Scratching & furniture destruction. It’s one of the top reasons cats are given up to shelters.
The good news is, to fix it, all you need is a little understanding and knowledge. Knowing what drives them to do it in the first place is the first step in stopping this behaviour in your home.
Firstly, I want to say that scratching is an innate, natural behaviour, shaped by millions of years of evolution. If you think you’re going to get your cat to stop scratching altogether, you’re mistaken!
Instead, we need to provide appropriate alternatives for them to scratch. Though the definition of “appropriate” may differ between you and your furry family member!
Many clients of mine have said, “But Chris – I have a scratching post – see!” and then they will generally always point me to a relatively small, wobbly post in the corner. This just isn’t going to cut it for your cat!
Let’s take a moment here to dig a little deeper into the reasons cats scratch, which will point us to some solutions.
Cats like to scratch things in their environment for 4 main reasons:
- Nail maintenance
- Visual territory marking
- Scent territory marking
Because it feels so good to them, they can also do it as a kind of displacement activity when they are nervous or excited (like humans chewing their nails). Some owners will find that their cat runs to the scratching post when they arrive home from work.
I would like to mention here the importance of realising your cat is not behaving maliciously. Many owners are so frustrated that they automatically think the cat is doing it deliberately to annoy them!
It’s simply an in-built, evolutionary, non-negotiable behaviour that your cat needs to perform.
So how do you stop your cat from scratching your expensive lounge or destroying your table? Well, it’s easy, but it does require a little observation and planning.
Firstly we need to deter her from scratching objects you deem innapropriate. Then we need to provide appropriate alternatives. And lastly we need to encourage use of those alternatives. Easy!
Deter your cat from scratching furniture
So how do you deter your cat from scratching your lounge, bed, or other furniture? Well let me start by saying that it’s not punishment. Any amount of hitting, yelling or spraying water will simply start breaking down the bond between you and your cat. And behavioural science has shown again and again that punishment-based behaviour training is ineffective.
What you will need to do is…
Make whatever she is scratching, feel not so good to scratch! Let the object (not you) deter her.
How do we do this? Well, it depends on the object. Upright objects like sofas, beds, tables and so on, can be made uncomfortable to scratch by using double sided tape. Horizontal objects like rugs or carpets can be covered with a plastic carpet runner or even tinfoil in a pinch. Simply cover the area she is scratching with the tape or the runner, and now the texture will be quite aversive to her and over time she will look for alternatives.
This is where the second step comes in.
Provide appropriate alternatives
Now, we know that cats need to scratch, so it isn’t enough just to deter her from whatever inappropriate object she’s scratching. You’ll need to give her other things that you deem appropriate to scratch.
It’s possible that you could go out and spend a bunch of money on a scratching post or two and find that your cat has no interest. And will still prefer to seek out another lounge, table or carpet etc.
This is because you haven’t worked out your cat’s preference.
There are a few things to think about when considering appropriate alternatives for your cats.
Horizontal vs Vertical
First work out what your cat is scratching – is it a vertical object like the lounge or table? Or is it horizontal like a rug or a carpet. Many cats actually like to scratch both, but for instance you might have a vertical scratching post that she does use, but she ALSO scratches the carpet. This means you need to supplement the vertical scratching post with a horizontal scratcher.
So horizontal scratchers are usually made from corrugated carboard or rope, and vertical can be made from a whole lot of different materials. Which brings me to the next point:
What is your cat scratching now? This might give you clues as to what material your cat might prefer. There are many different materials you can get with scratching posts or scratchers. These include, like I said before, corrugated cardboard, rope, carpet, wood etc. You may need to test a few materials to determine your cat’s preference in some cases.
Standalone post vs cat tree/tower
Many cat trees can serve double duty as a scratching object also. In many cases, this is fine, provided you have enough cat trees. Many cats like to scratch in more than one location around their territory, so allowing for this is necessary.
Standalone scratching posts are great because they don’t take up such a large footprint and you can move them around a lot easier and have more in the same sized space.
Size & Sturdiness
Size and sturdiness are really important. If you’re looking at a vertical, standalone scratching post, it will need to be tall, like at least 85cm or so. Many of the scratching posts you find in the pet shops are made for kittens and are totally inadequate. Remember, your cat likes to stretch and needs to reach right up high to get a good stretch. Posts that are too small or wobbly are likely to not be used.
If you’re handy, you can make an excellent scratching post. There are heaps of DIY solutions online.
Location is important, especially when you’re trying to stop a cat from scratching the lounge.
Firstly, you need to put it as close as possible to the other “crime scene(s)”. If it’s the couch or the bed for instance, put the scratching post right next to where she scratches, or even wedge the base under the lounge or bed. The idea is that if she doesn’t like the feel of the double-sided tape or whatever you used, she can then immediately choose the new object because it’s right there.
Also, if you consider where cat’s scratch in the first place, it’s usually in the core areas of the home, that is, like in socially significant locations or locations you use a lot. Cat’s like to mingle their smell with yours, that’s why many of the crime scenes are in the loungeroom or bedroom!
So use this knowledge to place your scratching posts. Don’t just put one in the back of the garage or laundry and expect your cat to use it. Your cat has already shown you were it’s important for her to scratch and mark. So put the scratching posts there. If you’re worried about aesthetics, have a look online at all of the cool and modern scratchers that are available. I’m sure you can find an appropriate one that will fit in with your house.
Ok so once you have made it uncomfortable to scratch the furniture, and you’ve provided an alternative, how do we get the cat to use it?
Encourage use of the alternatives
Many cats will use their new post no problem at all. Almost instinctually, they may go and scratch it as soon as you place it in its location.
Other cats may need some encouragement. This is quite easy.
First you can play with your cat and lure her up the scratching post with a toy. Slide the toy up the post, so your cat has to claw the post to follow it. This will get her used to digging her claws into the new object.
Cat-nip liquid has been shown to help too. Put some drops up the scratching post and on the top.
Other things you can do are to scratch it yourself while your cat can see you (yes, I’ve seen this work in many circumstances!), and also maybe rubbing a shirt or something that smells like you on the post. This can make your cat want to put their scent on it as well.
Lastly, praise your cat when she does it. Positive reinforcement works well (much better than punishment). Every time you see her use the post, give her praise and maybe a treat. Though don’t be too over the top or you’ll scare her, especially if you’ve previously been yelling at her for scratching the furniture.
So that’s it. The formula to stop your cat scratching your furniture. I’ll say it again. Remember that cats need to scratch, so if you don’t want them scratching your furniture, you need to give them something else appropriate.