It’s inevitable: Your beloved velvet sofa (or vintage Eames chair or custom-upholstered ottoman) scarred with scratches from your even more beloved cat—or is it? We went on a very important mission to find out how to keep cats from scratching furniture, and there are, in fact, ways to prevent the all-too-common nightmare. We tapped Sarah Wooten, a doctor of veterinary medicine and the veterinary expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance, to learn why felines feel the need to tear up our stuff to begin with, as well as two of our favorite design-loving cat moms—Elena Lohse of This House 5000 and Mallory Fletchall of Reserve Home—for their tried-and-true tricks for keeping their cats’ claws far away from their favorite pieces.
Why Do Cats Scratch Furniture?
Scratching is normal! Think of it as feline self-care. “Scratching benefits cats on a mental, emotional, and physical level,” says Wooten. It feels good to stretch their spine and the tendons in their paws when they scratch, plus it helps keep their nails from overgrowing. Not to mention the act releases mood-boosting chemicals like dopamine and serotonin in their brains and allows them to communicate with other cats by depositing their scent.
That said, every cat is different. Just as some humans prefer yoga and others meditation, some cats like the texture of leather, while others are all about fabric upholstery. The same goes for scratching on vertical versus horizontal surfaces.
The Final Word on Declawing Cats
While once common, declawing cats is now a no-no, according to the ASPCA and most veterinarians. In 2019 New York became the first state to completely ban declawing, and other cities and states are following suit. “Declawing is an incredibly painful surgery,” Wooten explains. The term declawing isn’t even accurate—the process actually amputates the tips of cats’ fingers. “It can be severe enough to change a sweet kitty into an angry, aggressive one,” she notes.
If that isn’t reason enough, declawing can cause long-term chronic phantom or arthritis pain after the surgery, which can lead to cats beginning to bite, urinate around the house, and overgroom.
The Best Strategies for Keeping Cats From Scratching Furniture
Trim Your Cat’s Nails
First and foremost, Fletchall consistently trims her three cats’ nails to keep them from digging too deep into her sectional. You can brave it yourself—the Humane Society of the United States recommends doing so every few weeks with specially made scissors or even your own clippers, as long as they’re sharp—or have the trimming done at the vet. Fletchall’s method? Wait until your kitty is sleepy. “Even if you can only get a few nails done at a time, it’s more than worth it,” she says. “Trimmed claws inflict less damage.”
Train Your Cat Early
Lohse, the proud parent of a Scottish fold and a Scottish straight, emphasizes the importance of laying down the law as soon as you bring your cat home. “If you get a kitten, start scratch training immediately,” she says. Lohse had a scratching post ready and physically showed her cats how to use it. “I literally put their paws on it,” she says, laughing. This finely woven sisal option blends into her space and hasn’t fallen apart on her yet. “An added perk is that it can lay flat on the floor or be hung on the wall,” she notes. When your cat uses it, reward him with a small treat.
Invest in More Than One Scratching Post
It may take a couple tries to find the scratching post your cat prefers. “Maybe they like carpeted or finely woven sisal or even cardboard,” says Fletchall. Wooten also recommends testing out vertical and horizontal options. But once you’ve narrowed it down, buy a few and place them around the furniture you want to protect. Fletchall has one behind her sofa, as well as one on each side of it. “The key is to make sure your cats have someplace to scratch when they feel the urge and are near your precious furniture,” she says. To lure them in, Wooten advises putting a small amount of catnip on the posts.
Keep a Squirt Bottle Handy
Every time your cat tries her luck, give her a little spritz of water. “Cats are smart; they will catch on,” says Lohse; a gentle spray reminds them who’s boss (you!).
If All Else Fails, Try the Tape Trick
If your cat won’t relent, a last resort is tape. Apply either clear packing tape or one specifically designed for this purpose, such as Clawguard shields, over the area your cat tends to scratch. As Fletchall explains, “Cats are not fans of the feeling beneath their claws and tend to stop altogether once they learn to expect the tape.” Then you can sit back, relax, and enjoy that still-smooth velvet.