How to Train a Cat Not to Scratch the Furniture

Bodie the cat uses his scratching post. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Lynn Newbill of Alexandria, Va.)

Bodie the cat uses his scratching post. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Lynn Newbill of Alexandria, Va.)

Many cat experts say declawing feline forefeet should only be a last resort, after nonsurgical solutions have been exhausted. If you want your cat to keep its claws intact, but don't want shredded furniture, you must first understand why cats scratch in the first place, then take appropriate get the cat to stop scratching the furniture.

Why do cats scratch?

While dogs urinate to mark their territory, cats have another method of scent-marking: By using their claws, they mark an area with the scent from their paw glands. They also mark visually by leaving shredded material behind as evidence and to display dominance in front of subordinate cats.

cat nail clippers
Lynn Newbill says it's not difficult to train a cat to use designated scratching posts and pads. It also helps to use nail trimmers to keep claws blunt. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Lynn Newbill of Alexandria, Va.)

But cats don't use scratching solely as a social cue. Often, they scratch as a way to stretch and exercise their legs or to condition their claws by removing their old nail sheaths.

RELATED: Should You Declaw Your Cat?

Cat scratching alternatives

Use scratching posts. Providing cats, preferably starting when they’re kittens, with stable, sturdy and rough-textured scratching posts and pads, will help them develop healthy scratching habits. Catnip may help attract a cat to a post or pad, as can providing treats and praise for using designated scratching areas.

Trim the cat's nails.  Cutting down nails will keep cats from needing to scratch so much, so be sure to clip nails every one or two weeks. It’s easiest to get cats used to this if you start when they’re kittens.

Use deterrents. Stick double-sided tape on furniture, which makes the surface unpleasant for cats. Use feline pheromone spray, which reduces the cat’s desire to scent-mark. Spray the cat with a water bottle if they're scratching somewhere other than a scratching post.

cat scratching post
Lily the cat uses her claws on a scratching pad. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Lynn Newbill of Alexandria, Va.)

Use nail covers. Glue soft plastic covers onto the cat’s nails every four or six weeks. You can buy these  at most pet stores for about $15 to $25.

“To avoid destructive cat behavior and clawing, you’ll need to be willing and able to invest time, effort and money,” says Lynn Newbill, a cat-owning Angie’s List member in Alexandria, Va., who’s successfully tried several of these methods. “I’d urge people to learn about cat behavior before adopting. Understand what you’re getting into before bringing a cat into your home.”

Also, consult with a general veterinarian, a feline practitioner or animal behavior expert. Angie’s List can help you find a top-rated professional. Members have access to local consumer reviews on veterinarians and service providers in more than 550 other categories.

MORE: Veterinarian Gives Blind Cat the Gift of Sight

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on Nov. 26, 2012.

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Each of our 3 cats have a designated scratching post and they often scratch each other's, yet my cat 8months, continues to scratch on the couch and boxspring mattresses that he can reach, he isn't a fan of human contact so it's very difficult to trim his nails. When I catch him scratching I usually blow in his face (he HATES this!) also how I kept him out of the Christmas tree. What can I do to get him to stop?

Scratching is a natural instinct....but cats are also very trainable. Don't be afraid to train your cat with a strong verbal "NO" However, keep in mind, they can't talk, so their only way of communicating and getting a response is to do things that you react to. If their behavior is responded to, that means "success" to them. Move your furniture or other things too and put the scratching post in that spot. You may have to try a number of things, but it is possible to change behavior if you really want to :)

Declawing cats should be outlawed. If one does not like claws then do not keep cats. And cats are happiest outsice unless the weather is inclement, but the current myth is that this is untrue. What really is true is that cats can not safely be kept outside in many areas, because those that hate them have found that they face little recrimination if they kill cats.

De-clawing of cats should be outlawed. If one can not stand claws they should not keep a cat. Claws are a cats only insurance because you can be sure that extremely few people will consider adopting your adult pet. And cats are happiest outside unless the weather is inclement, but anecdotal advice states this as untrue. What is true is that cats are no longer safe outside in many areas, because people that hate them have found they face little if any consequences for killing cats. For the most part, this is a great article with good advice.

After many headaches, I found a solution to the cats scratching my furniture. When the neighbors at my workplace cut down a good sized tree. I obtained a 2 1/2 ft length of the trunk heavy enough to stand solidly upright. It was about eleven -twelve inches in diameter sliced straight across as they do to make the pieces easier to transport. I took the section of trunk home and set it iupright n the corner of my kitchen. I thinned white glue until I could easily paint it on the trunk/ I put glue on several areas at different heights around the trunk then sprinkled each area liberally with catnip. The cats were first attracted to the catnip and then stayed --attracted to the bark for scratching. Bark is a much more natural surface for clawing than upholstry, varnished table legs or carpets. My cats preferred it to the sissal wraped posts. I still have the section of tree trunk fifteen years later. and our cat still uses it. We have no clawed furniture in our house at all. Every new cat learned from the others where to scratch. If you decide to try this, be sure to get the section from a HEALTHY tree. A dead tree or a section of trunk that has laid out side for a while will probably have various sorts of insects in it.

My new kittty Tom has a scratching post that he uses regularly but he seems to think scratching on my (formerly) handsome jewlery armoire is more of a morning game. It's how he lets me know he's ready for me to get up. Squirting the water bottle makes him run only to keep returning with a vengeance until I finally get up or shoo him out of my bedroom and close the door on him. Tom can start this "game" as early as 2am but usually around 6 or so. It is the ONLY time he scratches on this particular piece of furniture. Because of the early hour I probably am not handling this behaviour in the most constructive way. It's mostly yelling and getting him to stop if only momentariy than totally diverting his behavior. The wave sculpture mommabear mentions sounds interesting...where to buy?? and I wil be sure to praise him for scratching on his post as suggested by Sherry.

Other reasons cats scratch furniture: One of my cats used to scratch furniture whenever he was angry with me. My mother used to train her cats to scratch furniture whenever they wanted to go out. When they were kittens, she would get upset when they scratched furniture (especially the couch) so she would yell at them and put them outside (where they were afraid to go) briefly. As the cats got older, though, they wanted to go outside and by then they had learned that scratching the couch was the fastest and easiest way to indicate that. I never figured out why Mom kept doing that with each new kitten.

a spritz with a water bottle, one that shoots a good strong straight stream, does wonders in deterring the kitties from any innappropriate behavior. It only takes a couple of times, and they've got the message. Even staying away from the bird feeders, and that is huge temptation! (works on deer too) The double stick tape on furniture is brilliant too. You can remove it later when they have learned their inside manners. There are very attractive scratching pads. We have something different in every room. One looks like a wave sculpture, but has scratching material across the crest of the wave. The cats love it and my formal living room doesn't have a pole sticking up out of the floor.

What a wonder! We were adopted by a 3-year-old spayed cat who was always outside at her previous home. When weather got cold we tried bringing her into our home. My DH built her a scratching post...wood post on a base that was wrapped with sisal rope that was stapled to the post. Even though we put catnip on the post, she ignored it for a week or so. Then one day she tried scratching on it. We were armed with cat treats and praised her lavishly for scratching. After a couple times of the scratch/reward cycle, she's now scratching several times a day then looks for her treat. I think we're going to have to buy a case of cat treats, but that is cheaper than replacing shredded furniture! Thanks for the hints!

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