No, NO – Not the leather couch! Cats are going to scratch. They do it during play while stretching, as a territorial display and as a warning or challenge to other cats. They are trying to wear their claws down and stretch the muscles that extend the claws as well as sharpen them for hunting or battle. Like the human habit of cracking your knuckles or flexing your fingers, a cat does this automatically as part of their body maintenance. Natural or not, however, furniture or drapes that are torn to pieces is not a requirement of cat ownership.
One of the better methods for saving your furniture is actually NOT yelling or trying to stop your cat from scratching but to redirect them to more appropriate scratching place. The best way to do this is to provide your cat with more cat-attractive surfaces and objects to scratch. Scratching posts with carpet or rough rope is preferable but not the only possibility.
Scratching posts come in a variety of qualities and surfaces. Try choosing a variety of posts with surfaces made of carpeting, cardboard, rope, and upholstery. Posts can be vertical, slanted, or horizontal with their scratching surfaces. A Variety will allow your cat to pick; digging the claws in and pulling out, or to rake by digging in and pulling down. Putting the posts in various locations is also a good idea – especially close to the things you want to remain scratch free. Some Things you can try include:
- Jackson Galaxy in the Animal Planet show “My Cat From Hell” calls this a Yes/No strategy – where a cat is discouraged from scratching on one thing but then given a close-by alternative to scratch on instead.
- Encouraged you cat to pay more attention to the scratching posts by adding (or including) hanging toys, catnip, or a place to keep ground toys that they might be able to fish one out of.
- Along with encouraging scratching in the right places you can discourage inappropriate scratching by covering or removing certain objects. Turn speakers toward the wall, put double-sided tape or sandpaper on surfaces you want to be protected. A rubberized or knobby matt that the cat doesn’t like to step on can also be placed in front of the furniture to discourage the cat from standing there to scratch.
- Clip your cat’s nails regularly. Even though cats can withdraw their claws they still grow long and can catch on things like carpet or can fray and break on hard surfaces.
- Another alternative is to put small caps on a cats nails so they can’t dig into anything they “scratch”. These usually last four to six weeks so you will have to make time to change them out.
- Some older behavioral models suggest picking up your cat and dragging their feet down the scratching posts. They advise that this will show your cat where you find scratching to be appropriate – however, once the cat is distracted by being picked up they will not understand the scratching behavior you’re trying to show them- and they may become stressed and just avoid you.
- When a scratching post becomes shredded and torn do not think it needs to be replaced right away. Like a comfortable broken in pair of old shoes, cats find those torn up scratching posts to be familiar, both in feel and scent, and usually, have an easier time digging in.
- Don’t be afraid to call an expert. Sometimes certain circumstances might call for medical intervention, like behavioral medication if the problem is stemming from anxiety or fear. This might be more prevalent if your cat is a rescue.
As a last resort, some people find “declawing” (onychectomy); removing a cat’s last digital bone in a form of amputation, to be the only solution they can think of. The ASPCA is strongly opposed to declawing cats. The problem is, if a cat has behavioral problems with aggression or being territorial, being declawed can actually make the problem worse and cause the cat to bite as a defense instead.
The surgery introduces the cat to the risk of anesthesia, excessive bleeding and postoperative complications, including infection, and is accompanied by pain that may last from several days to much longer unless appropriate pain management is provided. The only time this could possibly be recommended is if the only alternative is putting the cat down.
Cat scratching can be a behavior that the humans who brought them home were not ready to deal with when seeing that cute face that just had to come home with them but it is a natural part of cat behavior. It can’t be stopped but it can be redirected to more appropriate materials with a little patience and a few modifications.
There are several different kinds of scratching “posts” that you might want to try out next to your couch or drapes to provide a “yes” to scratching on.
- There is a “pad” type scratcher that lays on the floor with a scratching material in a box style container. This pad type usually has cardboard pieces turned on their side to show the ‘inside’ of the cardboard. It gives your cat a chance to really dig in and pull. It tears and pierces easily and can have catnip added to the nooks and crannies of the inside of the cardboard without having it end up all over the rest of the floor. These are usually inexpensive and can even be made on your own if you’re willing to sit down with a box and a cardboard cutting blade of some kind. They can also come with convex shapes to help your cat with better posture or concave to provide a napping spot.
- That same pad can be hung on a wall or doorknob and provide a vertical surface. These more often come with a rough rope wrapped around or a piece of carpeting, but the less expensive ones still have the cardboard pieces. Catnip can be added to these but must be more thoroughly rubbed into the surface to avoid becoming a mess. Again, with a little effort and materials, this would not be hard to DIY.
- The standard post is a flat base with a cylinder or square post wrapped in carpet, rope, or fabric. Some may have a sitting platform on top or a small box to lay in. They are usually around $15 – $30 and the materials to make them can cost about as much so it might not be as frugal to try and make it on your own.
- The last basic type is the ‘tree’. This is a series of levels with platforms, hanging beds, enclosed spaces to hide or rest in and can be made out of normal rope or carpet covered pieces or more natural materials like actual wood branches. Some can be very artistic with different colors of carpet or rope, or some that have silk leaves for your kitty to hide or play with. These can range in price from $60 to $1000+.
Any of these can be more elaborate and some of the last 2 can actually be artistic and include hanging toys, artistic shapes and surfaces and hanging materials for bridges and sleeping. So give your cat a chance to use their claws on something acceptable and maybe a little something interesting in your home as well.