Consider These Options to Decrease

Undesirable Scratching Behavior in the Home

Lisa Oakes – January 15, 2021

Has your cat just shredded your favorite chair, pouf, or throw pillow? Is your kitten seemingly determined to unravel your rug one thread at a time? Are you at your wits end? What are you going to do?! You might be a bit apprehensive about declawing your cat. You might even oppose the notion of declawing entirely. Wherever you stand on the controversial issue of declawing, there are lots of options for tempering undesirable scratching behavior that will allow your kitty to retain their glorious claws, and hopefully restore peace to your home in the process.

Avoid Punishment

It is important to understand that scratching is an innate feature of being a cat. They engage in this behavior for a variety of reasons, such as marking their territory, stretching, conditioning their claws, and alleviation of boredom or stress. A little patience goes a long way in this case. Punishing your cat by yelling, spraying with water, or  withholding food is not likely to produce the outcome you desire. It goes without saying that you should never physically strike your cat…but I said it anyway. Cats do not tend to understand the connection between punitive actions and your desire that they discontinue a particular behavior. Instead, punishment may inadvertently increase their stress levels, which might actually increase the frequency of their scratching behavior. As such, cat owners need to take deliberate steps toward adjusting their environment to prevent undesirable scratching behaviors and to keep the peace with their cats.

Provide Acceptable Scratch Zones

Providing acceptable scratch zones is imperative to keep your cat from clawing undesirable items in your home. There are a variety of cat-friendly scratching surfaces available. For example, a good scratching post might preserve both your furniture and your sanity. Alternatively, an old ottoman or chair might work well if you do not mind it being clawed. However, placement of this item is important. Try setting it up somewhere away from other furniture and undesirable scratching locations to avoid potentially confusing your cat. You might also sprinkle a little cat nip on the surface of this designated spot to attract them to where you want them to scratch. If you have the space, consider investing in multiple scratch zones and strategically place them throughout your home. This will give your cat several enticing alternatives to your valuable furniture.

Protect Your Furniture

It might be time to place deterrents directly onto your furniture. Sometimes laying tin foil or a double-sided training tape, like “Sticky Paws,” over their favorite scratch zone can effectively deter a cat from scratching where they shouldn’t. Laying a blanket or sheet over your furniture might also prevent damage. However, this is certainly not the most aesthetically pleasing option. Several manufactured furniture protectors exist specifically for this reason. For example, “Furniture Defender Cat Scratch Deterrent” furniture protectors are transparent and relatively inconspicuous. They adhere directly to upholstered furniture, preventing your kitty’s claws from actually penetrating the fabric.

Some furniture protectors, such as the “Kool Kitty Sisal Furniture Protector Set,” are designed to act as an alternative scratch pad. These protectors wrap around the corner of a chair or couch, covering one entire side, and provide an acceptable scratch zone for your cat. While these are not transparent, they are often made of lovely natural fibers that most seem to cats enjoy. This method works well within small spaces where larger scratch pads or where scratching posts are not practical.

Use a Pheromone Spray

Environmental changes or introduction of another animal into the home can cause significant stress to your cat. If you think stress might be the underlying cause of your cat’s inappropriate scratching behavior, a calming pheromone spray might help. Pheromone sprays like, “Comfort Zone Spray & Scratch Control,” are usually applied directly to the place where your cat scratches. They are designed to calm your cat and prevent destructive scratching on furniture, floors, and other unacceptable surfaces. There are seemingly infinite pheromone spray products on the market that claim to be recommended by veterinarians, contain no harmful drugs, and have no discernable scent. If you have trouble sifting through all the available options, ask your veterinarian to recommend an effective one of which they are familiar.

Give Your Cat a Manicure

Yes, you read that correctly. Regular trimming of your cat’s claws will keep them short and their points less sharp. Obviously, shorter claws can do less damage to valued surfaces on which your cat may want to scratch. You might also consider applying “press-on nails” or claw covers for cats (e.g., “Soft Paws”). Such claw covers are soft vinyl caps that are glued to each individual nail. The caps act as a sheath to effectively dull the sharpness of each claw, preventing damage when your cat scratches. They are relatively inexpensive and they come in a myriad of colorful options, so they can be as pretty as your kitty! In addition to sparing your furniture, this method may reduce the likelihood that your kitty will accidentally scratch small children, older adults, or other pets. If you struggle to trim claws or apply claw covers on your own, try enlisting a friend to help. You may also want to ask your veterinarian if they provide such a service. If so, it is usually inexpensive and relatively quick.

Cat Shoes

Some cat owners may feel that press-on claw covers are cumbersome to manage. Another option may be to get your kitty some booties! You can choose from adjustable silicone shoes or cute cat socks that cover the entire surface area of each paw. Your cat will still be able to walk around in them, but will be prevented from scratching on unwanted surfaces within your home. Cat shoes can be worn all throughout the day or for only a short period of time, like while you are out. The decision to cover your cat’s paws entirely may require that you start early in the life of your cat. Kittens may get used to wearing such foot coverings over time, but an older cat may reject the idea immediately.

Distract Your Cat

Does your cat have a favorite toy? Is it impossible for them to resist the red dot? If so, you might be able to use this to your advantage! It will require some vigilance on your part, but that toy might be an effective distracter to draw your cat away from furniture where they like to scratch. At the moment you see your cat headed over to sharpen her claws in a “no-no zone,” try and intercept them before they get there. Fire up that laser pointer to get their attention. See if you can entice them to stalk or chase the red dot in the opposite direction. A stimulating race around the room, or into another room, chasing a favorite toy might provide enough action to satisfy your cat’s claw sharpening need for a little while, at least. Of course, distracting your cat when they approach an undesirable scratching place may not be necessary once some of the other measures mentioned above have been successfully implemented within your home.

Interact Regularly With Your Cat

This one may sound like a no-brainer to most cat lovers, but regular interaction with you can help your cat feel safe within their environment, theoretically reducing their stress levels. As such, it is important to set aside some time to pet, cuddle, and play with your cat. Cats are known for their curiosity. Playing with your cat often will also help them satiate that need to explore, which may avert boredom throughout the day. Sometimes the simplest of items (e.g., a cardboard box) can be tons of fun for a cat. There are also plenty of other stimulating items out there with which to entertain your cat, such as cat nip, string, faux-fur mice, a paper bag, or a laser-pointer. The point is that you are engaging with them, they are not playing alone. Regular positive interaction with you can help cultivate a close bond between you and your cat. As an added bonus, you will also glean positive effects from hanging out with your cat and playing with them. Some research supports the notion that pet ownership can contribute to a variety of health benefits for humans. So, be sure to get your daily dose of positive interaction with your cat! All this play time might even contribute to a reduction in undesirable scratching behaviors at the same time. Everybody wins!