How to train your kitten to use a scratching post

Finding that your brand-new sofa has been clawed to shreds by your kitten can be an incredibly frustrating and disheartening experience. Petplan’s expert cat behaviourist, Nicky Trevorrow, explains how you can save your furniture from those tiny claws by training your kitten to use a scratching post.

Once you’ve decided to welcome a kitten into your home there are a few steps you can take to ensure that you and your home are ready for your new friend. Bear in mind that it may take your kitten some time to settle in and they may not always behave as you expect!

If your kitten starts scratching your furniture you might be upset, but remember this is an instinctive and natural behaviour for all cats. Rather than tell your kitten off, the best way to save your furniture from being ruined is to train your kitten to use a scratching post. Before you start training, you’ll need to choose the right type of post.

Finding the right scratching post for your kitten

There are several different types of cat scratching posts available, so it’s important to find the right one for your cat’s age and stage. Bear in mind that posts and mats need to be sturdy and should not move or wobble. Here’s what else to consider:

  • Most cats prefer to scratch a vertical surface. So, pick a vertical post to meet this need. Vertical posts are also good for discouraging scratching on a table leg, door frame or sofa. Make sure the post is tall enough for your cat to be able to stretch up fully – at least 60cm tall for the average cat. Skip the kitten post and go straight for an adult-sized post. Given that kittens have no problem scaling curtains, an adult post is suitable for them and cheaper in the long run.
  • Horizontal posts or scratch pads can be used to provide an outlet for cats that prefer horizontal scratching and may deter kittens that prefer to scratch carpets or rugs.
  • Cat towers offer the best of all worlds: places for your kitten to scratch, plus areas for them to play and sleep. These are also a great way to entertain and exercise your new kitten while helping them discover a lovely scratchy surface. Many cat towers do not have tall enough posts, however, so it’s a good idea to provide a separate, tall scratch post.

What type of scratching surface is best?

You may find that your kitten prefers one type of scratching surface to another, with some liking rope or jute scratching posts and others preferring softer, cardboard-like material. Try both kinds out, then when they need replacing, you can go for the one your kitten likes the best. If you do choose a scratching post with rope, look for one with a vertical weave, rather than one with the rope wrapped around it, for claw-safe scratching!

How to train a kitten to use a scratching post

The younger you begin training your kitten to use a scratching post, the quicker they will be able to get used to it. Cats often begin scratching just after they are weaned, so this is a good time to introduce a scratching post. Alternatively, if you have chosen a kitten from a litter, introduce the post to your new pet by placing one in their ‘sanctuary’ room as they settle into their new home.

Here’s how to start training your kitten to use their new scratching post:

  • Make sure the post is placed somewhere they are likely to use it. Often close to where they nap is most effective. Another option is near to entry and exit points, such as a cat flap.
  • Sprinkle some catnip on the scratching post. This can encourage your kitten to investigate the post and start to feel comfortable around it. Bear in mind, however, that cats vary in their response to catnip, with some studies suggesting that up to 32% of cats may not respond at all.
  • Some kittens may be easily spooked by new objects in their environment. Allow your kitten to become accustomed to the post and discover it in their own time.
  • Hanging a couple of your kitten's favourite toys from the post can help your kitten feel more relaxed when climbing. It will also provide a scent that they’re already familiar with.
  • If toys don’t make your kitten feel comfortable around the scratching post, try enticing them closer with treats. Once you’ve captured their attention, start raising treats above the post, so they have to reach up and stretch to get them. Repeat this daily.
  • If you spot your kitten beginning to scratch the sofa, or any other item of furniture, try to distract them and direct their attention towards the scratching post. Put the post next to the furniture at first, then move it gradually further away.
  • Remember to keep rewarding your kitten, either with treats or praise, every time they use the post while you are training them.

As with any training, persistence and consistency are key. Eventually your kitten will get accustomed to using their scratching post and it will become their first port of call when they want to mark their territory, maintain their claws, or just have a good stretch. 

Are you training your kitten to use a scratching post? If you've got any top tips for advice, share them with us on social media using #PethoodStories.

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