Does your cat seem like it wants to scratch every surface of the house? What we deem as destructive behavior is absolutely normal for cats. They love to scratch – it’s just a part of being feline. But, how can we stop cats from scratching the furniture?
Fortunately, we have some simple tips to keep your cat’s claws off your walls and furnishings. For the best results, it pays to understand why your cat scratches in the first place. Once you’re armed with this knowledge you can formulate the best game plan.
Why Do Cats Scratch Furniture?
To cats, scratching is just as normal as meowing and purring. In fact, according to the influential book Feline Behavior, kittens begin to retract their claws at approximately 28 days old and begin scratching by 35 days old. There are several reasons why cats may engage in scratching behavior, including:
- Scratching is a form of exercise for them. Remember, cats are predatory animals, so their instinct is to stay alert and limber in case they need to hunt prey.
- This process allows them to stretch out their bodies as well as extend and retract their nails. Again, this is part of their predatory instinct.
- The sensation of scratching is pleasant to cats.
- Scratching also helps your cat remove outer nail sheaths; in other words, your cat is shedding its old claws. This is because the nail has grown beyond the blood supply, so it must be discarded in order to make room for a newer and sharper claw.
- Scratching is also a way to mark the cat’s territory by leaving feline pheromones. These pheromones are secreted via interdigital glands located between the pads of their paws. The gouges in the furniture may also act as visual cues to other cats.
In other words, cats like to scratch because it gives them something to do, makes them ready for hunting, and tells other cats, “Hey! This is my territory so stay away!”
However, when it starts negatively affecting their owners’ lives and property, then it is officially known as destructive scratching. According to a 2016 survey in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, over 60% of cat owners report destructive scratching. This is a significant percentage, meaning that destructive scratching is a widespread problem that may require novel solutions.
People use many tactics to stop their cats from scratching furniture. These methods range from simple to extreme.
Should You Declaw Your Cat?
In the past declawing cats was normal. Although, most experts now agree that it’s not a necessary procedure and may actually be detrimental. First, let’s discuss what procedures actually exist:
Collectively known as declawing, this is the surgical removal of the distal phalanges. Distal phalanges are the end bones which we refer to as claws.
A surgical procedure where they cut the tendons that allow a cat to extend its claws.
Of these two, the tendonectomy is less painful for the cat. However, in recent years, these elective procedures have become less common because they are generally considered to be unnecessary and even detrimental to the cat. For example, this study from 2017 concluded that declawed cats were more likely to suffer from:
- Back pain
- Excessive grooming
- Urinating and/or defecating outside of the litter box
Consequently, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) does not recommend declawing. In addition to these negative side effects, declawing a cat also makes them helpless and unable to defend themselves, especially in situations where they may leave the house.
It should also be noted that both the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) both consider declawing to be animal cruelty.
Are Claw Caps Bad for Cats?
Aka cat nail caps, these are essentially tiny plastic caps that are glued onto your cat’s claws. Contrary to popular belief, they do not keep your cat from being able to retract their claws. They should still be able to perform all the natural movements as long as the caps are the right size and they’re attached properly.
These claw caps will not stop your cat from attempting to scratch the furniture. However, the caps will cover the claws, rendering your cat unable to shred furnishings. Caps can also be a great option for:
- Elderly cat owners who have sensitive skin and can bleed easily if scratched
- Families with young children who may unwittingly antagonize the cat
- A house with a lot of antique rugs, quilts, and/or furniture
- Cats that display aggressive behavior
- Cats that have sensitive skin, especially hairless or sphinx breeds
On the other hand, there are some limitations to this method. Generally, claw caps are not ideal if:
- The cat spends a lot of time outdoors.
- The owner cannot maintain a strict 4 to 6-week claw trim and cap replacement schedule.
- The cat rejects the caps and constantly bites or picks them off.
5 Simple Home Remedies to Stop Cats from Scratching Furniture
So far, we’ve established that declawing isn’t good for the cat and that caps can be a real hassle. Not to worry, there are other less intrusive options.
1) Make Use of a Scratching Post
Install a scratching post! This is your best bet as it will allow your cat to continue their scratching behavior. Remember, it’s normal and even healthy for cats to scratch.
Most researchers and experts agree that a scratching post is the best solution. Furthermore, when choosing the purrrfect scratching post, it’s absolutely crucial that you consider the following:
In what area of the house or apartment does your cat like to scratch? Is it in a quiet section or is it in a high-traffic area? Do they prefer to do it in a darker corner or near windows?
The texture of the post is important, so what kind of materials does your cat like to scratch? The most common are sisal rope, corrugated cardboard, or carpet. If your cat has started scratching something new, then examine the texture and try to find a post that resembles it.
Does your cat scratch vertically or horizontally? You will want to get a post that mimics your cat’s scratching preferences.
Length and Height
Remember that cats like to scratch in order to stretch, so how far does your cat extend their body when scratching? For example, for vertical scratchers, you will need at least 3 feet in height along with a wide base in order to support the structure.
Training Your Cat to Scratch the Post
Ok, once you obtain a post how do you get your cat to scratch it instead of the furniture? Well, for starters it helps to put the post near areas your cat has previously scratched. This helps the cat associate the post with scratching. Use voice tone and reward to let your cat know that the post is ok to scratch and the furniture is not. With proper training, cats should easily make the switch from furniture to post.
Pheromones can also help do the trick. According to this 2018 study, feline pheromones can be used to “mark” the furniture and encourage the cat to scratch it. It’s also possible to apply catnip so that they feel the urge to engage with the scratching post, usually as a form of exercise and play. Remember, this is part of the reason why cats engage in this behavior in the first place.
2) Try Double-Sided Sticky Tape
You can place double-sided sticky tape or tinfoil on the furniture. Your cat will find the sensation and texture unpleasant and may stop engaging in the destructive scratching. However, it is also unsightly for you as you will need to have tape and tinfoil all over your house.
3) Train Your Cat Not to Scratch
You could also train your cat to stop the destructive scratching via positive reinforcement training with snacks and treats as well as clicker training to encourage proper behavior.
4) Trim Your Cat’s Nails Often
It’s possible to frequently trim your cat’s claws (every 1 to 2 weeks), although this can quickly become a hassle.
5) Startle them Away
As a last resort, and only if you catch them in the act, you could try to startle your cat by clapping your hands or spraying them with water. This approach has decidedly mixed results as it may only teach your cat to fear you and not to stop the destructive scratching. In fact, there is an entire school of thought among animal behavior experts who consider any form of punishment to be ineffective and even counterproductive.
If your cat scratches the furniture don’t choose to declaw it. Although destructive scratching can be an awfully annoying and even expensive behavior, you should always consider installing a scratching post that has been built to fit your cat’s needs. Trust us, they’ll come to love it and it’ll save your poor furniture from kitty destruction!