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Scratch This NOT That! How to Redirect Your Cat's Scratching.

Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas

Published: January 13, 2022

Updated: June 20, 2024

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cat scratching furniture

It doesn’t take long after living with a cat to develop a slight nervous tick at the sound of scratching.

For many people, their gut reaction is to yell at the cat, shoo them away, or maybe even give a few squirts of water from a spray bottle.

Doing any of these, though, won’t save your furniture. In fact, yelling at your cat for scratching can seriously confuse them, stress them out, and may even cause them to act out in different ways and grow to be afraid of you.

It’s a fact of life that cats will scratch, but also true is your ability to help control where they scratch.

But even if you didn’t realize this before you lost your favorite armchair to your favorite feline, Edward Scissorhands, fear not! You can teach an old cat new tricks and take steps to redirect where your cat is scratching.

Believe it or not, cats are highly trainable, and there are surfaces and scents your cat would actually prefer to scratch even more than your furniture.

Why Cats Scratch

It’s a known fact… cats need to scratch! It’s part of who they are and how they communicate, but that’s not all there is to the story.

  • Cats scratch to remove the dead outer layers of their claws.
  • Cats scratch to leave their scent and mark their territory.
  • Cats scratch to relieve stress and express other emotions.
  • Cats even scratch as a way to stretch their bodies and feet.

Of course, there might be a problem when your cat’s scratching instincts meet your instinct to keep furniture in one piece.

So it’s important to realize that if you don’t give your cat plenty of appropriate scratching surfaces, they’re likely to find plenty of inappropriate places and surfaces to scratch… like your couch, bed, drapes, carpet, chairs, and anything else they can get their claws into.

It’s important to be proactive in helping your cat scratch in the places you want them to so that their scratching in the places you don’t want them to doesn’t ruin your home… along with your relationship.

cat scratching post

How to Keep Your Cat From Scratching Your Furniture

Here are some simple steps you can take to keep your kitty from scratching your furniture to shreds while still giving them the important opportunity to do their normal and healthy scratching behaviors.

Provide Plenty of Scratching Posts and Pads

As far as your cat is concerned, you can never have enough scratching posts and pads. So this is a great — and easy — place to start. When it comes to choosing scratching posts and pads for your cats, remember the four S’s:

  • Stability: Give your cat flimsy posts at your own peril (actually, it would be at your cat’s peril, too).

    Not only could a flimsy scratching post or cat tower fall and injure your cat — or anybody else in your home— but also it’s (far) less likely that your cat would even use a flimsy post or tower.

    Make sure cat towers are stable and sturdy, and make sure that wall-mounted scratching surfaces are securely fastened.

  • Size: This is especially important for vertical scratching posts and towers. For your cat to really use these to help in their stretching behaviors, any posts and towers you get (or build) need to be tall enough for them to get a good stretch going. As the saying goes… “go big, or go home!”

  • Surface: Providing your cat with a variety of tactile surfaces to scratch is important, too. Not only can individual cats have preferences (some quite strong), they can also enjoy a bit of variety when it comes to their scratching surfaces. It is the “spice of life” after all.

    Good cat scratching surfaces for many cats include sisal rope or fabric, cardboard, and even uncovered wood.

cat scratching on his cat treeHere's Mazel, a Preventive Vet team member, using his fab cat tree that was found at a second-hand store. What a score! It has lots of different types of textures and levels. He loves it.

cat sitting in his cat tree

Make the Posts and Pads More Attractive Than Your Furniture

Having plenty of posts and pads for your cat to scratch is extremely important, but so too are taking the simple steps to get your cat scratching those instead of your furniture. Here’s what you can do to make your cat’s scratching posts and pads most attractive to them:

  • Location, location, location: Just like in real estate, where you put your cat’s scratching posts, and pads is important. After all, if they’re in a place your cat rarely ventures to, they’re not likely to be used.

    Put the structures and surfaces you want your cat scratching in the spaces where they hang out most, and it’ll be far more likely that your cat will use them.

    Similarly, if there’s a particular piece of furniture you don’t want your cat scratching, put an attractive post or pad right next to it so your cat has a better choice (you can slowly move the post/pad further away from the furniture you wish to protect once your cat is reliably using it).

  • Spruce up their pads and posts: Many people don't have enough scratching posts and pads around their home simply because many of the posts and pads out there aren't exactly the nicest things to look at.

    But it doesn't need to be this way; there are actually plenty of nicer, more upscale, more stylish cat scratching pad and post options available for you. Here are a few that can fit into even the nicest, most minimalist home decor.

Relaxing scratching lounger

There are even some great  "kitty condos" that will give your cat some fun perches and hiding spaces, along with some important and attractive scratching surfaces. 

Cool cat condo and scratch pad

We're really loving Tuft and Paw — they've got some beautiful, functional, and well-crafted designer cat furniture options that will keep everyone in the home happy.
tuft & paw cat furniture

  • Training: Give your cat some praise, pets, and treats whenever you see them scratching their posts and pads. Rewarding them for doing so will help to ensure that they’ll continue to exercise their scratching needs on those surfaces.

    What about when you catch them scratching the surfaces you don’t want them to? Don’t yell, scream, swat, or squirt them with water… doing any of these will just scare, scar, and ruin your relationship with your cat.

    Instead, calmly move them from that undesirable location and put them by (or on) the surfaces you want them scratching. Once they start scratching where you'd like, praise and reward them.

    Cats and dogs learn best from positive reinforcement (rewarding them for what they do right, as opposed to punishing them for what they did wrong). So, re-directing their behavior to the things they'll get rewarded for is ideal.

  • Use attractants: Many cats go crazy for catnip, and you can use that to your advantage. Either sprinkle some dried catnip on your cat’s scratching posts and pads, or you can even spray these desired scratching surfaces with some catnip oil.

Cats On Cat Stand Scratching PostsMake Your Furniture Less Attractive Than the Posts and Pads

Along with making your cat’s scratching posts and pads as attractive as possible, you can also take some simple steps to make your furniture less attractive to your cats.

  • Cover: Just as cats have strong feelings about the types of surfaces they want to scratch, they also have strong feelings about the types of surfaces they don’t want to scratch.

    You can use this to your advantage. If there’s a particular piece of furniture you want to get your cat to stop scratching or to never start scratching in the first place, try covering the area with double-sided “sticky” tape, aluminum foil, or even cellophane.

    These are all surfaces that most cats don’t like the feel (or sound) of under their paws. You needn’t cover the whole piece of furniture, just the areas where your cat is scratching or is likely to.

    You can also cover the corners of your sofa (the surfaces that cats seem to be most likely to scratch) with these great "cat-scratchable" furniture protectors.

    Don't want to cover the corners of your sofa with anything? You can just try to “block” your cat's access to those areas with a scratching post. Put the post right in front of the sofa arm, so your cat comes to that before the sofa itself.

    Then, once your cat is reliably scratching that post, gradually move it further away from the furniture you’re trying to protect.

  • Clean: Just as you can take advantage of the feline scratching pheromone to get your cat scratching a desirable surface, you can also take advantage of removing those scratch-inducing pheromones from the surfaces where you don’t want them scratching.

    Use soap and water, a good enzymatic cleaner (to break down the proteins), or even a good upholstery cleaner. Just be sure to test a small area of the surface first to make sure the cleaner you’re planning to use won’t cause the colors of the fabric to “bleed” or otherwise damage the fabric.

Manage Your Cat's Nails

Redirecting undesirable cat scratching won’t happen overnight, so it’s important to have a few “tricks” up your sleeve to protect your furniture while your (re)training your cat.

  • Mani-pedis: Since trimmed cat nails will do less damage to your furniture than razor-sharp daggers, be sure to trim your cat’s claws weekly.

    Trimming cat nails can be easily done (usually) — check out the video below to see how to cut cat nails — but if you’d rather not tackle the task yourself, your vet and their team would be more than happy to help.

  • Claw Caps: You can apply, or have your vet apply, temporary nail covers to your cat’s claws. Claw covers, such as the Soft Claws, can be a great and immediate way to protect your furniture while you’re working with your cat to redirect any undesirable scratching behavior.

    Once your cat is exhibiting their normal scratching behavior on the surfaces you want them to, you can stop using the claw covers.

So, there you have it… some insight into why cats scratch and the importance of this behavior, as well as ways to help ensure that you and your cat can live together with their scratching behavior. I hope this article has helped you.

About the author

Profile picture for Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Nicholas graduated with honors from The Royal Veterinary College in London, England and completed his Internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Nicholas spent many years as an emergency and general practice veterinarian obsessed with keeping pets safe and healthy. He is the author of Preventive Vet’s 101 Essential Tips book series.