How to Stop Cats Scratching Furniture

Written by Small Door's medical experts

All cats engage in scratching for a variety of reasons. The instinctive urge to scratch can become a problem for some cats when they start targeting furniture and valuable household items. Fortunately, there are many ways that cat parents in this situation can resolve the issue. The first step is to create or buy scratching posts that your cat can use instead of the couch or carpet. Then, you’ll need to create an environment where your cat prefers scratching the posts over other household items. This enrichment of your cat’s environment will help improve the issue.

In this article:

Why do cats scratch?

Scratching is a behavior that comes naturally to cats. Cats like to scratch, and there are several reasons why they do it, such as: 

  • Playing, enjoyment, and habit. Scratching is an instinctual behavior for cats, and they enjoy it. The urge to scratch usually starts when cats are around 8 weeks old. 

  • Marking territory. Using the scent glands in their paws, cats can mark their territory and signal other cats through scratching. Cats detect and recognize their scent or other cats’ scent through pheromones, which are chemicals excreted by their scent glands. Cats may scratch household items and release pheromones for their comfort or to send a message to other cats. Some cats will spray (urinate) to accomplish the same goals. 

  • Stretching. Scratching is a way for cats to stretch out their muscles.  

  • Sharpening their claws. Maintaining the sharpness of their claws is an instinctual and necessary activity for cats, and they do this by scratching, which chips away at dead nails to reveal sharper edges. 

  • Communicating. Cats may be more likely to scratch things when other cats are around. 

How to stop destructive scratching

While you’d be fighting a losing battle to stop your cat from scratching entirely, there are several easy ways to prevent them from scratching and damaging the things you don’t want them to scratch. The general idea is to provide alternative surfaces for them to scratch, rather than your sofa or carpet. You can try one or several of the following methods to stop your cat from destructive scratching (more details on each below): 

  1. Create or buy a couple of alternative scratching surfaces, called posts. 

  2. Prime your cat to utilize these scratching posts. 

  3. Prevent your cat from scratching things you want to protect.

  4. Trim your cat’s claws regularly and consider covering them with plastic caps that can temporarily be glued over their claws and replaced every couple of weeks. 

Provide appropriate places to scratch

The best way to prevent destructive scratching is to introduce enrichment activities, toys and other things for your cat to scratch besides your beloved furniture. 

You can make scratching posts yourself or buy them. Start by providing a couple of posts made of different materials, such as: 

  • Wood

  • Rope

  • Corrugated cardboard

  • Upholstery

Position some vertically and others horizontally, and place them in a couple of different locations. Pay attention to which posts your cat seems to enjoy the most. Some good places to start placing them include the entrance area of your house next to the door or around the spot your cat likes to sleep.  

All posts should be sturdy, as cats do not like things that wobble or shift when scratched. Vertical posts should be tall because cats often extend their legs to stretch out when scratching. If you have two or more cats, make sure to provide a scratching post for each. 

Make appropriate scratching areas appealing

The goal is to make scratching posts more appealing to your cat than your furniture. Below are some ways to accomplish this:

  • Make the posts smell of catnip. You can do this by placing a bag of catnip on top of a post, rubbing it into the material, or sprinkling it around the base.  

  • Place posts in areas of the house where your cat likes to scratch. 

  • Conduct playtime with your cat near the post so that they get used to it and develop positive associations with it. 

  • Use pheromone products or sprays that mimic your cat’s scent to make them feel comfortable with the posts. 

Positively reinforce scratching in appropriate areas

Rewarding your cat for scratching designated posts instead of your favorite carpet is a great way to reinforce the behavior. Whenever you spot your cat utilizing the posts, make sure to give them a tasty treat.  

Gently discourage destructive scratching

To discourage your cat from scratching in the wrong places, make the objects you don’t want your cat to scratch, such as a chair, sofa, or drapes, less appealing. These changes are temporary – once your cat becomes used to scratching the posts, you can remove the deterrents from your house. Some of the ways to make objects undesirable to your cat include:  

  • Cover furniture with a fitted sheet. 

  • Place double-sided tape on an object your cat likes to scratch or in a place where your cat would need to stand to reach a scratchable item. Cats do not enjoy standing on or scratching a sticky surface. Instead of tape, you can also try rough materials, such as sandpaper, or slippery materials, such as plastic. 

  • Attach plastic caps on top of the cat’s claws to prevent them from damaging valuable items. Claw coverings can be purchased online or at a pet store. They are adhesive, meaning they will stay on temporarily, and they generally need to be replaced after a couple of weeks.  

Trim your cat’s claws regularly

Keeping your cat’s claws short with frequent nail trims is an essential part of preventing destructive scratching around the house. Trimming claws is entirely different from declawing, a painful and unnecessary surgical procedure that animal organizations and veterinarians strongly discourage. You can cut your cat’s claws yourself or ask your veterinarian for help. 

What not to do

In general, it’s best to focus on encouraging your cat to scratch designated posts rather than using any form of punishment. Scare tactics, such as physical punishment or yelling, are likely to backfire and cause your cat to fear and avoid you. 

In an attempt to teach a cat where to scratch, some cat owners may be tempted to bring their cat to a scratching post and manually place their paws on it. However, instead of teaching your cat a lesson, this approach may trigger fear, anxiety, and avoidance of the post itself.

Other counterproductive or harmful methods to avoid include: 

  • Throwing out old, well-used scratching posts. Hold onto old scratching posts even if they begin to look worn out. A well-used scratching post is worn out for a reason – your cat loves it. Cats enjoy scratching shredded material and are accustomed to old posts with familiar scents.  

  • Declawing. Do not consider declawing your cat as a way to stop destructive scratching. This unwarranted intervention is traumatizing and can trigger cats to develop more harmful and intractable habits than scratching. In addition, declawing cats can also lead to chronic nerve pain or phantom pain that can last for years and even for the rest of their lives. 

Why declawing is not the solution

Declawing is a surgical procedure that involves amputating (cutting off) a portion of a cat’s 18 toes, including the claw, nail bed, and a small bone at the end of each toe. It is incredibly painful, difficult to recover from, and can come with significant medical and behavioral risks. 

After declawing, cats may experience excruciating pain and are at risk of complications, including: 

  • Infection

  • Excessive bleeding

  • Nerve damage

Behavioral problems can also develop as a result of declawing, and they are likely to be more serious than destructive scratching, such as:

  • No longer using the litter box. During recovery from declawing, litter boxes are often filled with softer materials, such as shredded newspaper, to protect a cat’s injured paws from irritating litter material. The pain of stepping in a litter box after declawing surgery and the changes in litter box material may encourage your cat to stop utilizing the litterbox entirely. 

  • Replacing scratching with biting. Without claws, cats may resort to biting to defend themselves. 

There are many ways to prevent destructive scratching without resorting to declawing, a cruel procedure that is not proven to resolve feline behavioral problems and can sometimes worsen them. 

Experts and veterinary organizations discourage the practice of declawing cats under any circumstances, and entirely oppose declawing as a response to destructive scratching.

Summary of destructive cat scratching

Scratching is a natural behavior that all cats will display at some point. There are many reasons why cats scratch, including enjoyment, habit, communication, stretching, marking territory, and sharpening claws. A scratching habit becomes a problem for some cat owners when the scratching targets include beloved furniture and household items. However, cat owners have many options when it comes to stopping a destructive scratching habit. 

The main way to prevent destructive scratching is to introduce scratching posts and make them more desirable to a feline than your furniture by choosing properly sized posts with appealing materials, placing them in strategic locations within the house, and scenting them with catnip. You can also try to make household objects less attractive to cats by temporarily covering them with sticky or slick materials until your cat gets used to the posts. Trimming your cat’s claws on a regular basis is also key to preventing destructive scratching.

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