By Helen Anne Travis
Even the most well-behaved cats can’t help but wreak havoc on our furniture. It’s not their fault they think our couches are giant scratching posts. Fortunately, there are ways to cat-proof your furniture and prevent further destruction. All it takes are a few supplies and some positive reinforcement training.
“Scratching is a natural part of feline behavior,” says Dr. Jeffrey Levy, a holistic house-call veterinarian and pet expert in New York City. “It’s a way to mark territory, release tension, and do some stretching exercises.”
It’s also a way for cats to keep their nails trimmed, says Dr. Cathy Meeks, a board-certified internal medicine specialist and a group medical director at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Florida. “They see your couch as a toy and a tool,” she says.
As destructive as this scratching might be to your furniture, you could take it as a compliment. “It is actually an honor that they want to scratch where you, their adoptive parents, hang out,” says Dr. Jennifer Conrad, a veterinarian and the founder and director of The Paw Project, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the practice of declawing. “By marking your sofa or your chair, they are telling other cats that you belong to them and they belong to you.”
Just because scratching is a natural behavior doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice your couch. By setting up decoy scratching posts, you can give cats a place to mark, stretch, and trim their nails, without damaging your belongings.
Place the posts near the cat’s favorite couches, suggests Lauren Haynes, a home organizing expert at Star Domestic Cleaners in London. Levy also recommends putting one by their bed, as cats often like to scratch and stretch when they first wake up.
“Because the cat is marking territory by scratching, cat scratching surfaces must be in prominent areas of the household,” Conrad adds. “It can't be in the garage, behind the dryer. This just isn't the territory in question.”
By gently redirecting them when they start on the couch, you can show cats where it’s OK to scratch, using catnip and treats to reinforce the behavior.
Don’t give up if your cat doesn’t seem interested in the posts. Instead, try experimenting with different textures, like carpet, sisal, and corrugated cardboard, Conrad says. Changing the angle and positioning might also pique their interest.
Consider investing in a velvet couch, as the fabric’s looped threads make it harder for cats to sink their claws into, Haynes says. “Velvet is a proven fabric in the war against pet scratching.”
“You can nicely tell your cat to find a new place to hang out by spraying your furniture with air freshener,” says Harriet Jones, a cleaning supervisor at Go Cleaners London. “Cats don't like citrus-based scents. This will force them to find another place to practice their scratching.”
For a DIY option, squeeze a lemon into one liter of water, add orange essential oil and eucalyptus oil, and spray on the sofa (testing a small space first). “It smells lovely to us but our kitties hate it,” says Andy Mcnaby of pet product review site Pet Gear Lab.
Cats also dislike the smell of apple cider vinegar, Jones says. “Combine equal parts of water and apple cider vinegar and use a spray bottle to apply it over the spots where your cat usually scratches,” she says. Again, apply to a small area first to make sure the spray doesn’t harm the fabric.
Double-sided tape is another effective tool in your couch-saving arsenal, Mcnaby says. “Cats hate sticky things.” Place the tape on the furniture and refer cats to a nearby post instead. They will eventually learn where it’s OK to scratch, making the tape just a temporary fixture, he says.
“In multi-cat households, it's a good idea to get a cat pheromone plug-in and put it in the room with the most furniture,” says Kelly Meister-Yetter, an animal activist and author. Pheromones tend to mellow cats out, she says. With the plugins, kitty will likely be more interested in a good nap than a good scratching session.
“Declawing cats is never the right option,” says Conrad. The process involves amputating the last bone in the cat's toes and is extremely painful, she says. Declawing your cat could also be counterproductive to your furniture-protecting efforts. “Declawed cats are less likely to use the litter box because it hurts to dig,” she says. “They will begin to pee or poop on something soft.” Like your couch.
Humane alternatives to declawing include keeping the cat’s nails trimmed, starting at a young age so they're used to the process, she says. There is also a product that covers the claws with a vinyl sheath. “They are a temporary solution for use as the cat learns appropriate scratching places,” Conrad says.