Cat scratching is a healthy and natural activity for cats, but it can become a frustrating problem for cat owners when the cat chooses the furniture to scratch.
Why does a cat scratch?
Cats scratch for a number of reasons: to claim their territory, to care for their claws, to stretch and loosen up leg and shoulder muscles and tendons and sometimes to comfort themselves during times of fear or stress.
A cat’s instinct is to let other cats know via scratching that they are there and their immediate environment is their territory. A cat will do this whether or not there is another cat in the vicinity.
When a cat scratches, it leaves two messages. The first message is a visual one and is the claw marks themselves.
The second sign is more subtle and is communicated to the other cat through its sense of smell.
This is called an olfactory sign and is the result of the release of chemical substances called pheromones. Cats have scent glands all over their body, including between their toes in the pads of their feet. When they scratch, pheromones are released from the glands in the paws onto the object they are scratching. This activity is so instinctual that even declawed cats do it.
When cats want to signal ownership, they pointedly scratch objects in the presence of another cat, dog or person they want to impress. Cats will scratch any real estate that is important to them in their world. This includes sleeping areas, the area near their litter box, doorways, etc. and sometimes your furniture.
The design of a cat’s claw is like an onion with new layers growing from the inside and pushing up and through the old layers. When a cat scratches, it removes the old layer and lets the new layer surface. This helps the cat keep its claws sharp for self defense.
You may see the transparent shell of the old claw layer near where the cat scratches.
Scratching feels good to cats. It provides aerobic exercise and is a form of physical therapy.
It stretches and tones the cat’s back and shoulder muscles and loosens up their leg and shoulder muscles and tendons in their paws.
Cats also claw to comfort themselves during times of fear or stress. This may be a once time occurrence or can become a habit if the source of the discomfort continues.
If your cat is stress scratching, it is important that you figure out why and remove the source of the stress or work with your cat to overcome their fear and stress.
How to stop cats from scratching
Now that you understand why your cat scratches, it is time to train your cat to redirect the scratching of the furniture to a more appropriate object.
The key to successful training is to give the cat an irresistible target, while making forbidden objects undesirable.
Damage to furniture can be reduced if the cat’s nails are kept well trimmed. So to start the training, you need to clip your cats front claws using a clipper especially made to clip cat claws.
When you trim your cat’s claws, remove just the sharp points so that the nail ends are squared but do not cut into the “quick” – the vascular and sensitive part of the nail.
Maintain a regular schedule as cutting your cat’s claws regularly will minimize damage caused to your furniture.
The irresistible target
Cat scratchers come in many forms nowadays and are made of carpet, sisal, cardboard and other materials that attract a cat to scratch.
The rule of thumb for scratching posts is to have at least one more than the number of cats you have. This is particularly important during the training period. Once the inappropriate scratching has stopped, you can remove the ones not being used.
We also advise that you have two styles – a tall one to allow your cat to stretch up to its full height without being able to reach the top and one that lies flat on the ground.
Any scratcher should be steady. Your cat will not use it if moves, rocks or falls over.
During the initial training period, place the scratcher near the furniture that your cat has been clawing. Later on, if you want to move it to a less obvious or invasive spot, gradually move it to its new location.
You can make the scratcher more enticing by adding catnip – rubbing dry leaves onto the surface or using catnip spray.
Reward good behavior
When your cat does use the scratcher, praise them telling them what a good cat they are. When you do this, you may even see them scratch more vigorously.
Use positive reinforcement by giving them a treat after they use the scratcher.
Deterring your cat from scratching the furniture
There are a number of ways to deter your cat from scratching inappropriately.
Physical deterrents include:
- Spraying them with a fine mist of water when you catch them scratching the furniture.
- Shaking an empty can containing enough coins to make a loud noise near them when they are clawing the furniture can also deter them.
- Cover the area with aluminum foil – cats hate the feel and sound of it.
- Place wide double-sided tape over the surface – cats dislike the sticky feeling, and will avoid the area. A commercially available product is Sticky Paws.
Chemical deterrents include:
- Strong scents such as citrus deodorants, Irish Spring soap, or Vicks Vapo-Rub repel many cats. You can spray or place these on the furniture directly, or place them on a cloth and drape it over the spot.
- Spraying the area with citrus-scented spray. (Test fabric in an inconspicuous area first.)
- You can try moth repellent aerosols, which contain naphthol, though the area has to be “freshened” periodically as the odor will fade.
- Use a pheromone based product like Feliway® as a repellant on the furniture. This can help deter the cat from scratching the furniture and may also calm them down if their scratching is stress related.
Once you begun to establish that the furniture is off-limits for scratching, clapping your hands, accompanied by a sharp “No” will be all you’ll need if you see them attempt to scratch the furniture.
We have heard mixed reviews about cat claw nail covers. These are
plastic nail caps that can be super-glued to a cat’s claws following a preliminary nail trim.
The manufacturers of these products recommend a complete replacement every month or so, but you will want to replace lost nail covers individually as they fall off.
If you have used nail covers, we would love to hear your experience. Please e-mail us.
An important reminder
Never physically punish a cat when you catch it scratching the furniture. Cats do not react well to negative reinforcement. And in many cases this will make your cat fearful of you and can alter their personality.
Use positive reinforcement to train your cat in any circumstance including stopping them from scratching the furniture.