How to avoid or reduce your cat scratching your furniture
Scratching is normal behaviour. Cats scratch for two reasons; to keep their claws in good condition and as a communication signal. Scent glands in between the pads of the paws produce a unique smell, which is deposited on the surface that the claws are dragged down. This scent, combined with the visual signal of the scratch marks and discarded claw husks, leaves a reminder signal for the cat and a message for other felines in the area.
Why is my cat scratching indoors?
If your cat has limited or no access to the outdoors – either through their own choice or yours – they will have to maintain good claw condition inside the house. They will find one or two suitable scratching sites and continue to use them, whether this is a cat scratching post or the back of your settee!
If the scratched areas are widespread throughout your home, including areas of conflict like doorways and windows, it is likely that your cat is scratching for communication reasons and feels insecure in these areas. Just like spraying, the most common reason for scratching indoors is the presence of another cat.
The reason for cats to show this behaviour can change over time. If your cat enjoys attention, they might learn that whenever they scratch the furniture you interact with them, so they will carry on scratching.
What can I do if my cat scratches the furniture?
If your cat is scratching furniture or wallpaper to maintain their claws you could:
- protect the scratched item by covering it with thick, shiny plastic sheeting as this is unappealing to cats
- at the same time, obtain a suitable scratching post and put it next to the area where they scratch
- choose a scratching post with a heavy base so it doesn’t topple over or wobble when in use. It should be tall enough to allow your cat to scratch at full stretch – ensure it has a vertical weave to let them drag their claws downwards
- some cats prefer to scratch horizontally (e.g. cats that scratch carpets or stairs) or diagonally so provide a scratching mat to meet these needs
- once your cat is consistently using the new post you can gradually move it to a more convenient location if you wish and then remove the plastic sheeting from the furniture or wallpaper
- cats often like to scratch and stretch after they wake up so you could try placing the scratch post near your cat’s bed.
Each cat in a household should have a scratching post – positioned in different locations to prevent conflict. Some posts are impregnated with catnip, or you could try rubbing quality catnip on the scratch post to entice them – placing pieces of food on the post may also help. Playing with your cat little and often throughout the day and providing toys may help redirect their energy away from scratching.
Scratching to mark territory
If your cat is scratching furniture as a marking behaviour, then try to identify what is worrying the cat in this part of their territory and remedy it. Cover the scratched areas with a protective material and place a scratching post next to them. However, to help your cat to feel secure in their surroundings and permanently stop them scratching the furniture, you will need to identify and deal with what is worrying them. Don’t just provide them with another scratching surface without attending to their feelings of insecurity. You may need guidance from a suitably qualified behaviourist to help identify the cause of their anxiety.
Importance of praise
It is important to remember that cats do not scratch to be naughty. It is a natural behaviour they should be allowed to exhibit. Shouting when your cat scratches your furniture can lead to an increase in frequency as they become more anxious, or learn that scratching can be used for attention seeking. Cats quickly learn that unwanted clawing gets a reaction, but clawing a scratching post doesn’t. Make sure you praise your cat when they claw the scratching post and try not to react if they scratch the furniture.
Help is at hand
The advice given is aimed at encouraging positive behaviours and helping with some behavioural issues. However, it is not individually tailored to a specific cat and the development of behaviours in each cat is unique. The cause of a problem can sometimes be difficult to identify, particularly if it is complex or there are a number of contributing factors.
If your cat has a behavioural problem, it is recommended to discuss the problem with your vet who can refer you to a suitably qualified behaviourist, such as a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (www.apbc.org.uk) or a Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist (CCAB) that can be found through the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB) at http://asab.nottingham.ac.uk/. Seek help sooner rather than later as it can be more difficult to rectify long-standing issues. Luckily many problems can be resolved, allowing you to enjoy positive companionship with your cat once more.