Scratching is a natural behavior for our feline friends, and furniture is a tempting target for their fabric-shredding claws. Save your furniture with these tricks. Photo byjeknee.
Domesticated cats still have strong instincts from life in the wild. Despite your best efforts to curb them, attempting to stop a cat from scratching and climbing is a nearly impossible task. By taking a multi-prong approach to modifying their behavior, you can save your furniture and keep your cat healthy and happy. The following tips are ordered by ease of implementation; start at the top of the list and work down if earlier solutions haven’t fully solved the problem.
Provide Appropriate Scratching Surfaces
You will have absolutely zero success training your cat not to scratch your table legs or the arm of your couch if you don’t provide something appropriate the cat can scratch instead. An appropriate scratching surface for a cat has several important characteristics. Photo by safetypinheart.
The most important characteristic is weight. If a scratching post or climbing tree feels wobbly or unsteady, the cat will almost always abandon using it. Make sure that any scratching post you intend to build or purchase will be stable enough to present a sturdy scratching surface. The scratching surface also needs to be at least tall enough for the cat to fully stretch itself out while scratching. In other words, a short scratching post will be ignored for the nice tall table leg. If you have the space, a scratching post should be tall and sturdy enough for your cat to also indulge its climbing instincts. While most cats prefer to stretch up and scratch, some are just as fond as stretching out horizontally. A flat scratching surface like this DIY cardboard scratching pad is ideal for those cats.
The final point of consideration is the material the scratching surface is made out of. Avoid scratching posts covered in carpet. Not only is the carpet not very durable, but cheap carpet scratching posts often have carpet with looped fibers which will snag on your cat’s claws, discouraging use at best and causing an injury at worst. Sisal is a natural fiber rope and when wrapped tightly around a post is about as close to a tree trunk as you’ll get without chopping a tree down and dragging it into your house.
Put the scratching post or climbing tree in a sunny location and encourage your cat to explore it with a sprinkling of catnip leaves or a spray of catnip oil. I highly recommend getting some catnip spray, as it’s like a mind control drug for your cat. A final note on larger scratching posts: if you’re thinking about building your own, it’s only really worth it if you have access to cheap or free materials like leftover lumber. The return on investment for building a large scratching post or cat tree is nearly zero if you have to buy all the materials yourself and spend a weekend building it. I speak from the voice of experience—wrapping hundreds of feet of sisal rope is a tedious and time-consuming project.
Make Scratching Improper Surfaces Unpleasant
This does not mean yelling at your cat. Cats are extremely smart animals. If you clap your hands at, yell at, or strike your cat when it is scratching inappropriately, it will quickly associate the punishment with you and simply avoid scratching when you are around. When you’re at work however, your love seat will be targeted for destruction. You want to discourage scratching on furniture without the cat viewing you as the troll that guards the couch. Photo by sara.atkin.
A small spray bottle can be an effective tool when you’re home and able to observe the cat. Never yell or make it known to the cat that you are the source of the spritz of water hitting it. You want the cat to associate scratching on the couch or furiously digging into the carpet with the apparently random blast of water, not with you being nearby. That also means, unfortunately, not laughing when the cat has an extremely disconcerted look on its face after getting spritzed.
Making the surface itself unappealing is also an excellent tact. Double-sided tape is an excellent deterrent, for example. When a favorite scratching spot is suddenly sticky instead of soothing, the cat will quickly abandon it. Make sure to pay close attention to the kind of tape you purchase, as you want removable double-sided tape, not permanent double-sided tape. The removable kind has a lighter adhesive intended for affixing party decorations to walls and other temporary usage. Make sure to test a small area before wrapping up the entire side of your favorite chair! If you have trouble finding suitable double-sided tape, there’s a commercial product called Sticky Paws.
It can also help to spray the area being scratched with Febreeze or another odor removing spray. Cats also tend to dislike citrus scents, so a natural orange or lemon air freshener sprayed on the furniture can be quite effective. If the favored scratching spot smells odd and the new scratching post smells like catnip, it won’t be a tough choice.
Trim the Claws
Depending on the age and temperament of your cat, this will either be an easy task or a horrible trial. If you have a kitten or young cat, now is the time to get them used to having their nails trimmed. Trimming the nails can be especially helpful during the training phase of transitioning your cat to appropriate scratching surfaces. Removing even the tiniest bit from a cat’s nail makes it less of a fabric-unraveling needle sharp hook. When training one of my cats away from the couch she’d taken a liking to, keeping her nails trimmed completely removed her ability to snag the fibers of the couch and actually damage it. If you’ve never trimmed a cat’s nails before, it’s not as daunting as it sounds. Check out this tutorial at wikiHow for details on how to safely trim your cat’s nails. Photo bykevindooley.
When you approach your cat’s scratching as a natural behavior instead of a destructive prank you have no control over, it becomes much easier to find a happy solution for the cat and relief for your abused furniture. Before investing money and time into a solution for your cat, take the time to observe your cat in action. Do they go and scratch right after waking up from a nap? Do they scratch excitedly after you play with them? Knowing how your cat likes to scratch, and when they scratch, will help you decide what kind of scratching posts and trees they would enjoy and where it would be best to place them.
If you’ve had your own luck curbing your cat’s destructive scratching, let’s hear about it in the comments. Help your fellow readers spare their couches the death of a thousand claws.
Until next time – Dan