Cats scratch for numerous reasons, but their claws can cause significant damage, and your first impulse is likely to yell at your feline friend. But, punishing your cat for scratching can induce stress and exacerbate the situation. Our Valley Center Veterinary Clinic team knows that cat owners are frustrated by destructive scratching, so we explain why cats scratch and how you can redirect their behavior to more appropriate surfaces.

Reasons cats scratch

Your cat’s intention is not to destroy your favorite sofa or drapes. Cats’ scratching is a primal instinct that serves many purposes, including:

  • Protection — Cats use their claws for protection against other animals.
  • Hunting — Claws are useful to help catch small mammals and birds, including stuffed ones.
  • Nail health — Scratching removes the dead outer nail layer and keeps the nail sharp.
  • Stretching — Scratching helps a cat stretch and keep their muscles loose and limber.
  • Scent marking — When cats scratch, they leave behind scent markings that send messages to other cats and animals in the area.
  • Anxiety relief — When cats are stressed, they may scratch to express their anxiety.
  • Boredom relief — Cats who aren’t properly enriched may scratch to relieve boredom.

While scratching is normal for cats, you can redirect their behavior to more appropriate surfaces to preserve your furniture, drapes, and carpet. Considerations include providing appropriate scratching surfaces, dissuading your cat from scratching your furniture, and maintaining their claws.

Providing appropriate scratching surfaces for your cat

You must provide appropriate scratching surfaces to protect your belongings from your cat’s claws. Considerations include:

  • Number — Provide numerous scratching surfaces throughout your home. If you have multiple cats, ensure each cat has an acceptable scratching surface.
  • Location — Place scratching surfaces where your cat spends much of their time. If you don’t want your cat scratching a particular furniture piece, place a scratching surface nearby, so they have a more appropriate choice for sharpening their claws. 
  • Shape — Most cats have a scratching preference. If your cat mostly scratches curtains and furniture, they are likely a vertical scratcher, and if they typically scratch your carpet, they are a horizontal scratcher. Determine your cat’s scratching preference and choose surfaces accordingly.
  • Surface — Scratching surfaces include sisal rope, carpet, cardboard, and wood. Provide a variety of tactile surfaces to keep your cat happy.
  • Size — Scratching surfaces should be large enough to allow your cat to stretch completely when they scratch.
  • Stability — Ensure the scratching surface is sturdy and stable. If the surface topples when your cat is scratching, they may not use that surface again.
  • Attraction — Praise your cat for using the scratching surface, and treat them. You can also place catnip and toys on the scratching surface to make the surface more attractive.

Dissuading your cat from scratching your furniture

In addition to providing appropriate scratching surfaces, you can make your furniture less attractive to your cat. Tips include:

  • Use furniture protectors — You can use furniture protectors, such as double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, or cellophane, to dissuade your cat from scratching a particular surface. 
  • Clean the area — A cat usually keeps scratching a specific area because they left behind their scent. They are likely to return to the area, so you need to remove the smell with a good enzymatic cleaner.
  • Block access — Use a scratching surface to block your cat’s access to the area.

Maintaining your cat’s claws

Maintaining your cat’s claws can also help salvage your furniture. Recommendations include:

  • Claw trimming — Trimming your cat’s claws regularly is important to prevent ingrown claws and infection, plus trimmed claws do less damage to your furniture than razor sharp claws. Trim your cat’s claws every 7 to 10 days. Steps include:
    • Get your cat used to having their paws handled by putting gentle pressure on their paw pads while giving them a treat.
    • Restrain your cat appropriately. Each cat is different—some do better with minimal restraint, while others must be wrapped in a towel for the procedure.
    • Use cat-specific, sharp claw trimmers to prevent nail splitting.
    • Gently extend the claw and trim the white area. Do not cut the pink area (i.e., the quick), which will bleed.
    • Be patient. Many cats will tolerate only one or two claws being trimmed at a time.
    • Treat your cat after the procedure, so they will positively associate the treat with the process.
  • Claw capping — Blunt acrylic nail caps can be glued to your cat’s claws to help prevent destructive scratching. The caps must be replaced about every two weeks as the nail grows.

What not to do

When trying to redirect your cat’s scratching behavior, these actions are strongly discouraged:

  • Punishing your cat — Punishing your cat when they scratch inappropriately only leads to stress and can worsen the situation. Try to remember that they aren’t scratching to intentionally damage your belongings. 
  • Forcing your cat to use the scratcher — Placing your cat’s paws on the scratcher to simulate scratching may scare them, and they will then avoid the scratcher.
  • Throwing away an old scratcher — Old scratchers can get beaten up, but cats prefer the used scratching surface that has their scent. 
  • Declawing your cat — Some people resort to declawing their cat to prevent scratching, but this procedure can lead to long-term behavioral problems and orthopedic complications and is strongly discouraged. 

If your cat is less than cooperative about their claws being trimmed, contact our Valley Center Veterinary Clinic, so we can help wrangle your fearsome feline.