Cat Won’t Use the Scratching Post? Try These Tricks

close up view of cat's paws
Borka Kiss/Shutterstock

If cat owners all universally want one thing, it’s that their cats will use the scratching post instead of their furniture. If your cat is slow to take to the scratching post, we’re here to help.

While there are always cats that will stubbornly ignore the scratching devices you provide for them, the majority of cats simply want a place to scratch that aligns with their interests—and their interests are somewhere to sharpen their claws and get a good stretch. To that end we have some practical tips and tricks, refined over decades of cat ownership, to help.

Look for “Tree-Like” Scratching Posts

The easiest way to understand why your cat isn’t using the scratching post you got them is to compare it to a tree. The vast majority of cheap scratching posts are very un-tree-like. They’re short, they’re wobbly, and they’re often covered in carpet scraps which your cat most likely snubs or barely tolerates.

What the cat wants is the opposite of that. They want a very sturdy scratching post they can sink their claws into, scratch deeply, and really stretch their body out—like they could with the trunk of a tree or a fence post. Some wobbly cardboard tube wrapped in carpet that you got for $20 at Pet World just isn’t going to cut it. If the cheap post you give them doesn’t meet the criteria, guess what usually does? Your lovely furniture—which is tall, heavy, and doesn’t wobble.

domestic short hair cat stretching on a tall cat tree
Jason Fitzpatrick

There are a lot of ways you can approach finding a tall, sturdy scratching post (including making your own with heavy sisal rope) but if you want a cheap and easy solution, we can’t say enough good things about the SmartCat Ultimate Scratching post. It’s stable, sturdy, and even our biggest tom cats have always been happy with it. We love this product so much we also wrote up a glowing review of it over at Review Geek.

If your cat is more of a horizontal scratcher, we equally recommend the horizontal version of Ultimate Scratching post as it’s equally well built.

The important take away from section is to get a scratching post that is sturdy. Cats hate posts that wobble and horizontal pads that slide around.

Position It Near Previous Scratching Sites

Don’t buy a new scratching post and stick it over in the corner. Put it right next to the spot the cat has been scratching. If they’re digging into the frame of your living room door, put the post there. If they’re scratching up the corner of a chair in your den, put the post there.

They’ve formed a habit with the piece of furniture, door trim, etc., and you’re not going to break that habit by putting the new post in a different room.

Eventually, you may be able to move the post, but you might have to accept that you’ll always have a scratching post near your lovely couch to keep the cat away from it.

In addition to positioning it near the place the cat was previously scratching, you may wish to put a deterrent tape on the surface they were scratching. Deterrent tape is a double-sided tape you can apply temporarily to, say, the corner of your couch. Cats hate the feeling of their paws sticking to the tape when they go to scratch and will quickly use the nearby post instead.

Entice the Cat to the Post

Sure, cats like to scratch things naturally, and nobody has to teach a feral cat to scratch a tree trunk. But that doesn’t mean you should just put the post in your living room and hope for the best. You’re not teaching your cat to scratch a post; you’re training your cat to scratch this post.

To that end, you want to entice the cat to engage the scratching post you want them to use and to form positive associations with it. One thing you can do to get your cat immediately interested is to spray it with concentrated catnip spray. To say your cat will be interested after that would be an understatement. We spray each new scratching post we get and our cats immediately investigate and hang out with the post.

In addition to a little catnip, you can incorporate the scratching post into play with your cat. Use a teaser toy like this to get the cat batting and clawing at the post. Once the cat gets a feel for the post, they’ll usually return to it.

On top of that, reward your cat when they use the post. If your cat walks over, scratches for a bit, and then looks at you, pet and interact with the cat. They’ll begin to associate the already pleasureful activity of scratching the post and stretching with another pleasureful activity—getting attention and pets from you. In no time at all, they’ll be consistently using the post.

Cats can certainly be fickle, but if you give them a sturdy place to scratch and encourage them to use it, then you’ll be well on your way to saving your furniture and woodwork from their attention.

Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Editor in Chief of LifeSavvy. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at LifeSavvy, Review Geek, How-To Geek, and Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »

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