Some cats seem to be attracted to furniture with a peculiar malice and pleasure. At least it appears that way when a cat is clawing your furniture, or ripping up your carpet with great spirit. As much as you may detest the results of the cat scratching, cats really don’t do this to annoy people or because they feel a particular anger toward furniture. Scratching is an instinctive behavior for cats. It helps cats shed small sheaths on their claws, and also is a way of scent marking objects in the house or outside.
It’s unlikely that you can prevent cats from scratching, but you can help them learn what is appropriate to scratch. For greatest effectiveness, training should begin when cats are quite young so they never get into the habit of using your furniture to satisfy instinct. In many cases, even an older cat may be taught not to scratch with consistent encouragement.
First, especially for indoor cats, you need to provide something the cat can scratch. A scratching post is often the best choice. Some people also like to use disposable cardboard scratching toys that sit on the floor so the cat can scratch vertically or horizontally. Giving the cats a place to scratch helps eliminate their need to use your furniture, carpet or draperies.
A couple of methods can discourage cats from scratching “forbidden objects” in the house. These methods must be applied immediately in order to modify the behavior of the cat. Many cats truly dislike the sound of pennies in a coffee can, and a few shakes if they are scratching up something they shouldn’t can often make them run away from the object.
Another direct method that tends to work well is to have a squirt water bottle ready. When the cat attacks furniture or rugs, give the cat a few gentle squirts to make him stop. Cats may also be discouraged by citrus smells, and spraying furniture, rugs or drapes with a citrus deodorizer can occasionally convince the cat to leave your treasured household items alone.
At the same time that you discourage cats from scratching furniture and other objects, you should reward and encourage them to use their designated scratching post or toys. Some cats may be enticed to scratch an approved object with a bit of catnip. When a cat uses the scratching post, be on hand to offer a kitty treat or two. You should plan to offer treats for each scratch for several weeks. Then begin to offer the treats periodically, so the cat doesn’t always expect a reward. Sometimes this process can take several months, especially with older cats.
Some people solve the issue by having indoor cats declawed. Although this will keep cats from scratching, here are many ethical arguments against declawing and numerous veterinarians who do not support this painful procedure. Others argue that declawing can save the lives of cats when their behavior is no loner tolerated by their owners. The matter is a debatable and difficult one.
You can make cats a little less effective in their scratching by keeping their nails neatly trimmed. Many cats will accept nail trimming without putting up a fuss, especially when treats are offered as a reward. Longer, sharper nails typically result in greater damage to furniture, so there is excellent incentive for keeping an indoor cat’s nails short. Most books on cats, or your local veterinarian can show you how to trim nails safely so the cat is not injured in the process.