Most cat owners realize they need to buy a scratching post when their pet starts clawing at the furniture. However, it’s a good idea to invest in one before that happens. It’s not easy to remove pulls from upholstery fabric, let me tell you!
Not only will finding the best scratching post help protect your home decor, but it will keep your kitty healthy and happy too. Read on to find out why your cat needs to scratch and what to look for in the best cat scratching post.
Why Do Cats Need to Scratch?
Contrary to what you might expect, cats don’t claw at things just to annoy you! Cats mostly scratch for three reasons – to mark territory, to remove old nail sheaths and to stretch their limbs.
Cats have scent glands on their paw pads (source). When they scratch an object, they deposit pheromones on its surface, marking the spot as their territory. Pheromones are chemicals produced by cats (and other animals) for communication purposes. In addition to marking their territory chemically, the physical scratches left behind act as a sign to other cats that the area is off-limits.
Shedding Claw Sheaths
As you’re probably aware, cats’ claws grow pretty quickly. That’s why we need to clip them regularly. Unlike human nails, new claws grow under the old ones. When the old claw has grown beyond the cat’s blood supply, it falls off to reveal a fresh sharp claw underneath, explains vet Dr. Roy Brenton Smith (source). He estimates that this happens every two to three months. Cats scratch and bite at their claws to move the process along. The best cat scratching post will allow your pet to hook her claws onto the surface and pull off the nail sheaths.
The final purpose of scratching for cats is to stretch their limbs. Firstly, it feels great, just like it does for humans. Secondly, it helps increase blood flow, says Andrew Cuff of the Royal Veterinary College in London (source). Stretching can also help your cat to wake up after a nap.
Why You Need a Cat Scratching Post
The truth of the matter is your cat will scratch whether you provide him with a scratching post or not. Furniture, carpets and door frames are frequent casualties! Buying a few scratching posts and boards for your cat will stop him from destroying your home and save money in the long run.
What to Look for in a Scratching Post for Cats
Cat scratching posts and boards vary dramatically in quality. I’ve learned that the hard way! The first post we bought was a cheap, made-in-China affair. I’m not saying that everything that’s made in China is bad, but this one seemed to have come directly from the factory, skipping quality control…The screw between the post and the base quickly became loose and the sisal rope unraveled. I was annoyed when I realized that it had been a total waste of money! Here are some tips to help you avoid making our mistake.
As I said above, if you choose a cheaply made scratching post, you’ll be lucky if it lasts a few months before breaking. A cat scratching post which is too cheap is a bad investment as you will spend more replacing it. The best cat scratching post should be extremely sturdy with a wide and heavy base. A wooden cat scratching post is ideal – however it should be genuine wood not chipboard or MDF. When a screw is placed in MDF, it will loosen as the chipboard around it erodes. This happens especially quickly when you’ve got a strong cat pulling at the post daily.
If you’re buying in store, check the post for any wobbling. If there is any risk of the scratcher toppling over, your cat will be afraid to use it. In the wild, cats use trees to scratch. Ideally you want something of comparable sturdiness (not your living room sofa!)
Since cats use scratching posts to stretch, you’ll need one that’s tall enough to feel satisfying. Most cats will stand up on their back legs, reach up and hook their claws onto the scratching material. Then they pull downwards to really stretch their limbs. Your cat’s height plus half is a good guide.
Either choose a scratching post with horizontal and vertical surfaces or add a few flat scratching boards. This will allow your cat to stretch in lots of different positions for maximum satisfaction. Some boards are even adjustable, laying flat or at an angle depending on how you assemble them.
There are four main materials used for cat posts. These are carpet, sisal rope, sisal fabric and corrugated cardboard. They each have their pros and cons and it’s best to use a mixture to keep your cat interested.
Carpet cat scratching posts tend to last longer than the other types and they don’t tear apart and leave debris. However, your cat’s nails can get caught in the carpet loops, causing injury if she twists or pulls her toe to try and break free. In addition, if you have carpet in other parts of your home, your cat won’t be able to tell the difference and will scratch that too. So, I don’t recommend these.
Sisal is a material made from a plant called Agave sisalana. It’s available as both fabric and rope. Rope is more common but sisal fabric is generally accepted as best material for cat a scratching post. For starters, the fabric shreds better than the rope, which is more satisfying for your cat (he will feel like he’s leaving a mark). Secondly, the rope can detach from the post and unravel. Finally, sisal rope is often very rough and can irritate your cats’ paws. Of course this depends on the quality of the post you choose.
Despite being the cheapest material on this list, corrugated cardboard is one of the most enjoyable scratching options for your cat. It shreds really easily, which is fun for kitty but a bit messy for you. I vacuum regularly anyway so it doesn’t matter to me. They will need to be replaced after some time as they get ratty but many models allow for refills.
Finally, outdoor cats might enjoy scratching a piece of wood with bark. It’s hard to buy these in store so not everyone will be able to source one but it’s a fun option if you can find it. Don’t use a plain piece of construction wood as the splinters could hurt your pet.
Once your cat has scratched to mark his territory, he’ll be happy to hang around nearby. Scratching posts with seats and beds attached are great for this purpose. Some cat scratching posts come with a ball or toy to catch your pet’s attention.
In addition, if you have tiled or wooden floors, you’ll need some type of silicone grippers on the base of the post so that it doesn’t slide around.
Best Cat Scratching Post Reviews
Let’s take a look at some of the top rated cat scratching posts – some of them have really cool designs to please both cat and owner!
Sisal Fabric Scratching Posts
Sisal fabric is the best material for cat scratching, and the Smart Cat Ultimate Scratching Post is the crème de la crème of sisal fabric scratchers. Many believe it’s the best cat scratching post ever! At a towering 32 inches in height, even large cats (like my Siberian) will get a full vertical stretch. The sisal surface is also wider than most, meaning that two cats can scratch at once (or one cat can really go wild!). Most importantly, the base is a generous 16 x 16 inches to prevent wobbling or toppling.
Another sisal fabric option which I though was really cool is the Jumbl Cat Scratcher Pad. Its clever design means you can lay it flat or wrap it around a table leg. This is cat a scratching post with toys included – the little fluffy mouse should catch your kitty’s attention
Sisal Rope Scratching Posts
If you want to add a rope sisal scratching post to the mix, I’ve found a few good options. For maximum sturdiness, the 4Claws scratching post attaches directly to your wall. You can adjust its height depending on how big your cat is.
For something a bit more traditional, try the Tall Scratch Post from Max & Marlow. It’s 26 inches in height so not quite as tall as the Ultimate scratching post from Smart Cat, however this should be enough for most regular-sized felines.
If your kitty likes to scratch next to where she sleeps, the Molly & Friends sisal post has a platform on top that’s perfect for this purpose. Most cats like to sleep on a raised surface – at 33 inches total height, it’s the perfect lookout post and napping spot for your pet. I think it’s one of the best cat scratching trees if you’re looking for something small.
Cardboard Scratching Posts
A cheap and cheerful cardboard option (which my cats actually love) is the Catit Scratcher with Catnip. Since the price is so reasonable, you can buy a few and put them in places your cat was scratching. Our cats had a few favorite patches of carpet so we covered these with cardboard scratchers and they definitely prefer them. Even without the catnip, our two are drawn to these boards.
Another reasonably-priced cardboard scratcher with the added bonus of a ball to chase is the Bergan Turbo Toy. It looks simple, but my cats are simple creatures – they love chasing the ball and having a good scratch afterwards. The cardboard pad is replaceable so this toy should last a long time.
Finally, I wanted to share a more luxurious option. For those of you who like to spoil your furry friends, the Ultimate Cat Scratcher Lounge from PetFusion is a real treat. The design is sleek and the construction is extremely sturdy. It’s more than just a scratcher, it’s a resting, hiding and playing center.
Other Tips For Using a Cat Scratching Post
Put your new scratching post right beside the furniture your cat was clawing previously. He’ll still be able to mark his territory this way.
Put a scratcher near your cat’s bed. They like to stretch and scratch after waking up.
If you have multiple cats, you’ll need multiple scratchers as they won’t want to share. Even a single kitty needs at least two.
(image by Arria Belli – modified – under CC BY-SA 2.0)