Cats love to scratch It’s a normal, instinctive behaviour.
Sadly, their target is often our valuable furniture or furnishings. Apart from the pure financial destruction, this behaviour can sometimes lead to conflict between owners.
For example, two of our adopted cats are the bi-product of a marital conflict. As kittens, they took a liking to some expensive curtains. The owner couple argued (I think they had other issues too) and finally abandoned them in our building basement, where we found them. In case you’re wondering, the building staff knew we were cat-lovers and told us the background story.
Why do cats scratch?
Cats scratch for many reasons: to remove the dead outer layer of their claws, to mark their territory by leaving both a visual mark and a scent (they have scent glands on their paws), and to stretch their bodies and flex their feet and claws.
According to the Humane Society of the USA, most cats are attracted to anything with a nubby, coarse or textured surface, or something they can really sink their claws into.
So how do we stop cats from scratching furniture?
It’s all about basic training. The trick is to teach your cat what they can scratch, what they can’t and to give them a viable alternative (more on that later). Love them as we do, kitty is unlikely to develop a refined sense of value and discretion when it comes to satisfying its need to scratch. Anything is fair game.
When you notice ‘bad’ behaviour, move your cat to your desired alternative. Lift your cat away from the furniture and reward it with some love and perhaps a snack.
Just like speeding tickets, punishment ‘after the fact’ is not as effective in changing behaviour as receiving an on-the-spot fine. Scolding your cat only works if you catch them scratching an off-limits object. If you try to punish them after the fact, they won’t know what they’ve done wrong and could learn to fear you. Never yell at or hit your cat as punishment: they may start to avoid you altogether.
If you do catch your cat shredding the new sofa or your velvet curtains, interrupt them by making a loud noise (clap your hands, shake a can of pennies or pebbles, slap the wall) and redirect their scratching to one of the acceptable items. Do this consistently to drill the message home.
Get the family involved so everyone plays a part and drives consistent behaviour from the household, not just from you.
Some immediate action
Start by observing kitty’s behaviour. No need for a white coat and clip-board here. Just watch and notice. The target scratching furniture can be single piece or a range of items – usually the most expensive and precious.
Once you’ve figured out your cat’s preferences, you’re halfway there.
Scratching behaviour depends mostly on texture, so cover off-limits furnishings with things your cat will find unappealing on their paws, like double-sided sticky tape or aluminium foil. Apparently, cats don’t like the smell of citrus or menthol. In cases with non-fabric surfaces, try attaching cotton balls soaked in cologne or a muscle rub to the places you want them to leave alone.
You may have to keep these items in place for a few weeks or months, or until your cat has completely migrated to the scratcher.
The ol’ ‘Bait and Switch’
However much you discourage kitty from scratching your beloved furniture, they still need to scratch. So the issue is ensuring you provide a viable and attractive alternative. Here beginneth the lesson; ‘The science of cat scratchers’!
Scratching posts and pads are available in all shapes, sizes and materials. If you’re handy, you can even make them yourself with rope, the back side of a carpet square or a small log with the bark still on.
After observing out cats (3) over a period of years and testing various alternatives (yes, we did have clipboards!), we found sisal to be the most irresistible surface. Of course there are other surfaces, sometimes cheaper, but we wanted a solution that would last longer, look better and be environmentally responsible.
Cardboard is bio-degradable but what a mess! And cardboard scratchers only seemed to last a few weeks with our three. Furthermore, a drop of water or rain and they’re mulch!
Looks are important
I’m staggered to see homes that have been designed and furnished with such care and expense, only to find horrible eyesores for their pets comfort or enjoyment. As cats have become part of our family, we figured they deserved better ‘furniture’ that would not detract from the overall interior design. That’s how Levo was born.
Just like any real estate, location is critical
Without access to maps or apps, kitty is going to rely on instinct when it comes time to find a place for a good scratch.
Oddly, our cats seem to enjoy a scratch after we have a boisterous play session with them. Seems like it’s all part of the fun.
Put the scratcher where your cat wants them — like next to their sleeping spot for a quick stretch after a nap or by the front door for a really intense session after they greet you. Place posts in prominent spots on each level of the house so they don’t have to go far to indulge.
Once your cat is regularly using their scratcher, you can gradually move it where you’d like it. But, really, why tempt fate? Better to leave it in their favourite spot so they leave your valuable furniture unscathed.
More good advice from Humane Society of the USA;
Cats who are sedentary may not wear down their claws through exercise and their nails can become overgrown. Left untrimmed, claws can grow into your cat’s paw pads, leading to infection, pain and difficulty walking or using the litter box.
Check your cat’s claws every couple of weeks to see if they need to be clipped. We find that blunt claws also limit the personal injury when one of our cats gets a fright while sitting on our lap!
Cats need to scratch and good furniture can be saved. Hallelujah!
So let’s give them something good to scratch. Something that looks good, lasts at least 4/9 lives and won’t expand the carbon footprint.