Furniture Scratching: How Do I Keep My Cat from Destroying My Furniture?
First, you need to know that scratching is normal cat behavior, vital for both psychological and physical well-being. It keeps claws healthy, relieves stress, and allows your cat to stretch the entire length of his body. It is also a method of communication, leaving scent and visual markers, and can be a method of attracting attention in social situations. Even cats that are declawed will rub their paws, stretch their bodies, and deposit scent markers on surfaces.
Support your cat with an appropriate place to scratch.
It is important to create an environment to satisfy your cat’s normal need to scratch. Provide good quality scratching posts with a variety of surfaces in key areas around the house that are both horizontal and vertical surfaces. The scratching post should be tall enough or long enough so the cat can fully stretch the entire length of his body. They should be sturdy and have a texture such as sisal carpeting or corrugated cardboard, basically simulating what the cat would find outside like the bark of a tree, or other rough surface. Never punish a cat for scratching an inappropriate surface. Squirt bottles do not work to permanently stop the behavior.
What if your cat is scratching the furniture or using another place that is inappropriate?
If your cat is currently scratching on the furniture, first clean the furniture with an enzymatic cleaner to remove the scent marking he has left there. You can deter scratching in that specific location by applying double-sided tape (like Sticky Paws) or another surface that is unappealing to the cat. Then place the new scratching post near that location and spray it with catnip spray or rub it with catnip to make it appealing. This is self-reinforcing in that he will automatically be rewarded by having a positive experience scratching the post, and be further reinforced as he lays down new scent markers. In addition, you can give verbal praise, throw him a food treat when he’s done scratching, or if you have done any clicker training, click and treat his use of the new post to reinforce the behavior. Place multiple posts around the house in the areas where he was scratching before, in similar scenarios (i.e., replace horizontal surfaces with horizontal surfaces).
By creating an environment where the previous, undesirable locations are unavailable or unpleasant to use, while simultaneously installing locations that have all the right characteristics to create a positive experience, he will successfully transition to using the scratching posts.