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How do you discipline a cat for scratching?

How to Stop Your Cat from Scratching Your Furniture and Carpets

Ruby with Scratch Tower

Scratching is a natural behavior for cats. Cats scratch to groom their claws, the scratching motion helps remove dead sheaths from their front claws (they usually chew them off their back claws). They scratch to mark their territory. Their front paws contain scent glands, and scratching leaves behind their unique signature on the object being scratched. They scratch for exercise; scratching stretches the muscles in the front legs and all along the back. And they scratch simply because it feels good.

The problem comes in when this natural behavior collides with our living space. While some cat guardians have resigned themselves to living with scratched furniture, sometimes “sacrficing” one piece to the cats, there are simple ways to protect your furniture, and still let your cat be a cat.

Provide your cat with appropriate scratching posts

Both the type of material the scratching surface is made out of as well as the horizontal or vertical orientation of it matter. Some cats prefer corrugated cardboard, others prefer carpeted surfaces or sisal. Generally, sisal seems to be the most popular with cats, and it allows them to really go to town on shredding the material to pieces. Don’t throw out a scratching post when it’s all tattered and shredded, because to your cat, that probably means it’s finally perfectly broken in. Until you know your cat’s preference, it’s best to have a mixture of horizontal and vertical scratchers with different surfaces. Most cats seem to prefer vertical scratchers, and they should be tall enough to allow the cat to fully stretch her body. Regardless of your cat’s preference, you should have multiple scratchers throughout the house.

Make the scratching post appealing to your cat

Place it in an area where your cat likes to spend time. If you’re trying to discourage your cat from scratching a particular piece of furniture, place a scratching post right next to it. Once your cat starts using it, you can gradually move it further away. Sprinkle some catnip on it to attract the cat to it. Place treats on or near the post. Praise your cat when she uses the post (and use treats to reinforce the praise).

Discourage your cat from scratching furniture

Never punish your cat – punishment simply leads to increased anxiety and more unwanted behavior. Apply tape to the parts of furniture that are attractive to your cat. Double-sided tape works well (and it’s clear, so it won’t ruin your decor), as does tinfoil. Apply Feliway® spray to the areas you don’t want your cat to scratch – studies have shown that it can reduce scratching behavior. Gently, without yelling at your cat, redirect her to a nearby scratching post.

Keep your cat’s nails trimmed

While this won’t eliminate scratching, trimmed nails can’t do as much damage. For more on how to safely trim your cat’s nails, click here.

Soft Paws© Nail Caps

These soft vinyl tips are glued onto the cat’s claws so they can’t do any damage when the cat scratches. I’m not a big fan of these nail caps. The cat’s paws will still have to be handled to apply the caps, and nails have to be trimmed prior to application, so if you’re able to do that, then why not just trim the cat’s nails, period. Additionally, once the caps are on, cats won’t be able to retract their claws, and I can’t imagine that feels very good to them.

Don’t declaw

When a cat is declawed, it is essentially maimed. Declawing is an inhumane and unnecessary surgical procedure that involves amputating the top join of the cat’s toes. The Paw Project provides extensive information on this topic.

Do you have problems with your cats scratching where they shouldn’t? Do you have a solution? Share it in a comment.

About the author

Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.

Teaching Your Cat Not to Scratch Furniture

These days, most people are aware of the horrible side-effects of declawing cats. Simply put, it’s far more than just a simple nail trim.

Alternatives to Declawing

During a declaw surgery, the cat’s toes are removed at the first joint, forcing them to walk on their knuckles unnaturally for the remainder of their life. This can cause the cat chronic pain and lead to litter box issues and increased biting, among many other behavior problems.

Stop cat from scratching furniture - Woman cutting claws of cute cat with clipper

Regularly trim your cat’s nails is a humane alternative to declawing.

Learning to regularly trim your cat’s nails or using nail caps are humane alternatives to declawing.

Keeping Your Cat from Scratching Furniture

But even if you regularly trim your cat’s nails, he may still be capable of destroying your furniture. Stopping your cat from scratching furniture is a priority for most cat owners and a very common struggle. So how do you keep your cat from scratching furniture?

The answer is positive reinforcement. Instead of thinking about what you don’t want your cat to do, think about offering him an appropriate alternative and making that alternative way more fun and rewarding! The common mindset of thinking that we need to stop, rather than redirect an unwanted behavior leads many cat owners to use punishment-based techniques, like squirt bottles or yelling to stop their cat from scratching the couch.

Avoid Punishment

Simply put, punishment doesn’t work well for cats, especially when it comes to scratching. Cats need to scratch. It’s a normal, natural behavior. If you punish him for scratching your couch but don’t show him that using the scratching post is okay, you’ll accomplish one of two things. One, he will learn to just scratch the couch when you’re not around. Or two, he’ll move on to scratching something equally undesirable, like your carpet or another piece of furniture.

In order to understand what types of scratching items to offer your cat and how to make them appealing, we first need to understand why cats need to scratch.

Why Do Cats Scratch?

Stop cat from scratching furniture - Cat scratching white sofa with claws

Cats use scratching to fully stretch out their entire bodies.

  • Play. Have you ever noticed that after a big play session, or just when your cat gets the zoomies, he wants to go and scratch on something? Scratching can relieve tension, expel energy, and just be fun!
  • Communication. Ultimately, your cat is leaving a message when he scratches – both visually and through scent glands located in his paws.
  • Stretching. Your cat uses scratching to fully stretch out his entire body. Most cats want to be able to reach all the way up, so those posts that are flimsy or shorter than three feet tall probably won’t meet his needs.
  • Nail Care. Because claws grow in layers, scratching can help peel off old claw sheaths and expose new claws underneath.

Scratching Posts Are Not One Size Fits All

Your cat is a unique individual, and as such, he has his own preferences as to what type of items he likes to scratch. It’s important to offer him lots of choices and find out what he likes the best. Remember, what we are giving him must be more appealing to use than your couch!

What Should You Keep in Mind When Choosing a Scratching Post?
  • Choose the right angle. Scratching posts come in three types: vertical, horizontal, and sloped. Each cat will have a preference for how he wants to stretch out his body.
  • It must be sturdy. If it wobbles, forget it. Your cat won’t want to use anything flimsy.
  • What type of surface? Does your cat like carpet, sisal rope, wood, cardboard, or something else?
  • Pick the right location. Don’t hide the post in a corner of the basement. They should be in high-traffic areas of your home, located near the furniture in order to give the cat an easy alternative.
  • Make sure you have enough. You should have appropriate scratching items in every room to allow your cat to mark every corner of his territory.
How Can I Make My Scratching Posts More Appealing?

What if you’ve followed these tips and it isn’t enough? There are many ways to make your scratching items look even more attractive and encourage your cat to use them.

Stop cat from scratching furniture - Cat playing with a scratch post

Initiate play with your cat near the scratching post to encourage them to use it.

Channeling your cat’s scratching habit to an appropriate outlet is simple if you know the right tips and tricks! Follow these steps and your cat should stop scratching furniture in no time.

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