Why Your Cat Claws Your Rug (And How To Get Them To Stop)

Among all the fascinating and endearing characteristics we love about our cats lurk a few feline idiosyncrasies that are a tad irritating and costly, such as your cat's habit of clawing your sofa, draperies, and rugs.

Tired Cat Rests in Sunny Spot on Kitchen Rug
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If all those embarrassing bald spots on your dining room carpet loom larger than life when guests come over for dinner, and your handwoven wool rug is looking a little threadbare, it's time to stop the rug-scratching behavior in its tracks.

But cats need to scratch. They scratch in the wild, and they scratch in the home, says Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat behavior consultant.

While it's true that many cat lovers soldier on, appreciating the fact that scratching is a natural behavior for cats — discarding and replacing rugs every year or two — you can get your cat to stop scratching your rugs.

Let's investigate why cats scratch your rugs, how you can stop the rug-clawing behavior, and how some handy tips and scratching posts, cat trees, and even ingenious modular cat furniture can help keep your cat's claws hooked into appropriate scratching surfaces and out of your precious rugs.

Why do cats scratch rugs?

You caught your cat in the act — again — happily clawing your rug like there's no tomorrow with that Cheshire-cat grin on her face. As you clap your hands to get her to stop, you wonder, is your cat sharpening her claws? Is she doing feline yoga? Is your cat releasing stress? Is she marking her territory with her scent? Or is she just having fun? Your cat is scratching for all these reasons. For cats, scratching is instinctive and firmly embedded in their DNA.

Here are the natural (and normal) reasons that your cat may scratch:

  • To remove the dead outer layer of her claws, known as sheaths, and to sharpen the claws
  • To stretch the muscles in her back while flexing her feet and claws
  • To relieve stress and boredom
  • To mark territory, communicating to other cats with both a visual and olfactory marking known as interdigital scent-marking. Cats have scent glands on each of their paw (plantar) pads; only one of nine different markers on your cat's body; in essence, your cat's calling card
  • To engage in a stimulating and enjoyable behavior

But, as normal as scratching is for cats, targeting inappropriate items like rugs, upholstered furniture, curtains, and door frames (usually when not provided an appropriate scratching medium) is an issue that needs to be addressed with behavioral and environmental modification.

closeup of cat paw with claws extended on black background
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How to stop your cat from scratching rugs

It's up to you to train your cat where she can and cannot scratch, using positive reinforcement such as praise, love, attention, and treats. Just as dogs need boundaries, so do cats. And if your cat is scratching rugs, you must provide alternative scratching opportunities for him in the form of scratching posts, multi-purpose scratching beds, and cat trees with ample scratching stations. Cats also have scratching preferences, either a vertical or horizontal scratching surface, or both, so it's a good idea to provide both; just in case.

Zazie Todd, PhD of Companion Animal Psychology cites a recent survey composed of 128 cats whose owners were recruited by vet clinics and researchers at Psychology and Veterinary Medicine at the University of Padua, Italy that concluded that when a scratching post was provided, the cat used it.

But keep in mind, cats have preferences regarding scratching post/tree materials. You may need to experiment with sisal, carpet, wood, and corrugated cardboard to see which one your cat prefers. For example, while you might think rug-clawing cats would be most attracted to a carpeted post or tree, the popular corrugated cardboard units may turn out to be his favorite. Keep in mind, some behaviorists believe a rug-scratching cat could be confused by a carpeted scratching post, while others believe you should give a cat a similar surface to what they are used to scratching. Undoubtedly, many cats love to scratch the nubby texture of carpet, so it's no surprise your rugs are hapless victims of your cat's claws.

Kitten scratching fabric sofa
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Cat scratching alternatives to your rugs

Cats are complex and they have complex needs. To maintain their emotional and physical well-being, cats require environmental enrichment for recreation and stimulation — and to scratch. Here are some ideas you might like to incorporate into your cat's environment that just may be a game changer and get him to stop clawing the rug.

Katris Nest Multifunctional Cat Lounge:

Designed for your cat to scratch, rest, lounge, and even get a back rub, the Katris Nest Multifunctional Cat Lounge was named 2019 Product of the Year by the popular blog of writer Ingrid King, The Conscious Cat. Shaped like a bowl, it's constructed of over 100 pieces of breathable, eco-friendly corrugated cardboard that slightly move, giving your cat a massage as he rolls around inside. Designed for rubbing, scratching, and lounging, the 19-inch-diameter Nest (under $50) has replaceable pads for naps and scratching and it keeps your cat cool even on the hottest summer day.

Katris Modular Enrichment Furniture

Like human Leggos, Katris Modular Enrichment Furniture (under $200)can be built in endless configurations. It can be rearranged, switched up, integrated with your furniture, or installed on a wall. This versatility allows you to change it up to keep your cat intrigued and the design aesthetics make it a pleasing addition to your decor. You get five blocks made from corrugated cardboard and non-toxic glue to build a cat tree, a bookshelf, a cat scratcher, a cat climber, or a coffee table. You can add more blocks and design and build anything you can imagine. Durable and made from over 200 sheets of heavy-duty paperboard, it's extremely strong, with each block able to withstand over 300 pounds of weight

Kittyblock and Kittyslab Scratchers

Designed by Paul Roberts, the Kittyblock and Kittyslab Scratchers are made from carefully crafted corrugated cardboard and a starch-based adhesive. The dense and sturdy, 15-inch Kittyblock cube weighs about 10 pounds. Not only a scratcher, the block is perfect for perching, hiding, and napping.

The budget-friendly (under $20) Kittyslab weighs about 2 pounds and is 20-inches-long and 15-inches wide. It is specifically designed to divert scratching from rugs and carpets and is also comfy enough for cat naps.

cat scratching on scratching post
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For the diehard rug-clawing cat

You have given your cat everything she needs to adapt to her new scratching post, tree, or bed and she still won't leave your rug alone. She has figured out you're not pleased, so performs her clawing rituals when you're not around; but you know from the telltale loosened rug fibers, she's still at it. For the diehard rug-clawing cat, you may have to display your rug in an inaccessible room or spray it with a product designed to repel cats; just make sure it's a natural, non-toxic, safe product like Pet MasterMind Pet Spray.

In the meantime, continue to work at making the scratching post attractive by rubbing dry catnip on it, spraying it with a catnip spray, and attaching fleece pom-poms and other irresistible toys via durable hemp twine or other strong material, so she can bat them around. Environmental enrichment goes hand-in-hand with environmental modification and a cat who scratches rugs needs both.

Never punish your cat for scratching your rugs

Don't punish your cat for what comes naturally, like scratching. Firstly, cats do not respond well to negative reinforcement. It's best not to do anything if your cat scratches inappropriately, except maybe loudly say, "stop" or "no," or sharply clap your hands to take your cat by surprise so he stops.

However, that said, if you catch your cat scratching your rug after you have enriched his space with corrugated cardboard scratching posts and trees, or any other type of scratchers such as sisal or wood, just redirect him to the appropriate scratching medium enhanced with the beforementioned surprises.

Some cats take longer to forget about the pleasures of scratching rugs and it can take some time to reinforce this new positive scratching direction in his life. But if you're patient, and continually reinforce your cat's good behavior, sooner or later, your cat will be ignoring your rug and heading straight to the scratching post or tree to claw to his heart's delight, play, and nap, of course.

Declawing is not the answer

"Declawing is the non-therapeutic amputation of all or part of the last phalanx in cats' toes in order to remove the claw to prevent cats' natural scratching behavior. Declawing is a surgical procedure designed to change a behavior," says The Paw Project who considers the declawing of cats to be mutilation, unethical, unnecessary, and inhumane.

Declawing cats may result in permanent lameness, arthritis, and other long-term complications, let alone the depression and anxiety it causes cats after surgery. The surgery is also extremely painful, especially during recovery, and the cat has to change the way they walk and other activities due to loss of bone. It also makes cats more likely to bite and less likely to use the litter box, says the Humane Society of the United States.

Declaing is now banned in the state of New York and U.S. cities including Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the Atlantic provinces of Canada — as well as many other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, and most of Europe. In addition, many vets throughout North America refuse to declaw even in locales where it is not yet illegal.

Conclusion

For cats, scratching is entirely normal, natural, and necessary for the species' survival. If your cat is clawing at your rug, do not resort to a declawing surgery, which is a painful, inhumane amputation.

Rather, if your cat is fixated on scratching your rug, you should invest in one or more of a variety of scratch-friendly cat trees, beds, modular cat furniture made with corrugated cardboard, and scratching posts made with sisal, carpet, wood, or corrugated cardboard that allow your cat to express herself and scratch without harming your rugs and furnishings. You can also spray cat repellent on your rug or display it in an inaccessible area to your cat.

Also, you must take time to teach your cat boundaries, where she can and cannot scratch, with positive reinforcement like praise, love, attention, and treats, and you'll be richly rewarded by a cat who doesn't claw your rugs or other treasures; giving you peace of mind, and, ultimately, the contentment your cat deserves as he goes about doing what comes naturally.