How to stop your cat from scratching furniture

Is your cat scratching your furniture and trying to use his or her claws on anything but a scratching post? Couch, carpet, wallpaper, everything gets destroyed in minutes. When you get a new piece of expensive furniture, it’s most likely that your cat will want to scratch it. Is there any way to stop it? Of course there is.

In this article, you are going to learn how to stop your cat from scratching furniture, walls, and carpets, without punishing, declawing, or getting rid of your cat.

IMPORTANT: Scratching is NOT an expression of dislike toward you or your furniture. Scratching is a natural behavior of cats, similar to eating or sleeping. The solution to scratching lies in redirecting this behavior toward appropriate items, not in stopping it.

Where do you hide your cat’s scratching post?

By far the most popular reason why cats scratch furniture is an inadequate number and improper placement of cat scratching posts.

If your cat doesn’t show an interest in his new scratching post, your first thought might be that the scratching post is not satisfactory enough or that there is something wrong with the cat. The thing is, it’s neither of these. In a majority of cases, the scratching post is nowhere to be seen.

We agree that not all cat scratching posts are visually appealing (though today’s markets provide several sophisticated ones, too), but that should not be a reason to hide it around a corner or in a basement. Because if you do hide your cat’s scratching post, it becomes useless. Why?

Why cats need to scratch

To answer the above question, let’s take a look at why cats scratch.

  • Claw maintenance. Most people know that their cats sharpen their claws while scratching. This is true, but if it were the only reason, you could indeed tuck the post away and get it out, let’s say, once a week for nail maintenance. But there are more important things involved in scratching.
  • Exercise. Cats also stretch while they scratch. This must be done daily, and from our experience, if your cat’s “gym” is too far away, she will just choose a closer match. Like your couch.
  • Territory marking. Scratching leaves visual marks and a scent from the cat’s paw pads. In your cat’s opinion, these marks cannot be left at just any place. Every location where they are distributed is important to your cat. This means that cats need to scratch in specific locations. And not just one of them.

Where to place cat scratching posts

Once you understand that your cat needs to scratch in many places throughout the house, it becomes much easier to understand that you need more than one scratching post and understand where to place them. Your cat doesn’t need a post in a closet where no one goes.

Here are good locations for a scratching post:

  • Places where your cat scratches already. By scratching at those locations, your cat is already telling you where he wants the post to be. You don’t even need to understand cat language or figure out why your cat scratches in a certain location. Who cares? If your cat scratches there, it must be an important location.

  • Near your cat’s activity spots
    . That is, at least one post should be in every room where your cat spends a significant amount of time. More posts are preferred, especially in central family gathering rooms. If a cat naps frequently on a couch, she is very likely to scratch it, so you should place a post nearby. If a cat watches birds through a window, it’s very likely he will need a scratching post or pad nearby.
  • Near pathways. Wild cats leave scratch marks along their usual everyday paths and especially in places where they intersect with the paths of other cats. In a household, places like door frames, pieces of furniture, and corners along the way from a napping location to the feeding station and then to the litter box are commonly marked, so place a scratching post or a few along the way. Wall pads are great for this purpose.
  • Next to the home entrance. Not all cats, but many, mark along the perimeter of their territory. In a home environment, this perimeter is often limited to the front door of the house. It may be a good idea to place a scratching post (or even a cat tree with a perch) near the entrance. This way, your cat will be able to leave scratch marks for visitors to see and climb on an elevated napping location to securely observe whoever comes in.

These four points should give you a picture about where to place scratching posts the way your cat wants them. If you have some uncertainties, it’s always a good rule to introduce as many as you can and place them evenly throughout the whole house.

What cat scratching posts you should choose

Scratching posts do not always need to be huge and take up most of your living space. Of course, you could have a large cat tree in the  busiest area of your house, but other places can be occupied with smaller posts and pads.

Depending on your cat’s preferences, the best cat scratching posts are covered with sisal rope, regular rope, or bare wood.

Regarding form and type, you have three options:

  • Post on a base. These start from a single post with a toy tied to its top and end with a large post that has rope-covered pillars. It’s sensible to have a few larger ones in some central places of your house and smaller ones throughout the house.
  • Pad attached to the wall. This provides a vertical scratching area, but unlike a post, it does not take up space on your floor. Usually, these can be strategically placed in certain locations throughout the house, along the pathways taken by your cat, at different heights and in different shapes and sizes.
  • Scratching pads placed on the ground. There are cats who much prefer horizontal scratching, and most cats like it to at least some degree. Horizontal posts provide a different scratching experience and are great if, for example, your cat claws the carpet. In such a case, you can simply place the pad near or even on top of the scratched location.

NOTE: The most important attributes of a scratching post or pad are their size and stability. Bigger posts should provide your cat with the room to do a whole body stretch. Stability is important, because cats are unlikely to scratch wobbly surfaces. They are inconvenient and useless for stretching purposes. The same goes for jumping on cat trees; if they are too wobbly, a cat will not feel secure on them.

How to train a cat to use a scratching post

Acquiring good and appropriate scratching posts and placing them in strategic locations is one thing. But getting your cat to use them is not guaranteed.

Here’s how to encourage a cat to use a scratching post:

An interactive toy can efficiently be used to train a cat to use a scratching post. Photo by Jon Ross, cc

  • Perfect location. Nothing is as effective as the right scratching post in the right place. Which object to scratch is not as important for your cat as where to scratch. If you guess where this “where” is, you are likely to get away without any training. See above for details.
  • Use an interactive toy. Start by playing with your cat and letting him catch the toy while it sits on a scratchable surface. He will not only get his claws into the toy, but into the post, too. Because of the cat’s instinctive behavior, he will pick up the rest.
  • Scratch the post with your own fingers. The noise created will make your cat curious about the post.
  • Catnip the post. Not all cats respond to catnip, but those who do are likely to rub, chew, and scratch objects that smell of catnip. If your cat gets her claws into the cat tree because of catnip, she is likely to understand the benefits of the scratchable surface. You can buy catnip packs in pet stores and on-line; just get a small pinch and rub it onto the scratching post surface. Seal the rest of the catnip in an airtight container.

DO NOT put your cat’s paws on the post’s surface using force. This will not work, it will make your cat confused and stressed, and he will be likely to avoid the negative experience in future by not coming close to the post…or to you.

Prevent your cat from scratching your furniture

The fact that you managed to get your cat to favor the scratching post does not guarantee that he will not use old spots such as your sofa, carpet, or walls. The easiest workaround is to make those places physically inaccessible or undesirable for scratching.

  • Use double-sided sticky tape. You can put some tape over the scratched surface, and your cat will lose interest in it, because instead of sharpening claws, the surface will now stick to her paws.
  • Block access with a scratching post. Place a post in front of or on top of the scratched surface, and it’s very likely that your cat will choose the post instead of the good old sofa.
  • Cover the location with a plastic sheet. These are generally used as table covers and can be obtained in many sizes and shapes. Just place one on top or in front of the scratched area, or attach it to the wall with tape, covering the scratched area. The hard and slippery surface is completely inappropriate for scratching and will thus be uninteresting to your cat.
  • Rearrange furniture. Put undesired spots out of comfortable reach for your cat. For example, if your cat prefers a certain area of wall, you can place a chair in front of it. Just temporarily.
  • Apply a repellent spray. Check your nearest pet store for a spray that deters cats. You can spray it upon the scratched surface, and your cat will avoid coming close to it. However, the spray must be reapplied frequently.

NOTE: If you deter your cat from using one location for scratching, as a rule of thumb, he will look for another spot in the nearby vicinity. But this is good, because this new location could be the scratching post if you place it next to the undesired location.

Trim your cat’s claws to lower the damage done by scratching

The above tips are guaranteed to stop your cat from scratching the furniture, though nothing can guarantee that your cat will never, ever use her claws on things other than a scratching post. But you can lower the damage done by trimming your cat’s claws, which must be done approximately every 2 to 4 weeks.

One thing that prevents cat owners from taking this step is fear. How can you trim your cat’s claws without getting scratched? But it is not as bad as it sounds; it is best if you can start slowly, accustom your cat to being in your lap while you touch its paws, and gradually build towards trimming them.

You can find more information about cat claw trimming here.

This is our cat, Jersey. You can see how much she enjoys her claws being trimmed.

If you push your finger in between your cat’s paw pads, his claws will protrude out. You will see that your cat’s claw is partially transparent, and there is a blood vessel inside it. Use cat claw clippers (these can be bought at pet stores), and trim the claw without trimming inside the vessel.

IMPORTANT: Declawing, as convenient as it first sounds, is not at all a good choice. It is cruel, ethically controversial, and illegal in many countries, and it promotes other behavior problems. Declawing is not only a removal of claws, but actually an amputation of the fingertips, which causes pain while healing and when walking afterwards. Declawing is a very common cause for cats not using their litterboxes, along with many other behavior problems.

If you really want your cat’s claws to stay out of trouble, try to use vinyl caps instead. They can be glued on top of your cat’s claws; as the claws grow, the caps must be reapplied about once a month. Claw caps can be easily applied at home, but for the first time, you should ask your veterinarian to do it and to teach you how to “install” them easily. They come in a huge variety of colors, so you can protect your furniture with style. There are also transparent ones available if you do not want a cat from a glamor-rock band.

So, are you ready to stop your cat from scratching your furniture? We bet you are. Add more scratching posts, block access to the undesired spots, and start trimming your cat’s claws on a regular basis. This means that even if your cat follows his natural behavior (scratching sofas, that is), there will be no damage done.

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