Furniture scratching. So many people are convinced this is a behavior displayed by cats just for the sheer thrill of destroying the living room sofa or treasured antique chair. If you live with a cat who has turned your upholstery into mere shreds, you’re probably at your wit’s end in terms of whether keeping kitty means abandoning all hope of ever having intact furniture again.
The problem is that you might’ve gone at this the wrong way. You were trying to train your cat to NOT do something that is actually a normal and essential part of being feline.
Scratching is a Normal Behavior for Your Cat
Scratching is important and more complex than you may realize. You might be under the misconception that scratching is merely your cat’s attempt to sharpen his claws to razor-sharp perfection or that the behavior is based on a willful attempt to get back at you or destroy his surroundings. If you view the cat’s motivation for scratching as just a willful act of destruction, you run the risk of damaging the relationship you have with your cat because he’ll become afraid to scratch in your presence to avoid physical or verbal punishment. Since he still has a natural need to scratch, the behavior will still be done but it’ll occur when you aren’t around.
Don’t Resort to Declawing
Having claws is a vital part of a cat’s physical and emotional health. Declawing is a cruel and inhumane practice and is the equivalent of amputation. Pain can last long after the healing process and may even continue for the rest of the cat’s life. The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery recently published research indicating that declawing increases the risk of long-term or persistent pain, which can result in behaviors such as litter box avoidance, aggression/biting and over-grooming. Here’s the study if you’d like to read the results: Pain and Adverse Behavior in Declawed Cats
Scratching is Good for the Claws
When your cat scratches on an object, it removes the outer dead sheath of the nail and exposes the healthy new growth underneath. If you look at the location where your cat likes to scratch, you may find several half-moon shaped nail sheaths. Scratching is how the cat sharpens the claws so don’t be under the misconception that banning your cat from scratching will keep the nails blunt. The nails will still grow but scratching will help keep them healthy.
Scratching Enables Your Cat to Stretch
In addition to conditioning the claws, it’s a very effective way for the cat to stretch his back and shoulder muscles. Imagine how good it must feel to be able to fully unkink those muscles after sleep in a tight little ball.
Scratching Serves as a Marking Behavior for Cats
The marks left on an object when the cat rakes his claws vertically create a visual sign for others who pass by. In an outdoor setting, these visual markers are important because they show approaching cats that they’re entering an area where another cat has been or is currently residing. This advance warning system can reduce the number of actual physical confrontations cats may otherwise have. The visual mark can be seen at a distance. Scratching also creates an olfactory mark as the cat presses his paws onto an object to scratch. There are scent glands in the paw pads that release pheromones as the cat scratches. Any approaching cat who comes close enough to the scratched object will be able to get valuable information about the cat who did the scratching.
Scratching is a Stress-Reliever For Your Cat
Scratching is also used as an emotional release or displacement behavior. When your cat is anxious, happy, excited or frustrated, he can release some of that built-up emotion by scratching. Think of the times you’ve seen your cat scratching on an object as you prepare his dinner or when you’ve come home from work. You may even have noticed him scratching after an encounter with a companion cat. This ability to have an emotional release through scratching is healthy for the cat.
Since scratching is so complex, and a vital part of feline life, you’ll need an effective training method to redirect your cat. You can’t just shoo him away from the sofa. You have to provide a scratching post that meets his needs. The behavior modification technique begins by making sure you have a scratching post that that meets the qualifications: appealing texture, tall enough, stable, and placed in a good location. In general, the most appealing texture for cats is sisal. The rough texture makes it easy for cats to dig their claws in and get an effective scratch. Carpet-covered posts are too soft and don’t meet the needs of most cats when they’re looking for a place to scratch. Additionally, many cats end up getting their claws caught in the carpet loops.
Not Just Any Scratching Post Will Do
The height of the scratching post should enable the cat to get a full stretch. If the post is too small the cat has to hunch over to use it and that doesn’t allow for a good back and neck stretch. If that’s the case, kitty will probably seek out a taller option, and I’ll bet you can figure out what that option will be – your sofa! Make sure the tall post is also very stable. A tall post needs a wide base in order to prevent it from toppling over the first time kitty leans against it.
Location Matters When it Comes to a Scratching Post
Even a great scratching post will just gather dust if you stick it in some far off location. When a cat needs to scratch he’ll look for the closest object that meets his needs. Keep the post where kitty likes to spend time.
If you have more than one cat, you’ll need more than one scratching post. Although you can’t specifically assign a post to a specific cat, if you place the posts in areas where the different cats tend to spend the most time, you may find they may just claim the posts on their own.
For cats who like to scratch horizontally, there are inexpensive corrugated cardboard scratching pads available at your local pet product store.
Train Your Cat to Scratch on the Scratching Post
If your cat has been scratching a piece of furniture, place the scratching post right next to it. You can cover the piece of furniture with a sheet, if the area being scratched is isolated to just a few spots, place a few strips of Sticky Paws on it. This is a double-faced tape made specifically for this purpose. The product is available at your local pet product store. This way, when the cat comes over to scratch the furniture, he’ll see the area isn’t as appealing and at the same time, he’ll notice the much better option in the form of a top of the line scratching post.
Make a Scratching Post at Home
For step-by-step instructions on how to make a homemade scratching post or for more specific help on furniture scratching issues, refer to the book Think Like a Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett. Be sure and also check out, CatWise, the latest book by best-selling author, Pam Johnson-Bennett. In the new book, Pam answers 150 of the most-asked questions on cat behavior and training. Pam’s books are available at bookstores everywhere, through your favorite online book retail site and also here on our website.
Please note that Pam is unable to answer questions posted in the comment section. If you have a question about your cat’s behavior, you can find information in the articles on our website as well as in Pam’s books. If you have a question regarding your cat’s health, please contact your veterinarian.