It doesn’t take long after living with a cat to develop a slight nervous tick at the sound of scratching.
Because there’s no way to stop a cat from scratching — nor should you — and when cats are left to their own devices, they tend to make tatters of the things we love the most.
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 maybe even cause them to act out in different ways and grow to be afraid (or disdainful) of you.
It’s a fact of life that cats will scratch, and thankfully it's equally as true that you can help control where they'll 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. They scratch to leave their scent and mark their territory. They scratch to relieve stress and express other emotions. They even scratch as a way to stretch their bodies and feet. As you can see, scratching is an important part of being a cat.
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.
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:
- Shape: I’m not talking about scratching posts and pads that look like birds or mice — though those would be funny! No, what I mean is that your cat doesn’t just want posts and pads that stand upright (vertical), they also want ones that lay flat (horizontal), and even ones that are diagonal. Angles of stretch and scratching can be important for cats, so give your cat choices.
Some examples of good cat scratcher choices are:
3-sided vertical scratcher
Upright horizontal scratcher
Scratcher cat toy
Corrugated cardboard lounge scratcher
- 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.
Here'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.
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).
- 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 there, 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. But it’s not just catnip that can increase your cat’s desire to scratch a particular surface, there’s now even a specific pheromone product that can help them do so. FELISCRATCH is a synthetic derivative of the pheromone that cats release naturally from between their toes when they scratch. It can be applied to posts, pads, and other surfaces you want your cat to scratch and has been scientifically shown to increase the chances of them doing so.
Check out the 2013 study on the efficacy of this product, it’s pretty cool and could be quite the game changer for a lot cats… and cat lovers!
Make 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 — or, more correctly, “block” — the area with a scratching post or pad. Then, once your cat is reliably scratching that post or pad, 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.
Rome Wasn’t Built In a Day
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.