How to Train Your Cat to Stop Scratching the Couch
By Mark Edwards
Scratching Behaviors And Dealing With Them
Cats are notorious for scratching beloved furniture and even the occasional person or two. Scratching as a behavior, however, is completely normal and natural for cats. Cats will typically scratch both vertical and horizontal surfaces on a regular basis on any given day. For outdoor cats, this would typically include scratching the side of a tree trunk for a vertical surface, and dirt or grass for a horizontal one.
One of the primary reasons cats scratch is to mark their territory. Cats have scent and sweat glands within their paws, and as they scratch a surface, a cat’s unique scent I.D. will be added to the object they are scratching. This scent, in combination with the more obvious scratch marks in the object that has been marked, sends out a clear message to other cats. Scratching behaviors exhibited by cats have a number of other purposes including:
- Stretching muscles, joints, and ligaments
- Sharpening nails
- Digging over their pee or poop in the litter tray
- Expressing behaviors to other cats – another means of communication
- And finally – because sometimes they just darn-well enjoy it
Your cat is going to scratch, whether you like it or not! It is how we dictate where and when they scratch that is the most important point when dealing with this behavior in your home.
How to Train Your Cat to Stop Scratching the Couch
1. Get Your Cat To Scratch The Appropriate Objects
First and foremost, it is a great idea to have dedicated places in your home that are set up with objects that your cat can happily scratch. Find a scratching post that is perfectly suited for your cat’s natural desire to want to scratch both horizontal and vertical surfaces. Having Hi-Lo scratching posts around your home will help keep your cats scratching on something allowable, and keep them away from scratching something forbidden. Thankfully, like other Hepper pieces, the Hi-Lo scratching post also looks good in your home, rather than the typical carpet-laden scratching posts of days gone by.
Because scratching posts are seen as a place for your cat to leave its scent and gain some territorial confidence, it is best to have a scratching post in each of the common areas of your home. If you have several cats, then having the scratching posts in these common, ‘neutral’ areas will be less stressful than the cats potentially scenting each other’s safe place’. In most cases, it will be the scratching post your cat notices first as he or she enters a room. This is primarily because of the combination of the visual appearance of the post, and the scent from the cats that have been using it.
The horizontal and vertical nature of a scratching post, its size, and the texture of the scratching area, all mean it will prove to be very popular for your cats. Letting them scratch away on an appropriate and effective object like this will also work toward keeping them territorially confident. In fact, the best way to confirm this is to see how often they use the Hi-Lo post in front of you. A cat scratching directly in front of its owner is typically a very territorially confident one.
2. How to Deal With Scratching Behaviors
If you are dealing with a situation where your cat is scratching at something that you deem to be inappropriate (say your new leather couch, or nice carpet) then it is important to try and redirect them on to something they are allowed to scratch. This may mean initially limiting their access to the area of the object they seem to have an affinity for sticking their claws into.
With time, you can introduce an appropriate scratching tool such as a scratching post to the area. Sprinkling any scratching post with a few treats and catnip is a surefire way to divert their scratching attention, leading them away from inappropriate objects your cat has been scratching. For all of the reasons mentioned above, keeping your cat’s nails at a reasonable length is crucial to minimize any damage should your cat scratch something he or she shouldn’t. Older cats that don’t move around as much are very prone to ingrown nails so be extra vigilant with older cats. Ingrown nails are extremely painful and completely preventable with the right care and regular nail checks.
3. Trim Their Nails
Cats may need to have their nails trimmed anywhere between 2 – 4 months depending on how active they are.
In many cases, it is best to have your cat’s nails trimmed at your local veterinary clinic, as it can be difficult to have someone hold your cat while you attempt to expose each nail and trim the right part of the nail. If you have a well-behaved cat and a gentle assistant who can hold your cat for you, then you may want to try trimming your cat’s nails at home.
First off, be sure to buy a nice pair of cat-specific nail trimmers from your local veterinary clinic or pet store. In order to trim their nails, it is important to have an understanding of how their nails work and where you can and can’t trim them. It can be difficult to get the hang of exposing each of your cat’s nails, but with some practice, you will get there. Gently extend the paw, and while doing so, put a little pressure on the top and bottom of each ‘knuckle’ closest to the nail on the paw, one at a time. Doing so should extend the nail for you to be able to see it. Once you see it, you should be able to see the quick where the blood vessels and nerves are. Always make sure you cut well away from here.
Again, this isn’t an easy exercise and is often best left to the veterinary staff at your local veterinary clinic to handle. Doing so will also remove any stress from this nail trimming process affecting your cat-friendly home environment as well as the bond you have with your cat. Whatever your decision about where your cat’s nails will be trimmed, it is always easier to trim them as a matter of course if the process is started at a young age. Gently trimming your kitten’s nails is the best way to get cats used to the procedure, so long as you can do it in a stress-free manner.
Should I Have My Cat Declawed? (NO!)
An estimated one in four cats gets declawed in the United States. Declawing is a serious surgical procedure in which the vet amputates the first joint of each toe. The surgery may cause severe pain to the cat and is so controversial that 22 countries have outlawed it. Most cat behaviorists do not recommend declawing. It can lead to arthritis in the hips and back due to its effect on the cat’s gait, and it may cause behavioral problems such as inappropriate elimination.
What about a cat that is already declawed?
Maybe you adopted a shelter cat who underwent a declawing operation in a previous home, or you may have chosen to have your cat declawed some time ago. In these cases, your cat will still have the itch to scratch, so to speak. You can try to help by buying her a scratching post made of carpet instead of sisal. Her strong cat toes can grip the fabric easier. The post will allow him to stretch his back, relieve stress, and leave his scent marks on his property. Also, be sure to use a soft (not sandy) litter, and check your cat’s paws for sores. To be clear: we do not support declawing and urge all pet parents to never do this!
Will a Scratching Post Really Stop My Cat From Scratching the Furniture?
Some people tell us they’ve tried a scratching post and it didn’t work. That’s probably because they haven’t found the right post yet. What makes a good scratching post? Look for a wide base. This gives the post stability, and a cat won’t tolerate a post that wobbles. If you’ve already experimented with a sisal post and your cat turned away, try a carpet, cardboard or wood post. You can even offer both a horizontal and a tall vertical post to see which one your cat prefers. Sometimes, sprinkling a little catnip around the post or showing an interest in it yourself is enough to get the cat started using it. Love a weekend project? You can build a scratching post yourself. Plans range from a simple cardboard- and-glue-gun option to ones that require wood and a drill.
This is Chapter 10 of the 12 Chapter Series:
Featured Image Credit: EbneRol, Shutterstock