Cats scratch furniture for a number of reasons. Scratching is a good form of exercise for them. They get to stretch out their bodies and extend and retract their nails. When they scratch, the movements help remove the outer nail sheaths. Cats also scratch to leave visual and olfactory (scent) markers. Their interdigital glands, which are located between the pads of their paws, leave odors behind so that other cats know that the “marker” cat has been in the area. When cats scratch objects, they also leave small gouges, which are visual signals to other cats that there is a cat in the area.
Since cats often scratch to shed their outer nail sheaths, regular nail trims might help reduce the scratching. But there could be something more serious going on: Retreating beneath the sofa could indicate that your cat isn’t feeling well, either physically or emotionally. A cat who is fearful, anxious or stressed may take shelter under a couch or bed to escape an upsetting situation — for example, a new baby or new pet in the home. And cats will often mask pain or illness, so your cat may be hiding, because he’s sick or injured.
In either case, the first step in dealing with the behavior is to schedule a visit to the veterinarian to determine if your cat is suffering from an undiagnosed medical condition, is in some type of physical discomfort, or if he’s anxious or stressed about something in his environment. Your vet may also refer you to a veterinary behaviorist for extra help as needed.
What to Do?
Once your cat has a clean bill of health, you can start to address the behavior. The goal is to redirect your cat’s scratching away from the furniture to something more cat friendly, like a designated scratching post.
1. Place a scratching post right next to the furniture the cat is currently scratching.
2. Deter the cat from scratching furniture by placing double-sided sticky tape on it. Many cats find the stickiness of the tape unpleasant.
3. Praise and offer food rewards whenever your cat scratches her scratching post. You can use clicker training to capture the cat as she is engaging in appropriate scratching behavior to teach her to scratch on the preferred objects.
4. Offer a variety of scratching substrates; don’t offer just one carpeted scratching post. For example, also offer one of the inexpensive cardboard scratching posts or one made from sisal rope. I often recommend an untreated wooden log, which is what many cats scratch in the wild. However, you need to make sure this “au naturel” scratching post is secure, so it can’t tip over and injure your cat.
5. As the cat starts to scratch the new scratching post, you can slowly move the post to a more desirable location.
Create resting and play spaces that cater to your cat’s preferences, including spaces where he can sleep, hide and survey his surroundings. Burrow beds, tunnels, cat trees — especially those with covered areas and den spaces — allow your cat to watch the action in your home — or escape from it, if needed. Tunnels and boxes also provide spaces to play or just chill. Your cat’s crate or carrier can also serve as a quiet resting place when he wants to be alone.
And remember, if you’ve tried all these recommendations and your cat is still “redecorating” the furniture, seek professional help from your veterinarian.
This blog was written by McQueen Animal Hospital, an animal clinic (vet hospital/vet clinic) in Brampton committed to providing only the highest level of veterinary care to our beloved pets.