How to Keep Cats From Scratching Furniture
By Sara Ochoa, DVM April 06, 2019
Cats have been around for thousands of years, and at one point, our furry little bundles of joy were actually apex predators that honed their skills with the help of some specially designed tools. A cat’s claws were developed primarily for one reason: to hunt.
Why Do Cats Have Claws?
When cats lived thousands of years ago, they didn’t have a can of food waiting for them in a nice clean stainless-steel bowl. No, cats had to hunt and kill for their food. Cats have a kind of hook shaped claw that is perfect for gripping deep into flesh, making them very difficult to escape from. To learn more about cat claws, read our article here.
Why Do Cats Scratch Furniture?
Now that cats are domestic and live indoors with humans, our furniture often pays the price. When cats were wild, keeping their claws sharp meant that they could climb and grasp prey better. Usually a feral cat would sharpen its nails on the bark of a tree or something of that nature. However, most of us don’t have trees indoors, so to our feline friends, the fabric on our couch seems like the perfect substitute. When a cat scratches your furniture, they’re not trying to be malicious, they’re simply trying to remove the dull, blunt part of their claws to expose fresher sharper new claws. Cat claws are much like the human fingernail, and like ours, they continue to grow throughout their lifetime. A cat’s claw grows underneath the old one, leaving the old one kind of like a sheath. When they scratch off the old sheath, the new nail is then exposed and ready to use.
Marking their territory
Remember: Cats have been around for thousands of years, and even though we think they are domesticated, they still utilize the same natural instincts their ancestors possessed. Marking their territory is another reason your cat will scratch your furniture. By scratching your furniture, they are leaving scent markers that signal to other cats to stay away. In a way, they are saying "this is mine; don’t touch it."
Just because they can
Sometimes your cat really doesn’t need a reason to scratch the furniture, he or she just does it because it feels good to massage their digits and stretch their body out. Think of it as a really big yawn after a good night of sleep. Cats also knead their claws when they get excited. We’ve all seen that kid at a birthday party with their hands clenched, jumping up and down. Well, kneading their claws into a nice supple fabric is how cats show they are excited about something. Your cat is not trying to be destructive, they are simply acting out their natural instinct.
What Kind Of Furniture Do Cats Like To Scratch?
Most cats really seem to like the feel of leather. It makes sense because leather is literally made from animal hide, and cats are natural predators. Leather furniture simulates the type of texture your cat instinctively want to attack. Cat owners find that wood and wicker furniture also seem to be a hit among felines. Cats in the wild would use tree bark to sharpen their nails, so you're basically providing them the perfect sharpening material. To be honest though, cats will scratch pretty much anything. Sometimes it has to do more with leaving their scent behind than how the material actually feels. Cats also like to leave visible scratches behind, so furniture with a metal frame may help deter scratching.
What Alternatives Can You Present Your Cat With?
The best option before ever bringing a new cat home is to already have alternatives in place. Things like a scratching post, carpeted cat trees, and specially designed toys that have scratching pads built in are excellent choices.
Scratching posts come in a variety of sizes and shapes and can be a great alternative to that expensive leather couch. Some scratching posts are just that: a post with a short stranded rough or abrasive type of carpet covering it.
Cat trees are another fantastic alternative for your cat. Remember: Cats like to claim their territory, and most cat trees are covered with tough carpeting. With this in mind, your cat will be able to scratch and rub to its heart’s content. The cat tree will be a particular piece of furniture that belongs to them, so they are more likely to leave your other furniture alone. (Hopefully).
There are thousands of cat toys out there, but most of them are not designed to hold up against scratching and biting. There are toys, however, that are designed to withstand the abuse they may receive from your rambunctious cat. These toys are an incredible alternative that can be used in conjunction with cat trees and scratching posts. The more options you give your cat, the more likely your furniture will stay in one piece. The great thing about these toys is that unlike a scratching post or cat tree, you can directly engage in play with your cat to help create a wonderful bonding experience for you both. Our article on alternatives to declawing presents additional ways to prevent unwanted scratching behavior.
What Are Preventive Measures You Can Take To Stop This Behavior?
Providing your cat with plenty of options (such as toys and a scratching post) at an early age is one of the best ways to prevent your cat from scratching expensive furniture. Spending time with your cat and teaching them how to play with their toys or where it is appropriate to sharpen their claws is not only beneficial to your furniture, but also beneficial to your relationship with your feline companion.
If your cat only lives indoors, then trimming their claws is an acceptable practice to help deter scratching. If you are not comfortable trimming your cat's claws yourself, then call your local veterinarian who would be happy to help you. Many veterinarians will teach you how to trim your cat’s claws at home by yourself. Some cats do not respond well to a trip to the doctor, so doing it at home can be a much more pleasurable experience for you both.
There are several ways to help deter your cat from scratching up your furniture, and providing different scratching options usually seems to be the most effective. Remember: Even though Mittens may look sweet and cuddly, deep inside remains thousands of years of innate instinct. Scratching is one of those behaviors that come naturally to your cat. But, it is important to realize that your cat isn’t being mean or vindictive; it’s just simply doing what nature created it to do.