How to keep cats from scratching furniture? Smart behaviorists have answers
Give the furniture love, not scratches!
Welcome to another interview with Mikel and Dilara of Feline Minds, two accomplished cat behavior consultants from my part of the world.
If you know anyone who thinks they have a “bad cat” (or even wants to give their cat away) due to furniture scratching, please share this article with them!
My experience is that furniture scratching is one of the easiest behaviors to change, if you go about it the right way. We have a lovely couch with no scratches. I have always prevented furniture scratching pretty easily using the technique that Mikel and Dilara describe below.
I hope this strategy works for you too–please let me know.
Why do cats love to scratch furniture?
- It feels good (stretches and tones back muscles)
- It allows them to mark their territory using both visual and olfactory cues (their paws have scent glands)
- It helps them shed the outer sheath of their claws
So – cats need to scratch something, and if they don’t have an appropriate place to scratch or the scratching post isn’t what they like, the furniture is a likely target!
Cats often have specific preferences for textures, orientation (vertical or horizontal), height, sturdiness and location of scratched objects.
Furniture often has a nice, nubby texture, good for claws to get a hold of. It is tall and sturdy enough for them to dig into while standing upright, without wobbling. Chairs and couches are often in a prime location, facing a doorway, or in a main area that the cat and/or family spend time hanging out.
So it’s important to have a good scratching post that can compete with the furniture as a scratching implement!”
What are a couple things people should do to prevent their cat from scratching furniture?
“First of all, provide a great scratching post(s) for your cat in a location they are likely to use it:
- Put it in places they hang out, especially after napping and eating, and in main areas of the home.
- Don’t hide it in the garage or some room of the house that no one spends time in.
- Most cats prefer a sisal texture and it is very important that the post is tall (minimum of three feet) and sturdy.
- Getting a cat condo or tree can provide scratching, playing AND perching areas.
- Having multiple posts and trees supplemented with cardboard scratch pads is a great way to prevent “problem scratching.”
Second, you must make the furniture undesirable for scratching while increasing the appeal of the scratch post:
- Plastic or fabric drapes over furniture will help make them unappealing to scratch.
- Sticky Paws is a product made to deter cats from scratching furniture.
(Note from Liz: The great news is that deterrents like Sticky Paws don’t need to be left in place forever. After a few weeks, cats typically avoid the area even after you remove Sticky Paws! That’s how cats are.)
- You need to encourage your cat to use the post, but DON’T carry your cat to the post and move their paws on it – they know what to do and this experience may make them avoid the post. Instead, use toys or treats to lure your cat to the post, or make a scratching sound with your fingernails on the post to encourage them to check it out. (Note from Liz: Try rubbing catnip on the post!)
- Give them praise AND lots of treats every time they use the post at first – this will definitely encourage future use!”
Sticky Paws has worked great for us. Are there any measures you want to caution against?
“Don’t waste your money on a tiny carpeted scratching ‘post’ (the ones they sell in the pet stores that cost about $15-20 and are about a foot high). Most adult cats won’t use them.
It’s really worth the extra money to invest in a good scratching post, such as the Ultimate Scratching Post, which is one of our favorites.
Don’t use a squirt bottle or other “discipline” to correct furniture scratching – first of all, this type of punishment often has the side effect of creating an adversarial relationship with your cat; and your cat will figure out that the punishment only happens when you are around — they will just scratch the furniture when you’re not home.”
One more tip
“Keeping cats’ nails short definitely limits any damage they can do and it’s a humane alternative to declawing. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we offer an in-home claw clipping service – for those who have a tough time trimming their cat’s nails, we can do it for you and give you some tips on how to do it yourself!”
- Phone consult: $60 first hour, then $15/quarter hour
- Home consult: $125 + travel fees if extensive travel is required beyond the San Francisco Bay Area
- Introducing another cat or new baby? Preventative counseling at a reduced rate. They can help you select your new cat or create a smooth transition with cat or baby introductions.
So far “Scratch Lounge” has been a a no miss for every cat that I’ve given one to; my own and to friends and family with cats to. They really do like lounging in it as much as they do like scratching on it to. The cardboard is really heavy duty so it lasts a long time. You can flip all three of the scratching surfaces over and use the other side once one side is worn out.
The video on their site is really cute. It shows all types of cats using one; even some wild cats like a serval and a bobcat.
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I have never trimmed the cat’s nails, but I have tried different devices for scratching… sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t… the last girl at home had a natural piece of wood and used it thoroughly. I noticed that when one of them chooses a device as their favorite, the others do not use it… Have you seen something like that?
Maru, I like the natural wood idea–sure does make sense. I have not seen cats ‘divide and conquer” with scratching as you mention, but then we tend to have no more than 1-2 cats at a time. (Thinking about a 3rd!) It does seem reasonable that some cats would want to claim their own scratching territory sometimes–probably depending on how crowded they feel.
I had lived with three, it is a nice number gets out the only-one-to-share-or-love-or-fight situation 😉 but can be messy. Depends on how much room you have for them, I think.
When they were three, each one had a place to scratch, and we have plenty of room.
I love the idea of an in-home claw clipping service. I have my cat sitter help me with this with my girls – it’s less stressful for them and goes much quicker having the extra person there. Between that, and lots of treats, nail trims have gone from being a dreaded, stressful event for the cats and me to a 30 second non-event.
Hi Ingrid, Isn’t that in-home mani-pedis for cats sweet? I’m glad you’ve got a good system down with your cats. I confess that we don’t trim Phil & Joel’s nails (yet), and Bastet used to bolt across the house like lightening as soon as she heard anything that even *sounded* like her nail clipper!