destructive scratching

Preventing Destructive Scratching in Cats

There is an outdated myth floating around that you need to either declaw your cat or get used to living with shredded furniture. That’s simply not true. As long as cats are provided with preferable scratching options, they will leave your furniture alone, making unethical declaw procedures unnecessary. 

Why Cats Scratch

Scratching is a natural behavior that all cats (even wild species like bobcats and tigers) need to do. It serves one purpose of helping the cat remove old claw sheaths that naturally shed as claws continuously grow. You might find these translucent claw-shaped caps near their favorite scratching areas. 

In addition to claw maintenance, scratching may be even more important for communication. As cats scratch, they rub chemical odors from the pads of their feet onto the surface to mark their territory. The visual scratch mark may also serve as a signal to other cats. The purpose of scratch marking is not well known, but it is thought to help a cat recognize their own home range since they rarely investigate the scratch marks of other cats.

And sometimes cats just need to scratch when they want a good stretch or have extra energy during playtime. 

Declawing is not a Solution

While declawing is illegal in many countries, it is still prevalent in some areas of the United States. The term itself is a bit of a misnomer because the surgery doesn’t just remove the claws. It amputates the cat’s toe at the first joint. There can be many immediate physical complications like pain and nerve damage. It can lead to chronic back and join pain as their foot alignment is changed.

It is also common for declawed cats to develop other behavior problems. They might stop using the litter box because walking and digging in litter becomes too painful. They can become fearful and more likely to bite. And their quality of life is diminished because they can’t do natural cat behaviors like scratch, dig, and balance normally.

Providing Perfect Scratchers

If cats need their claws and need to scratch, how can we protect our couches and drapes? The first step is to provide your cat with multiple preferable scratching options. Each cat can have their own preferences, so you’ll want to start with a variety to find out what they like.

  • Scratching Surface:  Experiment with different types of surfaces. Some cats prefer rope or carpet while others might like cardboard or bark. 
  • Angle: Vertical scratching posts are most commonly preferred for territorial scratching and stretching. They should be tall enough for your cat to stretch their front paws over their head. These also need to be very stable – if it tips or wobbles, cats won’t use it. That stability is one reason cats often like scratching on heavy furniture like couches. Cats may also like horizontal scratchers on the ground, most often used during play. And some like angled scratchers. Try one of each!
  • Location: Scratchers should not be placed out of the way in basements or garages. Since cats scratch to mark their home range, they will want to scratch in high traffic areas. Place scratchers where your family spends most of their time, near where the cat sleeps, and along walls near windows or doors. 

Stopping Destructive Scratching

If your cat has started scratching somewhere inappropriate, try to stop the behavior before it becomes too much of a habit. Making the surface unappealing can be as easy as covering it with clear packing tape, duct tape, or smooth plastic sheets. If the scratching is on a horizontal surface like your carpet, you can cover it with a plastic carpet runner with the textured nubs pointing up. Or you can temporarily block the area by closing a door or removing the object if it is small.

Once their preferred spot is unscratchable, we’ll have to provide an alternative. Otherwise they’ll move from the couch to the chair to the drapes, and learn that they can scratch anywhere! Take note of what they are scratching and make sure you have a variety of similar alternatives. Think about which surface, angle, and location they prefer. Are they scratching on the couch? Provide a vertical post with upholstery fabric. Do they always scratch by the front door? Place a scratcher nearby. 

It may take some work to make the appropriate scratchers more appealing. If your cat likes catnip, you can sprinkle some on the scratcher. While playing with a wand toy, you might move it over the post so they can catch it on the scratcher. Since cats prefer using surfaces that are already scratched, you can buy used scratchers or start scratching a new post for them with a sharp fork or serrated knife. When they use an appropriate scratcher, reward them for it with attention or treats. 

By providing outlets for your cat’s natural scratching behavior and different options in line with their individual preferences, your cat and your couch can live in harmony together. Can’t get your cat to stop scratching? Contact us at Pawsitive Vibes Cat Behavior and Training!

Share this post