How to Get a Cat to Stop Scratching
Cat scratching is a normal behavior that serves a variety of important purposes. But if your cat starts scratching the furniture, drapery or you, then intervention, prevention and redirection is key.
To protect your furniture (and your skin) from cat scratching, it’s essential that pet parents understand the reasons cats scratch and know how to encourage healthy and productive scratching behaviors.
Why do cats scratch?
There are a number of reasons cats scratch. Here are a few of the most common ones:
Scratching is an innate behavior in cats that helps keep their claws sharp and conditioned. “The behavior is a mechanism to maintain their claws for predation and defense,” says Dr. Rachel Malamed, a veterinary behaviorist based in Los Angeles. “The action removes the blunted outer claw sheaths and exercises the ligaments involved in the protraction of claws during hunting.”
Cats also scratch and knead items as a way to communicate with other cats, says Dr. Nicole Fulcher, assistant director of Animal Medical Center of Mid-America. “It is a form of communication for them,” she says. “When a cat kneads or scratches, they leave an olfactory marker, a pheromone, using the scent glands in their paws. The pheromones can warn other cats of potential dangers in the environment.”
Another reason cats scratch furniture and objects is to mark their territory. “Cats use pheromones to mark people, objects and other household pets as safe, important parts of their world,” says Fulcher.
How to stop cats from scratching the furniture
To prevent cats from scratching the furniture, follow these tips:
Provide alternate scratching surfaces such as scratching posts or toys.
“Investing in a scratching post for your cat’s scratching needs is essential,” says Fulcher. “Keeping the scratching post close to their sleeping area will allow your cat to wake up, stretch and scratch to mark their scent.”
Use positive reinforcement. Yelling at your cat when they scratch the furniture won’t stop the behavior and can cause distress in your pet. Instead, pet parents should use positive reinforcement training to encourage appropriate scratching behavior.
“Reward the cat with praise and treats when you see them using the post,” says Malamed. “Positive reinforcement works best if you can do so consistently and immediately every time you note the desired behavior.”
Try furniture covers. To break a bad furniture-scratching habit, Malamed suggests covering furniture with a material that is less desirable for cats to scratch, such as plastic. “Each time the behavior is practiced, it is reinforced,” she says. “Blocking the area, at least temporarily while establishing the habit elsewhere (on a scratching post) may be helpful.”
Enrich your cat’s environment. A bored cat may start scratching furniture because of a lack of environmental enrichment. Keep your cat entertained with plenty of toys and interactive playtime.
“Rotating the toys keeps the enrichment fresh, meaning new stimulation at playtime,” says Fulcher. “For example, having different types of toys attached to a rod you hold makes it more interactive and exciting for the cat. Switching from a feather lure to a furry lure adds variety.”
Regularly trim your cat’s nails. Keeping your cat’s nails trim can also cut down on scratching. But cat parents should be cautious if trimming at home. “Trimming cat’s claws requires patience and routine,” says Fulcher. “Positive distractions and reinforcement like treats, chin scratches and attention help keep the nail trim from becoming a stressful occurrence for both person and cat.”
If cat nail trimming sessions become too stressful and overwhelming for your cat, stop the procedure and try another time when your cat is calm. Don’t force a nail trim if your cat is uncomfortable, and seek the help of a professional groomer if at-home nail trims become too difficult. Some Petco Grooming Salons provide this service; ask a store partner for details.
Consider cat claw covers. Cat parents can purchase cat claw covers to help protect their furniture. These plastic coverings are designed to slip over the sharp points of a cat’s claws. But, just like with trimming their nails, Fulcher warns, pet parents should be cautious when applying cat claw covers to avoid stress and discomfort for cats.
“Cat claw covers are an option to protect your household and yourself instead of trimming your cat’s nails,” she says. However, she adds, you still need to manipulate and extend the claw to place the covers. If putting the claw covers on your cat’s nails causes stress, then pause and try again at another time.
Declawing cats: Dangers and consequences
If your cat is scratching the furniture, declawing may seem like an option to explore, but the practice is not recommended. In fact, declawing cats has been banned in some cities and states and is increasingly opposed by many veterinarians.
“Declawing indoor cats is not recommended by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, based primarily on research about the procedure and how it negatively affects a cat’s behavior,” says Fulcher.
In addition to the pain caused by the procedure, declawed cats may exhibit signs of aggression, inappropriate urination and overgrooming, according to research studies. Additionally, declawing takes away an innate feline behavior and can cause stress and anxiety in cats.
“Many veterinarians have changed their view of declawing in recent years,” says Fulcher. “Education and discussion about the procedure with your veterinarian is key to helping make the decision about declawing your cat.”
Although unwanted scratching on your furniture and belongings can be annoying, with the proper care, products and training, you can support this necessary behavior in the right ways. If you have any questions related to appropriate toys and scratchers to purchase, ask a Petco partner at your nearest store.