Your eyes slowly take in the scene. A bit of white couch stuffing on the floor, deep scratches in the couch, and your adorable cat Oliver standing in a corner, licking his paw and looking far too innocent.
The problem of cats scratching furniture is challenge faced by many cat owners. Most cats have scratched up furniture at least once in their lives. But here is some good news for you cat owners: cats can be trained not to scratch furniture. With consistent training, you can train your cat to scratch a scratching post instead of your favorite armchair.
Cats have a natural inclination to climb and to scratch. Historically, cats were hunters chasing after small prey. Finding food meant climbing trees and scratching through brush to reach their prey. In order to keep their claws sharp for hunting, cats needed to scratch rough objects like trees. This instinct carries on until today, when cats are usually kept as household pets. Even though Oliver lives in your apartment now, and not in a jungle, his scratching instincts remain strong. Historical instincts like scratching are not easily overcome just by domestication of the cat. Training a cat to stop scratching up furniture and other household objects is a project that requires dedication.
Understanding that this behavior is natural can help you stay positive during the training process. There is nothing wrong with your cat if he scratches up a piece of furniture. He is not being malicious or showing any severe behavioral issue. By scratching, your cat is simply showing that this natural instinct remains strong. To avoid property damage, you can gradually train your cat to avoid this instinctual behavior and stop scratching.
As a temporary training technique, you can confine your cat to a specific area where the appropriate scratching post is the only option. No couches, chairs, or other “scratchable” furniture should be around to tempt your cat. This is obviously a temporary measure, since you do not want to keep your cat confined long-term. However, by being confined for a short while, your cat can get used to scratching the designated post instead of your furniture. Make sure that your cat has adequate food, water, litter, toys, and play time in the confined space. Reward your cat anytime he scratches the post. This helps your cat associate scratching the post with positivity.
The scratching post should be made of a rough material that attracts cats for scratching. You can make a homemade scratching post, but the posts made specifically for cats are generally safer and more durable. You can rub catnip on the scratching post to make it more attractive for your cat. Put some toys on the platform(s) of the scratching post to encourage your cat to climb and scratch here. Most cats enjoy a scratching session immediately after waking up. If you see your cat waking up from a nap, go over to the scratching post and scratch lightly on the post yourself. This can show your cat what the post is for, and encourage your cat to scratch this designated toy. When the cat scratches the scratching post, use praise and treats for positive reinforcement.
As soon as you see your cat going to the scratching post on his own, immediately give your cat a treat or other positive feedback. Verbal praise should always be combined with some physical reward, such as a treat or petting. Never try to forcibly pull your cat to the scratching post. This can make your cat associate the scratching post with bad things and can prevent effective training. Positive reinforcement is the best method for training your cat not to scratch furniture. Because cats are very sensitive animals, too much negative feedback can make training very difficult.
If positive reinforcement of your cat using the scratching post is not effective, negative feedback can be used as a last resort. If your cat is scratching furniture and is not using the scratching post, mild negative feedback methods can be used. One of the more effective negative reinforcement techniques is spraying the cat from a spray bottle or a water gun. If your cat begins scratching furniture, you can try spraying him with a bit of water or clapping your hands loudly to startle him.
Again, if your cat scratches the correct scratching post, praise your cat enthusiastically and give him a treat. These punishments of spraying or clapping should only be used if your cat is not responding well to the positive reinforcement alone. But, you should still continue to use positive feedback for your cat’s good behavior, along with the negative feedback. The combination of positive and negative feedback can be an effective training tool even for hard-to-train cats. But in general, cats respond better to kind, positive reinforcement.
Finally, in order to train your cat to stop scratching furniture, adequate supervision is essential. If you are not around to see your cat scratching, you cannot provide the necessary alternatives (e.g. a scratching post). Also, if you decide to use negative feedback techniques, you need to be around to actually catch your cat in the act of scratching. You cannot punish or reward a cat for something you did not actually see them do.
Therefore, an important part of training your cat not to scratch furniture is spending time with your cat. When you see your cat scratching the scratching post, reward him with a treat or a toy. If you see your cat scratching furniture, the punishment must be immediate. Never spray a cat or clap your hands if the cat has stopped scratching the furniture. This delayed punishment will confuse your cat and can ruin the trust in the training process. Supervising your cat and providing immediate feedback is a central part of training your cat not to scratch furniture. Training your cat takes time and dedication. With a positive attitude, you can help your cat to channel his natural scratching instincts to a harmless alternative.
**PETA strongly recommends against declawing. We aim to present better and healthier alternatives.