Everything you need to know about preventing your cat scratching furniture.
Scratching is a normal cat behavior. Unfortunately, many owners find it an undesirable habit that they have to put up with.
I have been through the struggle myself as a cat owner for the last 30+ years. If our furry friends don’t have appropriate scratching surfaces, they will ruin our furniture!
The first item to be the victim of your cat’s claws is usually your lovely sofa, and if nothing is done to address the situation, scratching of the bed, wall, wardrobes, and carpets will follow.
Luckily, there are lots of different steps you can take to stop your cat scratching furniture and redirect their scratching routine. I will help you solve these problems and, as a result, the relationship between you and your furry friend will improve.
Why do cats scratch?
First of all, we need to understand why a cat scratches.
Cats sociability varies amongst individuals, but in general, they will prefer to live a solitary lifestyle away from other cats. Cats will only fight as a last resort but they will try their best to avoid confrontation in the first place.
In order to avoid face-to-face clashes, they will prefer to communicate with their neighbour cats with scent messages as they have an extremely good sense of smell.
Cats have scent glands in the pads of their feet. Everytime they scratch, they leave scent messages to other cats. These are called pheromones. According to the AAFP and ISFM Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines, cats will also rub their face on different surfaces throughout your home when they feel vulnerable, as a way to reassure themselves. Scratching achieves a similar goal as well. It also helps them recognise their own environment and create a sense of comfort and security. 1
Sharpening their claws
Cats scratch to maintain their claws and to keep them sharpened. The older outer sheath will be removed during scratching to reveal a new, sharper claw.
Our feline friends are hunters and climbers so it’s in their best interest to keep those claws as healthy as possible. They will use their sharp claws to climb trees or fences, to hunt small prey or defend themselves against rivals or predators.
Cats love to play. If your home environment doesn’t provide enough stimulus for your cat to engage in mimicking predatory play behavior, your cat will get bored and will find other ways to entertain himself.1
It could start with a tiny thread sticking out of your sofa’s cushion. Next thing you know, half the side of your couch is shredded to pieces. Just remember that your furry friend is not doing it to be mischievous or to get back at you. He’s just expressing a natural behavior.
Cats love scratching, it is a part of their daily routine of marking their territory and stretching those muscles after a good rest. Some cats will just be in the habit of excessively scratching particular areas of the house over and over again. It is best to address those issues as earlier on as possible to redirect the scratching behavior on things that are less valuable to you.
Cats do not understand punishment and may see it as attention, even if it’s negative. So avoid punishing them at all cost. That means no shouting at the cat, hitting the cat, using electrical devices or squirting with water.
If your cat is scratching because she is feeling vulnerable, punishing her will make her even more insecure and will not solve your scratching problem. Moreover, your cat could end up exhibiting more unwanted problem behavior.
You also want her to feel the most secure in your presence, and not the reason why she feels threatened.
How to prevent your cat scratching furniture?
Don’t attempt to stop your cat scratching altogether. Scratching is a necessity and a natural activity that they must engage in. Scratching will keep your cat healthy in body and mind. You need to think smart, and redirect that behavior by giving your cat a more suitable scratching post.
Provide scratching areas
Your cat may have a preference for a vertical or a horizontal scratching area. My cat loves both, so I provided him with both types of scratching areas.
You need to find a good scratching post, which your cat can dig his claws into and make visible scratches on. One made of sisal rope is ideal as it’s one of the best materials that cats love to scratch.
Your scratching post or cat tree must be heavy so it can’t topple over when your cat scratches. It also must be tall enough so your cat can completely stretch upward. A cat tree can also fit in with your home. Check our our favorite stylish cat trees here.
For cats that prefer a vertical scratching surface, scratch pads can be bought made out of cardboard, which is one of my cat’s favorites! You can also make a scratch pad by using carpet or sisal rope on a sturdy structure.
It’s a good idea to test a few options to find which one your cat prefers best. You may also want to pre-scratch your cat’s scratching area with a screw as it may make it more enticing to him. I would suggest to rub the new scratching area with your cat’s scent, by gently rubbing a cloth against your cat’s face and foot pads (if he tolerates it) and then applying it to the new scratching post. You could also rub the cloth on the unwanted scratches from the sofa, or carpet, and rubbing it on the new substrate.
You could also try a bit of dry catnip on scratching pads and catnip spray on scratching post to initiate a positive response to your new scratching area. As a rule, have at least 1 scratching post per cat if you live in a multi-cat household.
Position scratching areas in the perfect locations
If your furry friend is already scratching an item of furniture or carpet, I recommend to place the scratching post or pad as close to that item of furniture as possible. If he scratches the sofa, you could get a couch scratching post. You can also get a couch-corner scratching post made out of sisal rope. If your cat scratches the carpet, I would place a horizontal scratching pad on this area of carpet.
With time, you will be able to slowly and gradually move your scratching post or pad in a more convenient place.
It would be a good idea to place a scratching post at an entrance or exit, which is also a place they tend to scratch as it usually reinforces the limit of their territory.
If your cat is allowed to go outdoors, make sure you provide vertical and horizontal scratching areas outside in your garden. A tree could suffice, or if not a wooden upright post that you could cover with sisal rope. If your cat has as many opportunities to scratch just outside your home, he may be less likely to scratch as soon as he enters your house.
Provide enough exercise and play opportunities
Make sure you take the time to play regularly with your cat with toys. There are many different toys on the market that are available. You don’t have to spend a fortune on toys. Sometimes just a cheap ping pong ball or a cardboard box is enough to keep them entertained for hours.
Make your cat feel safe and secure
This is a very important point as cats may excessively scratch furniture if they feel threatened or anxious. Make sure that your cat has unrestricted access to a quiet or safe place that will be hidden away from other animals or children.
Cats like to be in control, so respect their need for quiet times. My cat Yoshi’s quiet place is at the top of his cat tree. If he is sleeping up there, I know not to disturb him. In the past, he has gently let me know that I am not to bother him whilst resting at the top of his cat tree.
If you have a multi-cat household, make sure that your cats are able to be fed in separate areas of the house and that you have one litter tray for each cat and an extra one so they don’t compete for resources. This will reduce negative conflict between your cats and therefore make them less anxious and less likely to scratch furniture.
Keep strangers out
Make sure that no unwanted visitors, such as a neighborhood cat, come into your house. Otherwise, your cat may feel like he has to scent mark and visually mark his territory and may start scratching. So I would advise not to have a cat flap that can be opened by any cat. You also need to make sure your cat can come in and out of your house whenever he needs, and not be stuck outside.
The only cat flap I would recommend is one that recognizes your cat’s microchip as he approaches the cat flap. We have installed one for our cat at home, and it’s the best investment we’ve made. The cat flap recognizes his microchip and will only let him in. I can still control his ins and outs by a button on the cat flap, for example if I want him to stay indoors. If you have multiple cats, this type of cat flap can recognize up to 20 microchips so it is ideal.
The use of pheromone sprays
You could try using a synthetic cat appeasing pheromone called Feliway. It mimics the feel-good pheromones of cats and helps them feel more relaxed. You can spray it on new scratching areas of your choice to help redirect your cat’s scratching behavior. Any cat friendly veterinary practice I have worked for always keeps a bottle of Feliway to keep their cat patients as calm as possible. You can also buy it as a plug-in diffuser.
Clean scratched areas
Once you have provided your cat with other alternatives, clean the unwanted scratching areas with soap and warm water to help erase that scent mark.
Never, ever declaw
Whatever you do, never declaw your cat. It is completely illegal in the UK and many other countries in the world as it is an unethical practice. Having worked in the UK throughout my career, I have never encountered the practice of this type of procedure. A study has been done on the aftermath of declawing cats, and veterinarians have reported that there are short and long term complications attributed to declawing, such as haemorrhaging and pain straight after the procedure. Long-term complications include radial nerve paralysis, infection, incomplete healing, tissue necrosis from improper bandage placement, development of palmigrade stance, chronic pain, abnormal gait and persistent lameness. It has been suggested that declawing reduces normal lumbar muscle use which resulted into chronic back pain.2
In short, declawing your cat will be a much more expensive and painful ordeal for your cat, and will threaten his welfare, as compared to trying to fix the problem by providing other alternatives.
- Ellis, S L H et al (2013) AAFP and ISFM Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 15: 219-230.
- Kogan, L.R. et al (2016) Feline Onychectomy: Current practices and perceptions of veterinarians in Ontario, Canada. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 57 (9): 969-975.