How to stop cats scratching furniture

Why do our cats often claw at sofas, chairs, carpets or other home furnishings – and what can we do about it?

We may love our cats – but we don’t love it when they scratch our home furnishings. It’s one of our feline friends’ less attractive habits, and it can often be expensive to put right, too! So, what’s going on – and how can we discourage them?

It may be annoying for you, but scratching is normal, healthy behaviour for your cat. For starters, scratching is essential for claw maintenance. By clawing and plucking, your cat removes the dry outer layers of their claws to reveal new, sharp ones underneath. (You might find the discarded claw sheaths around their favourite scratching places.) Sharp claws are vital for hunting and climbing.

Scratching also gives the muscles and tendons in your cat’s spine, front legs and toes a great workout, keeping them in shape for climbing and pouncing. Many cats especially enjoy a stretch and scratch when they wake from a snooze.

Cats mark their territory and communicate with other cats by scratching, too. Every cat has scent glands – called interdigital glands – between the pads on their feet. When they spread their toes to scratch, they leave their scent on the surface they’re clawing. Scratching spreads their familiar smell around the home, while the sight and scent of scratch marks tells other cats this territory is already taken. If your pet feels anxious about a rival cat, they may scratch more around entrances to your home.

Your cat’s scratching could even be a way of communicating with you. If you interact with your pet when they scratch – even if it’s to say ‘get your claws off that couch!’ – they’ll soon learn it’s an effective way of getting your attention.

Don’t imagine your cat scratches furniture and carpets to be destructive on purpose, so never punish your cat for scratching. It won’t stop them, and may even make them more anxious – and therefore likely to scratch.

Take a two-step approach. Firstly, make it impossible or unpleasant for your cat to claw the arm of your sofa, your bottom stair or wherever they are scratching. Wash any previously scratched areas with laundry liquid or disinfectant to remove the cat’s scent. Then, break the scratching habit by covering the affected area in claw-unfriendly foil, polythene, sandpaper or decorators’ flooring protection film. (Patch-test the area first to make sure the protection doesn’t spoil your furniture or carpet.)

At the same time, provide your pet with alternative scratching opportunities more appealing than sofas and wallpaper. A good scratching post is essential. Ideally, you want one 80-90cm high, so your cat can stretch to full height when scratching. The post should be sturdy enough to support their body weight without moving – so choose one that has a heavy base or can be anchored to the wall or floor.

Most cats like to scratch vertical surfaces, but some prefer a horizontal or slanted scratching post. Cat-scratching posts from pet shops often have sisal rope wound around them, but some cats don’t like these horizontal strands and prefer to scratch coir matting, carpet, corrugated cardboard or wood instead.

It may take trial and error to find (or make) the perfect scratching post for your cat, but it’s worth persevering to save your soft furnishings.

Provide a scratching post for each cat in your household and, if possible, an extra one, too. Position them by each cat’s favourite sleeping place and/or preferred entrance. If your cat already has an established scratching place, place the post there and, once they start using it, move it a few centimetres at a time to a more convenient location. Then, cautiously remove protective coverings from furnishings.

Your cat may avoid a strange new scratching post at first, so attract their interest by rubbing catnip into the surface, putting treats around the post or coaxing them towards it with a fishing-rod toy. Don’t carry your cat to the scratching post or try to put their paws on it, though, as this is likely to put them off.

Be patient – it could take days or even weeks for your cat to start scratching a new post.

Frequent scratching keeps a cat’s claws in tip-top condition. If your cat isn’t able to scratch, perhaps because they’re elderly or poorly, or they’re at risk of their claws curling and growing into their paw pads, you might need to trim their claws – ask your vet for advice.

A few owners, mainly in the US, have their cat’s claws surgically removed to prevent scratching. Declawing is a painful procedure that carries a risk of infection and leaves a cat unable to climb or fight to protect themselves. It was outlawed in the UK in 2006.

If you notice a sudden change in your cat’s scratching behaviour, consult your vet to rule out any underlying medical causes. And if you’re still struggling to stop a cat scratching your prized carpet or favourite chair, despite following all the advice in this article, you might like to consider consulting a qualified pet behaviourist, such as a member of the Animal Behaviour and Training Council.

Petplan will assess any behaviourist claims if your pet is referred to a behaviourist by your vet, as long as they are either: a vet, a member of a veterinary practice, a person who holds the Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist (CCAB) qualification, or a member of one of the organisations listed within your terms and conditions.

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