How can I get my cat to stop scratching the furniture? May 8, 2018

How can I get my cat to stop scratching the furniture?

Original Question: Hello Dr. Greenway, my mother is a HUGE fan and highly recommended you. You helped her with our family dog Sadie (Pomeranian) who had some breathing issues. I however, have a cat that will be 2 in November of this year. Nala is her name and she has quite the personality. She often uses my leather couch as a scratch post and I desperately want to curb this behaviour. How can I get her to use a scratch post and refrain from using furniture? Are there different methods? I.e. Sprays, etc. All advice is greatly appreciated and I look forward to hearing from you. Kind regards. - Jeremey

Hi Jeremey,

Thanks for your question.

This could be a very frustrating situation. It’s important that you address it immediately because the longer it persists, the more ingrained the behaviour becomes and the harder it will be to resolve.

Here are some strategies…

  1. Start working on nail trimming immediately. Take time to massage and probe the toes and paws so your cat gets used to you handling them. Then get some good clippers and clip one nail. That’s it. Do one nail a day only. If you clip all the nails in one day it can be a stressful episode and they can be turned off of it for good. Use treats and give lots of love after each trim. Gradually make the nail trimming episodes longer and clip more nails. You’ll find that they turn into a cat that barely even struggles when they receive a nail trim. I just did my cat’s nails and without a word of a lie, it took 2 minutes and there was no struggling. You can watch our video on nail trimming to help.
  2. Get appropriate toys and products that they are allowed to scratch. Buy a scratching post and focus their attention on it by sprinkling catnip or placing treats on it. This will give them an outlet for the behaviour that is appropriate and tolerable. There are great resources for this. You can even buy corrugated cardboard boxes that you can sprinkle catnip into which really draws their attention.
  3. Avoid punishment if you can. If you do find that your new cat is scratching the couch, you could discipline or punish it in the moment. I strongly recommend not to do this but I am guilty of it in a minimal way. My wife and I have made a short simple hiss noise to shoo them away from doing it when we see them scratch the couch. Getting serious with this can make the home a scary place and create other problems due to anxiety.
  4. Consider other products. There are products that you can apply to the nails to ‘cap’ them so that they aren’t sharp. They can be difficult to apply but your veterinarian and the Registered Veterinary Technicians can certainly help you with this.
  5. Engage them as much as possible. By providing environmental enrichment and consistent stimulation, they may not develop the habit of scratching at all. You can give them lots of interaction and activity to avoid them having to entertain themselves by engaging with your furniture. Use laser pointers, treats, scavenging games, cat toys, and automated cat toys to keep them as busy as possible. You’ll find lots of options in your local pet supply store for this.
  6. Anti-anxiety supplements like ‘calming sprays’, which you mention in your question. You could speak to your veterinarian about the various products and try them, but this behaviour is not always associated with stress. These could help the issue but it’s not guaranteed. Since they have no negative effect, I see no harm in trying them and you may get lucky.

I hope these ideas help,

Dr. Greenway

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