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Crazy Cat Lady: Why does my cat claw all my furniture?

Ally Hirschlag is a producer/actor/writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY and buys way too many toys for her cats. She contributes to several publications, including Bustle, and The Nerve, and enjoys writing about all things woman. In her spar...

Furniture clawing: Why cats do it and how to get them to stop

If you have a cat (or cats) that relentlessly claws your furniture, believe me, you are not alone. When I got my kittens, the very first thing that was ripped to ribbons was our fabulous leather club chair. I still shed a tear for that, as well as for the fact that I can no longer buy leather furniture to this day.

It started simple enough — they would just claw the arm of our canvas Ikea couch once in a while. Then as they got a little older, they scratched every somewhat soft thing in sight. My couch now looks like it was on the losing end of a fight with a Tasmanian devil.

I wouldn't mind nearly as much if my cats flexed their claws occasionally on the furniture, but sometimes they get into a sort of fugue state and just go at it like they're digging to China. The worst is in the mornings when they're trying to wake me up, and they start digging into our comforter. Now the duvet cover has gaping holes all over it, which gives a whole new meaning to the term "shabby chic."

Finally, I decided to consult an expert because no amount of scolding or treat giving was helping. Stephanie Janeczko, DVM, senior director of shelter medical programs at the ASPCA, had some great insight into why cats sometimes scratch relentlessly and what you can do to curtail it.

Why they scratch

"Scratching is a normal part of cat behavior and serves several functions, including conditioning of the claws, providing a means of stretching and acting as a marker (both olfactory, or scent, and visual). Many cats scratch the couch because they simply do not have another option to exercise their scratching needs."

"Most cats prefer to scratch a vertical surface that is tall enough to allow them to fully arch their backs and really get into it but also stable enough they don’t have to worry about toppling it" — aka a couch arm.

What you can do about it

  • Make sure you have enough appropriate scratching posts for your cat(s).
  • Try putting them next to the area they're scratching most to give them a better option.
  • Make the inappropriate scratching area less attractive to your cat. Cover area with saran wrap, sand paper or double-sided tape.
  • You can also try spraying the area with cat repellent. Nature's Miracle makes a good one.
  • Never punish a cat for scratching — it doesn't understand what it's doing wrong and will start associating you with punishment.

I decided to try the cat repellent spray and extra scratching posts together — I figured a little discouragement in one direction and encouragement in another might do the trick. We had a couple of scratching posts before, but they weren't upright, and the cats barely touched them. I bought two 2-foot tall rope-bound scratching posts and put them right next to the arms of the furniture they scratch most.

The results were by no means instantaneous — at first they still went for the couch, until I sprayed it excessively with the repellent. After a few days, they were using the posts for the most part. As far as the bed scratching goes, that's been harder to stop because I think they're doing it to wake me up rather than flex their nails. I do continue to spray it, though, to try and break them of the habit, and it's definitely helping.

All in all, the key is patience and keeping up with your repellent of choice to reroute the habit. Anyone can do it, but you have to remember that it may take a few weeks, and the worst thing you can do is punish any return to bad behavior.

More on cat behavior

25 Random cat behaviors finally explained
Trimming cat claws
How to properly train your cat to play nice

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