When your cat uses their claws to scratch your favorite sofa, it’s annoying. But resist the urge to take it personally. No, they’re not adding unwanted texture to the table legs to get revenge for a recent vet visit. Even the smartest cat probably fails to understand that cat etchings just don’t go with our decor. Because we connect with our animals so deeply, it can be easy to assign human-like motives where none exist.
Scratching and clawing inanimate objects is common to cats, and they all do it. Though it’s frustrating and can be destructive at times, it’s also important to understand there’s a purpose to a cat’s scratching and clawing.
Why do cats scratch and claw at furniture?
The act of scratching and clawing is innate and instinctual cat behavior. If they spend time outside, you’ll see them pawing at the grass or reaching up high overhead to claw at the bark of a tree. Here’s what’s happening when kitty sinks their claws into the furniture and starts swiping.
Scratching and clawing removes the dead, outer layer of the cuticle and keeps their claws sharp and in good condition for hunting, climbing and defending themselves.
Because cats have scent glands on their feet, clawing leaves behind a scent that tells other cats they’re entering another kitty’s territory.
Scratches also leave visual cues to other cats. Some believe it can be kitty’s way of expressing confidence.
Scratching feels good to cats. The act is accompanied by stretching their bodies. Many do it standing and pawing high overhead, while others prefer a horizontal stretch. They also seem to feel pleasure in flexing and stretching their feet and toes.
What to do about your cat’s destructive scratching
If your favorite wing chair, drapes or the carpet are the target of your cat’s claws, it will take some time to teach your cat to stop and start using a scratching post instead.
Redirect their attention
The first step in deterring kitty from targeting your furniture, drapes and walls as their personal scratching surface is to provide an appropriate alternative. Start by setting up a scratching station right next to the spot you’d like them to stop attacking. As they start building their new habits, you can gradually move the scratching post to a preferred location in the room.
Teach kitty to use their new scratch surface
Getting your cat to use their new scratch surface can take a little patient persuasion.
- Encourage them to play with you as you’re seated next to the scratch toy. Using a wand, can you get them to paw at it?
- To pique their interest, try rubbing a little catnip on the surface.
- When you catch your cat in the act of good scratching behavior, offer praise and a quick neck rub.
[Learn more about scratching and other cat needs by checking out Episode 3 of Raising Your Paws podcast, “Cat Scratching Posts – On a Need-to-Know Basis.”
While transitioning to a scratching post, it is a good idea to restrict the opportunity to fall back on the old habit. Ideally, storing the targeted item in an off-limits room can help you keep kitty focused on their new scratching post. Remove drapes, turn around stereo speakers and block “their” wall area with a small bookshelf or side table.
Try cat deterrent spray
If you can’t move the item, make it less appealing. Head to your local pet supply shop, and look for specially made upholstery sprays that are pleasant to human noses, but off-putting to a cat’s olfactory senses. (If you do choose a homemade remedy, keep in mind that some essential oils are irritating or toxic to pets. A store-bought but homeopathic concoction can help you keep it natural and safe for household pets.)
Make it sticky
If you have a vertical scratcher that takes aim at the base or arms of the chair or sofa, or even the walls, placing double-stick tape on those surfaces often works wonders! (Pet shops also sell adhesive marketed as cat scratch deterrent tape.) Cats dislike the feeling of the sticky adhesive catching on their paws, and that can be enough to motivate them to seek alternative surfaces to claw at.
Foil the attack
If your cat likes sinking his claws into the padded seats of your couches or chairs, try placing a few sheets of aluminum foil on the surface. The crinkling sound can be enough to startle your cat and send him scurrying back to the floor.
Set a booby trap
Stacking disposable drinking cups that topple when your cat bumps them is a harmless way to get cats to stop their attack and move on to something else.
Don’t punish your cat
The feline psyche doesn’t connect yelling and time-outs as an outcome to their behavior. In other words, if you punish the cat, it won’t compute. Instead of understanding that you don’t like their behavior, they could learn to fear you (or just learn to stop scratching when you’re in the room).
Eliminate the evidence
Remember, cats leave behind scent when they paw and scratch at something. Spritzing the surface with pet-safe odor neutralizer can keep your cat from being reminded to “refresh” their message with new scratches.
Which scratching surface is best for your cat?
Before you shop, here’s a look at what kind of scratching post to get for your cat and how many you’ll need.
Consider your cat’s preferred surfaces
If your cat is a vertical scratcher, opt for a sturdy post that’s taller than your cat when they’re standing full height, about 3 feet high or so. Make sure it’s heavy enough so that it won’t topple as they press in for a deep, luxurious stretch.
Choose the texture that’s right for your cat
If your cat likes scratching the legs of your wood desk, then offer a wood scratch post to take its place. Many prefer the tight, nubby weave of a rope scratching post. A large cat tree with a scratch surface offers a nice cats-only zone where they can feel free to scratch, climb and perch. Corrugated cardboard scratch pads are also popular and affordable! Whatever it is, make sure it’s something your cat will actually use.
How many scratch posts does your cat need?
One scratch post (or mat) per cat in your household is a good rule of thumb. However, you may need more scratch posts and toys if you’re trying to keep your cat away from multiple targets.
Should you declaw your cat?
While having the cat’s nails trimmed is one way to reduce the damage, declawing is an invasive surgical procedure that amputates the top bone of the cat’s toes. Because many view this as inhumane, several countries, including Canada, have banned it, along with several California cities. Others resist the idea of a ban; some think it would only add to the homeless pet population.
It wasn’t long ago when taking the cat to the vet for declawing was a routine procedure to stop a cat from destroying furniture. However, many health care providers of pets will tell you declawing is becoming less common, and most outright recommend you not do it to your cat.
Ultimately, declawing won’t eliminate your cat’s drive to scratch. It’s natural cat behavior that offers some comfort, satisfaction and even stress relief. Why take them on that painful route, when there are other solutions that work?
Encourage natural cat behaviors
For a long, happy life, your cat needs an enriching environment that encourages their natural behaviors, along with plenty of attention and a healthy diet.
A high-quality diet that keeps your cat’s gut ecosystem in balance will help kitty better absorb essential nutrients and keep their immune system in top working order. NutriSource is proud to formulate all its pet diets with their innovative Good 4 Life® system that builds good gut health for the cat and a better litter box experience for you. Shop local and find NutriSource at an independent pet retailer near you.