If you have a cat that scratches the furniture or carpet, you are not alone. This is a common behaviour described by cat owners, which is both natural and innate. Even though the urge to scratch is normal, scratching inappropriate places is a destructive behaviour, but one which can be relatively easily managed.
Why do cats want to scratch?
There are a number of reasons why cats want to scratch objects. Cats need to keep their claws healthy and conditioned, which can be difficult in a home environment without access to trees. Scratching also serves as a way to mark territory, to show other cats that the area where the object is located is occupied. These visual markers act as an advanced warning system to avoid confrontation with other cats. Unfortunately some cats don’t realise the couch is an inappropriate marking area!
Another reason why cats enjoy scratching is that it acts as an emotional release. Frustration, anxiety or excitement can build up within cats, leading them to seek an outlet. You might have noticed your cat scratching when you come home from work, or when they encountered a companion cat, and this is a healthy way of relieving pent up emotions. Contrary to popular belief, cats do not scratch furniture and carpet out of spite or to purposely destroy objects.
How can I stop my cat from scratching my furniture/carpet?
1. Provide a scratching post
Scratching posts come in all shapes and sizes, from the traditional vertical models to horizontal squares. There are a variety of textures used to cover scratching posts, including rope, soft carpet and thick carpet. Not all cats will like the same scratching post, so you might need to try a few different styles before you find one which suits your cat’s needs. Ensure the post is sufficiently tall to allow your cat to fully stretch, and sturdy enough to allow your cat to lean against the post.
If your cat has been targeting a certain area in the house, place the scratching post in front of the damaged furniture/carpet. If your cat isn’t engaging in destructive scratching, place the posts in areas where your cat wants them, such as near the front door and next to their favourite sleeping spot. If you have more than one cat, consider getting two or more scratching posts as some cats will ‘take ownership’, preventing others from using a particular scratching post.
2. Provide sufficient exercise and stimulation
Playing with your cat will help release stress (for both you and the cat) and helps bonding.
3. Redirect behaviour
If you see your cat scratching inappropriately, gently redirect them towards an appropriate scratching area or scratching post. You can do this by encouraging them over to the correct scratching area with a toy or with stimulated scratching movements. Take care when doing this, to prevent being scratched. Never yell at your cat or hit them to discourage scratching, as this form of punishment will only teach them to avoid you.
It might also be possible to incorporate reward-based training into the new learning process, although the scratching release is likely rewarding in itself. Try providing an additional reward after they scratch the correct area, e.g. offer a food treat in another separate area after scratching their post, though be careful not to get scratched.
Putting thick covers over furniture for additional protection, even just temporarily, while the behavior is being redirected can be useful.
Remember to check your cat’s claws if they are older or sedentary, as they may not engage in enough activity to wear down their claws. If left to grow unchecked, claws can quickly penetrate the foot pad leading to painful, infected feet. If you are unsure how to check your cats claws, you can find a tutorial on trimming cat nails from the HSUS.