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Does your sofa look like Freddy Krueger had his way with it? Are the drapes more suited to Edward Scissorhands' house? One key to stopping your cat from scratching furniture is to acknowledge that it's natural cat behavior, and then to provide an alternative surface for this instinct. Understanding why your cat scratches will help you channel their need to scratch in a more appropriate, less destructive way.
Purpose of cat scratching
When your cat scratches your chair, they are doing more than shredding the upholstery; they are marking, exercising, and manicuring their nails all in one go. The act of clawing, on whatever surface it's done, such as a downed log outdoors or your favorite easy chair indoors, involves stretching and working the muscles of the front legs and chest. This gives the cat a mini workout and stretches their spine.
Cat nails grow in layers, with new layers added on the inside. Scratching helps remove the old outer claws, making way for 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.
Alternatives to scratching on furniture
The options for cat scratching material are almost endless — there are cat scratching posts, cat trees, horizontal clawing pads and rugs and a whole host of scratching surfaces to choose from, including wood, sisal rope or jute, cardboard, or carpet. There are so many options it can feel overwhelming to know what to buy. But your cat's own cat scratching behavior is full of important clues.
For one, do they scratch vertically or horizontally? Some cats like to scratch up a wall or chair leg while others will stretch out and scratch with their paws extended. Your cat might like the arm of the couch while other cats might like the wood of the door trim. Observe how and where your cat prefers to scratch, and then seek out something that matches that as closely as you can.
This Whisker City Cat Tower is covered with jute for those who like to scratch on a rough, nubby surface Others who like horizontal scratching on cardboard might like the Whisker City Double Wide Cat Scratcher. This one comes with a replaceable insert, but once the cardboard starts to shred it's typically even more appealing to cats. Homemade alternatives could be just the thing.
For a cat who scratches on wood door trim, try this wall-mounted wood scratching panel. Some cats even like to scratch at an angle, which would make this EveryYay Scratcher Ramp the perfect option. Better yet, try one unit that has it all, like this cat tree with 17- or 21-inch bed platforms, an angled sisal board, a soft carpet pad, and a jute and rope scratching post.
Cat scratching deterrents
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 Nature's Miracle No-Scratch Cat Deterrent Spray 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 (but the ASPCA says do this as a last resort so they don't start getting scared of you instead of the scratching spot).
Cat scratching tips
If you can't find something that matches what your cat likes to do, then a homemade solution might do the trick. The International Cat Care organization suggests using double-sided tape to tack up carpet squares or pieces of cardboard on the wall. Wrap a piece of wood with sisal rope (you can buy replacement rope, like this Yangbaba Sisal Rope replacement spool) and nail that to your wall or along the bottom of the chair or couch where your cat just can't stop sinking their claws in.
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.
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. If your cat's claws aren't razor sharp, they'll do less damage. Consider giving a treat whenever you notice your cat approaching or using your new scratching post. 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. Cats love to claw in a place that already has their scent.
There's no doubt scratching can be destructive to your home. the best solution will be a combination of behavior changes, retraining, and offering scratching surface location and material alternatives. The ASPCA urges cat owners to not declaw a cat. Declawing 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 if these other options don't redirect your cat's scratching.