Scratching Post Selection Guide: Picking The Purrfect Post

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Scratching posts are one of the basic pieces of cat furniture every cat parent needs. In fact, you actually want to get multiple scratching posts as the location of the post greatly affects how likely your cat is to use it.

Of course, getting just any old scratching post isn’t going to work even if you place it in an excellent location. If a scratcher doesn’t appeal to a cat, they won’t use it. You’ve not only wasted your money on the scratching post, but your furniture is likely going to be torn up. Rather than doing something potentially harmful like declawing your cat, focus on picking out a scratching post your cat will use.

“But Joey, I don’t know how to pick out a scratching post!” you might say. Oh boy do I have some good news for you: you’re about to learn how to pick out the best scratching post for your cat. It will save you time, money, and from needing me for cat behavior help. Everybody wins!

Why Do Cats Scratch?

Before we dive into picking a scratching post, we need to talk briefly about why cats scratch in the first place as it will help you understand why scratchers are so important for cats.

Scratching serves a few functions for cats. First, there’s the one most people may be most familiar with: nail maintenance. Scratching helps cats remove old or broken nails and keep them sharp should they need to defend themselves. Scratching likely is a secondary function to communication between cats. Scratching not only leaves a physical mark, but there are pheromones in the cats’ paws that get left behind on whatever they are scratching. Cats will often scratch as a way to relieve stress as the feeling of a nice, long satisfying scratch feels good to them.

Because of the communication function of scratching, scratching will often happen in socially significant places for cats. If they find something to scratch that meets their preferences in the right place, it’ll become a frequent target. Typically the places cats will scratch the most are at entrances to rooms or where paths cross.

What Makes A Good Scratching Post

Since the function of scratching serves a few important functions for cats, it’s important you let them scratch. That doesn’t mean you need to let them scratch your couch, but they need to scratch something. Thankfully, there are a variety of scratchers available that will appeal to different cats. Let’s look at what makes them a post your cat will want to sink their claws into.

A Material They Want To Scratch

Every cat is going to want to scratch something different, but there are few materials that will appeal to most cats. One of the most important qualities cats look for in a material is that the cat can easily drag their claws through it. This means it’s not too flimsy, but also not so hard that their claws won’t touch it.

Unfortunately, a lot of fabric meets these requirements. If your cat is scratching your upholstered furniture, consider finding a post with a material similar to the fabric they seem most drawn toward. Otherwise, sisal rope or carpet is a great choice as it has enough resistance that the cats get the satisfying scratch they’re looking for.

A grey and white kitten against a scratch pole staring at a cat toy.
An example of a good material for a scratching post (though there are some problems with this post… more on that in a bit) Photo by Willian Justen.

Some cats may prefer another material besides sisal or fabric. Many cats like scratching cardboard and there are a lot of really fun cardboard scratchers available. One of my favorite products to come out in the past few years is cardboard cat huts. They come in many different varieties that are fun for both you and your cats. You can even get your cat their very own tank in case they ever need to go to war with the dog next door.

Other cats may prefer scratching wood or another material and you can find plenty of options that will meet your cat’s preferences. If you’re having a hard time finding a good option, look on Etsy to see if you can find something custom-made. I’ve had a lot of clients have great success with Etsy!

An Angle They Want To Scratch

Cats have preferences for which direction they want to scratch. They may like scratching in multiple directions or just one, but generally, most cats are going to want to scratch vertically. Some may also prefer scratching horizontally along the floor and others may like scratching at an angle.

How do you tell which direction your cat wants to scratch? Offer them a variety of choices and they’ll let you know based on which ones they use. If you notice your cat scratching in a particular area, see if you can replicate the qualities of that area in an acceptable scratcher. For example, for a couch, try a nice tall scratching post. If they’re going after your carpet, try something horizontal.

Tall/Long And Sturdy

I’d argue that of the qualities of a good scratching post, this one is the most important. If your cat can’t get a nice, satisfying scratch in or the scratcher falls over immediately when your cat touches it, they’re going to scratch something else instead. They also will want to get a big stretch in.

Fun fact: when a cat does a big stretch, you are legally required to say “Oh big stretch!” I don’t make the rules, I just follow them.

A gray tabby kitten wearing a police hat standing in the street.
Your fine will be 10 Churus. Photo by Willi Van De Winkel.

Rather than going for a cheap and flimsy scratcher, pick one that actually has some oomph to it. For scratching posts, that means one that’s tall and has weight to it. A good rule of thumb is at least 30 inches high. Even though it likely will cost more than a cheap one and will take up more space than a small one, your cat will thank you by not tearing up your furniture. For vertical scratchers, you’ll want something long as it will allow that big stretch that cats love.

How To Pick A Scratching Post

There are so many options for scratchers out there that it can be overwhelming. How is one to choose?

Start by seeing what your cat has already scratched and find something with a similar material. Also, look at which direction they are scratching. Are they scratching the floor or is it your favorite chair? That will give you some direction as to what type of scratcher to get. You may need to try a few kinds and place them in different locations to figure out what works. It will be worth it in the end as you absolutely can have nice furniture and still let your cat keep their claws.

Need help getting your cat to use their scratching post?

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Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi CCBC is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and professional cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation and cat training service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. Joey is available for in home sessions locally or virtual sessions wherever you are located!