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How to convince my cat that the couch isn't a scratching post?

Scratching is natural and healthy for cats. They will always find something to scratch. Fortunately, a few strategies can help ensure your favorite couch doesn’t end up as their scratching post.

Here are some important things to know about why cats scratch and how to let them perform this behavior in a way that works for both of you.

WHY DO CATS SCRATCH ON FURNITURE?

The first question to ask is, why do cats scratch at all?

Scratching objects is instinctual and serves several important functions in a cat’s life, including…

  • Claw health. A cat’s claws grow outwardly, similar to rings on a tree, with the outside sheaths being shed to reveal a newer, sharper claw underneath. Without shedding these outer layers, a cat’s nails would grow abnormally, possibly curving around and stabbing into the paw. Scratching on objects helps a cat shed these nail sheaths and keep their claws sharp and healthy.

  • Exercise. Scratching allows a cat to stretch. It also gives their upper body a workout.

  • Play. Cats often climb and scratch as part of their playtime routine. 

  • Marking their territory. A cat’s paws contain scent glands that mark a territory as their own. Plus, the scratch marks themselves can act as visual cues of a cat’s territory. This might be more pronounced in a multicat household. But even in single-cat homes, a kitty will still scent mark because it helps their living space feel safe and familiar.

  • Mental and emotional health. Scratching can be fun for our furry companions. It’s also important for any animal to express certain natural behaviors. Being denied opportunities for this natural expression can cause stress.

TRAINING TIPS TO STOP CATS FROM SCRATCHING FURNITURE

Training mainly involves teaching your cat to scratch more appropriate objects. 

It’s unrealistic to expect a cat to never scratch anything. And it’s usually fruitless to just say “No” to claws on furniture without providing a better alternative. 

Here are some ideas for how to redirect those cat scratches and avoid damage to carpet or furniture…

  • Provide appropriate scratching alternatives, such as scratching posts.

  • Make your furniture less attractive to scratch on.

  • Keep your cat’s nails trimmed so they’re not so sharp.

  • Consider a claw cap for your cat, such as Soft Paws, to block damage from scratching.

USE SCRATCHING POSTS TO PREVENT CATS FROM SCRATCHING FURNITURE

Scratching posts are probably the best, simplest, and most-loved-by-felines alternative to scratching your furniture. And there are many, many options available. Here are some tips to help you choose…

  • Scratching post type. Common options are vertical and horizontal scratching posts, as well as scratching toys that come in inclines, curves, or other shapes. Think about where your cat likes to scratch. If it’s a large piece of furniture or climbing the curtains, your kitty might enjoy a tall vertical post. If they tear up the carpet, consider a horizontal post. Some scratching posts include a dangling toy for your pet to play with. And many are incorporated directly into cat trees or towers to meet more than one of your cat’s needs  (i.e., scratching, napping, and climbing) in one purchase.

  • Scratching material. Sisal rope is a common option, which is typically wound around a wooden post. Cats can sink their claws into it, get a good grip to climb it, and shred it up. Other popular options include corrugated cardboard and natural wood. Carpeted posts are also available, although this might present your kitty with the challenge of knowing which carpet is okay to scratch and which isn’t.

  • Post length. Many cats like to fully stretch out when they scratch. Ideally, the post should be at least as long as your cat is when they stand up and extend their forelimbs. Some kitties also want their scratching post to be tall enough for them to climb.

  • Where to place the scratching post. It’s best to place a scratching post directly in front of those spots where your pet scratches the most. This means you might need more than one post. Don’t worry—once your kitty gets used to scratching the post, you can gradually move it toward a spot you’d prefer (although you might have the best luck leaving it as close to the original scratching spot as possible). 

Common locations include the couch and bed, since cats tend to scent mark areas where YOU spend a lot of time. They want to add their own scent to yours, which can actually be a sign of affection or bonding.

Another option is placing a scratching post near where your cat naps. Many kitties like to scratch and stretch out right after they wake up.

  • Make sure it’s sturdy. If a post wobbles and falls over, your cat probably won’t want to use it again. It’s worth investing in one with a sturdy base, both for your cat’s preference and for safety.

  •  Encourage your cat to use the new scratching post. Praise them any time you see them using it. Rub catnip onto the post to entice your cat. Dangle a toy over it to encourage your cat to explore and use their claws on the post.

It can take some trial and error to find your cat’s preferred scratching post and location. But your efforts will pay off by finding a solution that keeps both you and your kitty happy.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR FURNITURE LESS APPEALING TO THE CAT

This is only a short-term solution while your pet learns to use their new scratching post instead of the furniture. 

Without offering a viable alternative for scratching, your cat will be forced to find a place (like your couch or chair) to sharpen their claws—no matter how unappealing you make the furniture. However, while promoting a new scratching post, it’s very effective to temporarily make your furniture less attractive to your cat. Here are some ideas…

  • Cover the furniture with a tightly tucked sheet, a plastic cover, or aluminum foil.

  • Place double-sided sticky tape. There are some specially designed for cats, which are safe for kitty and furniture alike.

  • Spray a cat-safe citrus scent or apple cider vinegar, as many cats find these smells unpleasant. 

  • Use a pet-safe odor neutralizer to get your furniture “wiped clean” of your cat’s previous scent marks.

  • Don’t punish your cat. They usually don’t understand why you’re upset. And your reaction could cause them to fear you or to simply learn to scratch the furniture when you’re not home. Instead, gently redirect them to the scratching post and praise them for using it.

By using the right strategies, you can decrease your cat’s interest in your furniture while simultaneously making the new scratching post seem very inviting by comparison.

CARING FOR YOUR CAT’S NAILS

Most cats are quite good at maintaining their own nail health. However, with advanced age or certain health conditions, they might need your help to prevent overgrown nails.

Even in young, healthy cats with healthy nails, trimming their nails can be a great way to prevent scratching destruction. It also gives you an opportunity to check their paws and claws for any issues, and to reduce the risk of their nails getting stuck on things when they scratch.

Ideally, start young. Get your cat used to having their paws handled when they are a kitten.

But don’t worry if your cat is already an adult. It’s still possible to get them used to having their nails trimmed. Just go slowly. While your cat is napping or cuddling, gently touch their paw for a few seconds. Gradually increase the time and pressure. Once your cat accepts this, try pushing on the paw pad to extend a claw. Be gentle and praise them the whole time. Don’t force if they resist. 

Once your kitty is used to this, try trimming a nail. Use sharp nail cutters, ideally ones designed for cats. Blunt or dull nail trimmers can crush or splinter a nail.

Only trim the clear tips of the nails, which is the sharpest part. Don’t go near the pink area or quick, where the blood vessel is, as cutting there can cause pain and bleeding. Cats’ nails can be trimmed up to every 2-4 weeks. This can also be done in sessions of just 1-2 nails at a time, if that’s easier!

Still no luck? If the process is difficult or your kitty is very resistant to you trimming their nails, ask your veterinarian’s office or groomer about their nail trimming services.

SHOULD YOU HAVE YOUR CAT DECLAWED?

In short, no. Declawing is a painful procedure that can have long-term consequences including chronic pain and behavioral issues. For these reasons, declawing has been banned in the state of New York, as well as several other cities and countries.

Declawing, or onychectomy, is actually a form of surgical amputation. It involves removing the tip of each toe up to the last knuckle. This is because if only the claw is removed, it could grow right back.

As you can imagine, this procedure—as well as walking on the paws after surgery—is very painful. Although veterinarians provide pain relief, it is still a lot for a cat to go through. Chronic pain can result. And declawed cats should never go outside, since they are left defenseless.

Although declawing can prevent scratching, it’s also commonly reported to cause other behavioral issues. For example, since walking on litter might become uncomfortable, a cat may start going to the bathroom outside the litter box (a common reason for cats to be abandoned). Also, a cat who can’t defend themselves with their front claws may make up for it by being more likely to bite or display aggressive behavior. 

If all the above strategies don’t work, one potential alternative to declawing is to use claw covers such as PETOMG Cat Scratchers

These are rubber nail caps that are glued onto a cat’s nail. They are typically comfortable and well-tolerated. The downside is that they must be replaced every few weeks as a cat’s claws grow and the caps fall off. Usually, the first round is placed at a vet’s office. But many cat owners can learn to continue cap replacements themselves at home.

Not sure what to do about your cat’s scratching? Make an appointment today. We’ll help figure out the best solution for you and your furry friend—so your kitty can scratch in a healthy way without destroying your furniture.

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