Taming Your Cat’s Clawing Instinct
Published on April 25, 2012
Are the arms of your furniture growing fringes where they used to be smooth? Does your cat regard them as his own personal tree? Have you reached the point where you're considering covering everything upholstered with tarps? Why can't your cat and your sofa coexist in peace?
From your cat's point of view, that's just what they're doing. Furniture scratching is yet another normal cat behavior that doesn't meld well with our households. Cats scratch vertical surfaces as a means of marking their territory with scent from their foot pads, as well as leaving a nice visual marker — your scarred and tattered furniture. Scratching appears to be pleasurable to cats and entails stretching and exercise.
How to Redirect Your Feline's Scratching
You may have tried scolding, even swatting, your cat for his blatant disregard for your belongings, but chances are it did no good. Your cat may have learned not to scratch in front of you, but his take-home message is that you're crazy and for some reason interfering with his important work — especially when that work comes naturally and feels so good.
You can't get your cat to stop scratching, but you can redirect his scratching to a more acceptable surface. A variety of cat scratching posts and surfaces are available for sale. Cats tend to prefer those that are tall or long enough for them to fully extend their body with front paws stretched above the head — about 28 to 30 inches is good for most cats. The post must be secure enough that it will never topple over no matter what your cat does to it. The surface must be rough, such as fibrous textile, the reverse side of rugs or simulated tree bark. Besides placing scratching surfaces vertically, you can also place them horizontally, using strong tape or staples to hold them securely.
Don't stop with just one post. Remember, a major reason for scratching is to mark territory. Your cat will not be content marking it in only one place. He wants to advertise what's his from as many beacons as he can.
Teach Him to Love His Scratching Post
Where shall the scratching posts be placed? Your biggest clue is where he's chosen to scratch before. Place the post next to any furniture that he likes to scratch. Don't hide the post away — what good is a marker there? A post near his sleeping area is a good idea since many cats like to scratch when they first wake up. In general, the more posts you have, the safer your furniture.
Besides enticing him with the new post, you need to discourage him from using the old favored scratching spot. The old spot will not only be enticing out of habit, but also because it still has his scent on it. You can try moving the furniture a little bit away for now and spraying pet deodorizer on it. You can also spread aluminum foil or double-sided tape where he'd have to stand to scratch in the old spot — or spread them over the entire old scratching surface for now. Both of these may encourage him to find another place. Still, don't expect your cat to immediately jump on the new post and start scratching. You may need to entice him to paw at the new post by encouraging him to chase after a toy or string around it.
Once your cat is using the new post, you can gradually move it farther away and to a more aesthetically pleasing part of your home. If your cat persists in using the old forbidden furniture, now you can bring out the big arsenal and use a squirt gun to spray him if (and only if) you catch him in the act. This works best if he never knows you (or any person) were the one responsible; just let him think the sofa has a secret defense system.
When choosing furniture, keep in mind what cats like to scratch, and buy the opposite. Smooth textures such as leather and velvet seem to be relatively safe surfaces. Rough materials will probably have a short life.
More Ways to Keep Your Furniture Safe
Declawing is a personal decision but is usually not recommended except under unusual circumstances. The safety of a cat without claws can be severely compromised should he get out of the house. Discuss your options with your veterinarian to determine what's best for your cat.
On the other hand, trimming your cat's nails can blunt them so they are not quite so damaging. An even more effective solution for indoor cats is a soft vinyl cap that fits over each nail. After an initial period in which the cat may lick and bite at her nails, most cats quickly accept them. The nails must be replaced every six weeks, depending on how quickly your cat's claws grow. They are available from your veterinarian or other resources.
Finally, the earlier you start to train your cat to use appropriate scratching surfaces, the more likely he will be to prefer scratching posts to expensive chairs for the rest of his life.