How to Stop a Cat From Scratching Furniture

By Betty Lewis

Does your sofa look like Freddy Krueger had his way with it? Are the drapes more suited to Edward Scissorhands' house? The key to stopping your cat from scratching furniture is to acknowledge that it's natural cat behavior. Understanding why your cat scratches will help you channel her instincts in a more appropriate, less destructive way.

It's So Much More Than Scratching

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When your cat scratches your chair, she's doing more than shredding the upholstery; she's marking, exercising and manicuring her nails all in one go. The act of clawing, whether on a horizontal or vertical surface, involves stretching and working the muscles of her front legs and chest, giving her a mini workout. Scratching helps move along the old outer claws, making way for her newer, sharper claws. It's also an effective way for her to mark the spot as her own, not just from the claw marks she leaves behind, but through the scent glands on her paw pads. Finally, scratching feels good for her. Watch your kitty after she wakes from her nap; chances are she'll go scratch and stretch before she goes about her business.

So Many Options

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There are clawing posts, cat trees, horizontal clawing pads and rugs -- a whole host of scratching options on the market to choose from. Keep in mind that what's appealing for one cat to scratch isn't necessarily appealing for another. Generally, cats like sisal fabric, because it gives them something to really sink their claws into. Wood, cardboard, upholstery and carpeting -- the front and back -- are also common targets. Choose a few different materials and see what she gravitates towards. Any clawing post or pad should be stable; a cat won't claw something that may fall over on her. As well, it should provide her room for a good stretch; her clawing post will be more effective, and tempting, if it's at least 28 inches tall.

Redirecting Her Scratching

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It will take as little as a few weeks to as long as several months to retrain your cat on where to claw. Rubbing her new posts with catnip, affixing toys to them or simply playing chase the mouse around them will give her the idea that this is a great place to engage in her happy scratching behavior. Put her new scratching targets in her favorite spots, not back in a corner; you want them where she'll see them and use them. As she begins to use them, gradually move them to where you prefer them. In the meantime, discourage her from her no-no spots by covering them with double-sided tape or foil. Cotton balls soaked with citrus may keep her away, too. And if you catch her in the act, do not hit her; clap your hands, or better still, give her a squirt with a water gun so she knows she chose the wrong spot.

How You Can Help

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Don't take your cat to the scratching post and try to make her scratch; this will only frustrate her and impede your progress. Don't punish her for doing what comes naturally. Check her nails about every two weeks to see if they need trimmed, minimizing potential damage. When she takes to an appropriate scratching spot, let her have it, no matter how ugly it gets. It's working and she'll only scratch elsewhere if you take away her favorite object.

A Note About Declawing

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There's no doubt scratching can be destructive to your home; however, the ASPCA urges all cat owners to resist the urge to declaw a cat. Declawing isn't a matter of permanently trimming her claws; it's amputation, chopping off the last joint of your cat's toes. It is a painful process and sometimes paves the way for other behavioral issues, such as litter box problems. Consider nail guards as a safe alternative for your cat.