw pads — this is why scratching is so essential.

Some cats scratch more than others, but one thing is for sure: cats who are physically able will scratch whether they have a designated space or not. If they don't have a suitable place to shed their claws, they may resort to scratching at the carpet. Cats prefer carpet over other surfaces because it's a plush, horizontal surface that they can really sink their nails into.  

Cats release pheromones when they scratch, and these chemical signals warn other animals when they are encroaching on a cat's territory. For this reason, cats will often scratch carpeted entryways to let other animals know they are entering claimed territory.

Some cats scratch when experiencing intense emotions like happiness, excitement, or anxiety. To determine what emotion is causing your cat to scratch, pay attention to their body language and what triggers their scratching instinct. Do they stop playtime to scratch and then return to what they were doing? If so, they're probably just really excited. Cats who scratch and swat their tail when another animal is nearby may be trying to communicate that they are uncomfortable.

Lastly, scratching can help cats relax and stretch their tired muscles — this is why you may notice your cat scratching upon waking or when settling down for a power nap

Encouraging the Behavior

You don't want to completely break your cat from scratching since it reduces stress and keeps their paws healthy. However, you should encourage them to scratch a more acceptable surface. Here are some tips for doing just that. 

  • Give them something to scratch. There are tons of scratching posts on the market, from elaborate cat towers to corrugated cardboard scratchers. You don't need a super fancy scratching post to keep your cat off the carpet, though plenty are available if you want something to match your decor. The important thing is getting a scratcher that suits your cat's needs. A scratching mat is ideal for cats who gravitate to horizontal surfaces like the floor. But cats who prefer to scratch upright will do better with a vertical surface like a tower, post, or carpeted condo. 

  • Choose scratching surfaces carefully. When shopping for a tower or scratching post, get a sturdy one that will last and not topple over when your cat jumps on or off it.

  • Be strategic. Place the post in carpeted areas where your cat tends to scratch. For example, if your cat usually scratches the carpet in the corner of your bedroom, put the scratching post there. 

  • Make scratching fun. Make the scratching post more exciting by sprinkling dried catnip on it or using a catnip spray. You can also use a teaser wand to encourage your kitty to explore the post.        

  • Try behavior modification. Behavior modification can encourage positive scratching and discourage destructive scratching. Positive reinforcement can be especially helpful in these situations. Praise your cat and offer love and treats when you catch them using the scratching post.  

Other Solutions and Considerations

There are some things to consider when using a scratching post to curb carpet scratching. First and foremost, pick a post or condo that looks and feels nothing like your carpet. Many commercial scratchers are covered in carpet, which can confuse cats into thinking carpet is acceptable for scratching. If you go with a carpeted model, pick one that's a different color and texture from your floor to minimize confusion.

Multi-cat households will need multiple scratching posts since cats can become territorial over them and may refuse to use a post that has a housemate's scent on it. Ideally, you should have a scratching post for every cat in your home.

If your cat downright refuses to use their scratching post, there are some options. Claw caps can help minimize damage to your carpet, but they won't completely eliminate destructive scratching.

Trimming your cat's nails may also help, but you should educate yourself on the proper technique before attempting to do so. Cutting them too short can cause pain and bleeding, so it's a good idea to watch some instructional videos beforehand. If you're uncomfortable trimming your cat's nails, seek help from a groomer or vet.  

Deterrent sprays are another option for pet parents who are fed up with their cat's carpet scratching. There are two main types of deterrent sprays: those that make objects smell unpleasant to felines and motion-activated sprays that release a burst of canned air to startle the animal. These are great for creating off-limits areas so your cat can't damage your pricey rugs or expensive furniture.

Finally, if you believe your cat's carpet scratching is the result of anxiety, consider using a pheromone diffuser to promote relaxation. If this doesn't work, seek help from a vet or animal behaviorist.

Conclusion

Scratching keeps a cat's claws healthy, stretches their muscles, and is a way for them to claim their territory — plus, it just feels good! While this behavior is completely natural and very beneficial for felines, parents must make sure their pet uses an appropriate surface, like a scratching post. Teaching a cat to use a scratching post instead of their go-to rug will take time, but a sprinkling of catnip and some positive reinforcement can go a long way toward breaking their bad habits.     

Are you at your wit's end with Fluffy's carpet scratching? Get advice and training tips from a real veterinary professional with Wag! Vet Chat today.