Everyone who has ever owned a cat has scars and snags on her furniture and rugs to show for it. Scratching is a natural part of cats’ behavior. They do it to mark their territory, clean and sharpen their claws, and stretch the muscles in their paws, legs and backs.
Since scratching is so important to the mental and physical well-being of your cat, the first rule is do not declaw him! Declawing a cat is like removing the first joint on each of your fingers and toes. Increasingly, vets are refusing to declaw cats. It’s even illegal in some cities.
Cats who go outdoors have the opportunity to scratch on trees and probably won’t bother your furniture much. However, letting your cat outdoors means exposing him to dangers, such as traffic and coyotes. Indoor cats simply need to have their claws trimmed and to have scratching alternatives that are more attractive than your furniture.
Clipped claws will significantly reduce the amount of damage your cat can do by scratching. When it comes to trimming claws, every cat is different. I live with four cats, and the level of difficulty ranges from cuddling up next to Bootsie and simply cutting her nails, to Gracie, who requires a towel, a hood, two people to hold her down and one to clip. You can always take your cat to the vet or groomer to have his nails clipped, or have a mobile groomer come to you. If you need instructions on clipping your cat’s nails at home, ask your vet to show you how to do it without cutting into the quick. You can also purchase nail covers that glue onto cats’ claws and blunt them, but if your cat will sit still for having things glued onto his claws, you might as well just clip them.
Cats tend to have favorite spots they like to scratch, such as the end of a sofa where you often sit or the corner of a rug near your favorite chair. There are several ways you can make your furniture less attractive to them. You can purchase no scratch sprays designed to eliminate their marking odors and make the scratching spot smell unpleasant to them. Many of these cat scratch sprays are made with herbs and substances like orange oil and eucalyptus that smell good to humans but bad to cats.
Felines also dislike sticky, smooth or metallic surfaces. Double-sided tape such as Sticky Paws, masking tape or strips of aluminum foil laid over favorite scratching areas will encourage them to scratch elsewhere. This is when appropriate cat scratching surfaces come into play.
Once you’ve made his preferred scratching areas unappealing, supply your cat with plenty of alternative scratching surfaces, both horizontal and vertical. Place the scratchers near your cat’s favorite scratching spots. Get a cat tree with carpeted and sisal-wrapped areas. Offer a scratching post as tall as your stretched-out cat. Disposable cardboard scratchers are also appreciated; Trader Joe’s offers a flat cardboard scratcher for about $7. You can sprinkle catnip or use catnip spray on the scratchers to encourage your cat. When he has learned to scratch in the right areas, you can remove all the tape and foil from your furniture.
If your cat persists in scratching where he shouldn’t, a sharp “No!” and a squirt of water from a spray bottle can help. Praise him and give treats when he uses his cat tree or scratching post instead of the sofa.
Sometimes cat owners have to admit defeat. If you have precious silk rugs or delicate antique furniture, make one room of your house off limits to cats if possible. However, sometimes that won’t work—I live in an open-plan house where there are few doors to close. I owned a beautiful wool Tibetan rug, and every cat who has ever been near it has fond it to be the perfect scratching surface no matter what I spray on it or how many cat scratching posts I deploy. I finally gave it to a cat-free relative.
About the Author: Lisa King is a freelance writer living in Southern California. She is the former managing editor of Pet Product News International, Dogs USA, and Natural Dog magazines. Lisa is also the author of the well-received murder mystery novel “Death in a Wine Dark Sea” and the recently released “Vulture au Vin.”