Ask Crystal: A Shocking Behavior

a grey cat lays on a carpet platform with a rope scratching post next to it

Dear Crystal, 

Hi, I have a great kitten named Binx. He recently started scratching the outlets. Why? 


Curious Kitty 


Dear Curious,

What an interesting question. I have not had experience with this particular issue myself.  We may not be able to know the exact reason why he chooses to scratch there but we can explore some possibilities and some ways to improve the behavior.

One theory on the internet is that your cat can hear the electricity in the wall. Cats do have much better hearing than humans do so they can hear a lot of things that we cannot. Humans hear in ranges from 20hz to 20,000hz. But many humans only hear half of that range especially considering our hearing gets worse with age. Cats can hear up to 64,000hz. However, the electricity should not be making any noise. We do know that electronics can cause noises that animals can likely hear but the outlet itself should not be making any noise.

Something that can cause noise near outlets is rodents and termites. This type of scratching would tend to be more at night since that is when rodents are active. Rodents tend to make their homes where there tend to be a lot of wiring. They also like to chew on everything, including wires. It seems like it would be centered around the same outlets if that were the case. You may quiet the house and see if you hear any squeaking. You can also place flour on the floor where you think the mice might be a see if they leave any footprints overnight.

Outlets may emit a smell from the heated-up wires if they are being used. If he is scratching outlets that don’t have anything plugged in, that seems unlikely the cause. That all being said with the caveat that I am not an electrician. Just a person with an extremely basic understanding of electricity.

To keep your kitty safe, consider covering any outlets he likes to scratch at with child proof outlet covers. They are pretty inexpensive and will help ease the worry of him somehow electrocuting himself. They make some that cover the outlet holes and some that are an entire panel to cover the outlet.  There are some that are boxes that cover the outlet as well. If you can move furniture and block the outlets or cover the wall with a tapestry, that would probably stop him scratching at certain outlets.

a grey cat lays on a carpet platform with a rope scratching post next to itAnother thing to try with inappropriate scratching is to make the area that the cat likes to scratch unattractive to them. That will vary from cat to cat but there are some different things you can try. Cover the areas with double sided tape, foil or heavy plastic, plastic carpet runner.  I personally wouldn’t put foil on top of an outlet, but you could use it on the child protector or the wall. You may try using scents that cats find aversive. There are many different scents that cats don’t like; citronella, citrus, menthol, aloe, to name a few. You can soak a cotton ball in some muscle rub and tape it to the area or make a citrus spray with lemon peel and water and spray the walls. Avoid using essential oils as they are toxic to animals.

Once we have made the area safe and less attractive to him, we need to be sure that he has plenty of scratching posts of varying types and in various locations so that he has appropriate items to scratch. If we have cats, we cannot get around providing scratching posts and unfortunately, we have to put them in areas that the cat actually will want to scratch them.

Another thing to look at would be where the outlets are located. If they are at a certain height, maybe he is more of a vertical scratcher. A lot of cats really like to stretch up and scratch. If you have a freestanding post, it is best if it is over 31 inches, so he really gets to stretch. They also make cardboard scratchers that you can attach to the wall. Place other scratchers where he tends to nap and any other places he likes to scratch. Cats usually need a scratch when they wake up or sometimes after eating, after using the litter box and your cat may have his own particular scratching times.

The material of the post can be a personal preference for the cat. My cats prefer carpet and one of them also really likes cardboard scratchers that she can sit on. My cats have no interest in sisal, but I have heard it is the most popular scratching material. You can try to entice him to use the posts by rubbing catnip on them if he is sensitive to it and old enough for it. Cats usually start to show the trait around 3- months.

You can even make your own posts to keep it interesting for your cat. I like finding free carpet squares and attaching them to the wall. Find a small log with the bark still on it to make your own natural post. Making your own sisal post is easy enough to do since you can buy all the materials at the hardware store. It is basically a cut post screwed into a piece of plywood and wrapped in sisal.

It is also important to think about the reasons why a cat might scratch so we can make sure that we are providing for all of the cat’s needs. Scratching is a basic need for all cats for many reasons. Some of the reasons why a cat would scratch at a wall; boredom, scent marking, stretching, claw shedding, marking territory, trying to climb a wall or soothing anxiety. There is an instinctive need to hide food that may cause some cats to scratch at the wall.

Indoors cats can get pretty bored inside the house all day and kittens are incredibly energetic and need a lot of exercise and stimulation. Have at least two exercise sessions with a kitty wand for 10-15 minutes a day prior to feeding times to make sure he is getting his exercise.

Try feeding through enrichment feeders if possible, to help with more mental stimulation. There are really interesting products on the market for kitties right now. Consider training your kitten for the ultimate in kitty enrichment to beat boredom. My favorite cat training channel on YouTube is called Cat School. This could help by giving him fun outlets to burn mental energy and it could give you some tools to redirect him when you see him going towards the outlet. You could call him over to target your hand and do a couple trick with him.

Try to notice if there are any patterns to when your cat tends to scratch. If he scratches after things which may be stressful like visitors or things changing, you may try to reduce his stress. You can try a diffuser with Feliway. Make sure he has plenty of either hiding spots or up high places depending on his preferences and never force him to be held if he seems like he wants to get away.

I don’t know the specific reason why your cat is scratching out the outlets unfortunately.  Some cats are just curious about things that are different and like to mess with certain things for whatever reason. It’s one of the fascinating things about sharing our homes with animals. Hopefully, I have given you some ideas of ways to discourage that behavior and try some alternative behaviors instead. Good luck!

Until next time,



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