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Why does my cat claw my furniture?

As a cat owner, you’ve probably come home to (or woken up to) your cat hanging off the back of the couch, claws out, pupils wide and acting like they’re doing the most natural thing in the world. The reality is that they are doing the most natural thing in the world… it just happens to include the destruction of your prized couch and the acute elevation of your blood pressure.

There are a few reasons why cats claw your furniture, and we promise: it’s not personal.

To groom their claws

When cats scratch, they are extending and retracting their nails, which removes the outer layer of dead cells. This is purely for health and wellbeing purposes: it keeps their claws groomed and sharp.

To stretch their muscles

You’ve seen your cat’s position when she scratches: her front legs are extended, her body is shaped into a delicious curve, and her face is extended up on one side with her butt up on the other. It’s the ultimate upward-cat and it helps her to stretch her muscles and keep her joints and tendons healthy. Don’t you feel good when you stretch? Exactly.

To mark their territory

Cats have scent glands on their paws (super convenient) and when they scratch, they leave their scent along with their scratch marks to show ‘Kitteh wuz here’. Your cat will return to her marked territory time and again to reclaim it and to simply bask in the fact that it’s hers. It belongs to her. This is nobody else’s territory but kitty’s. If you have multiple cats, this will be a primary reason why they scratch – each one claiming their own territory on your furniture, curtains, and anything else they can leave scents and scratch marks on.

To release energy

Does your pretty kitty simply go wild with scratching when you come home after being out? Does she scratch when she sees a bird or squirrel outside and can’t get to it? Perhaps she scratches when she’s having a particularly animated time with her other cat friends. Cats are visually triggered – they get excited (or frustrated) by things that pick the strings of their instincts. If they can’t catch and kill the creatures they see, it builds up tension and they need a way to release it. When your cat really wants to catch that garden bird or little rodent she’s seen from the window, your couch may become the substitute victim.

As you can see, it’s not personal

Cat scratching is not primarily destructive behaviour or used to get your attention. It’s natural, instinctive and is actually good for your cat. It’s not behaviour that you’d want your cat to stop doing altogether – she must just stop doing it to your furniture!

How to redirect your cat’s scratching

Enter the wonderful world of cat scratching posts! Scratching posts come in so many shapes and sizes because cats are generally very picky and particular about what they do and don’t like. Just like there are so many different types of cat litter, so too are there so many different types of scratching posts. And trust us, your cat will make sure you go through an appropriately painful process of elimination before you find the right one. Or she might LOVE the first one you try. You just never know with cats!

Vertical or horizontal?

Some cats love to reach up to scratch, as they would with a tree trunk; while others prefer their scratching to be done on the ground. Fortunately, cat scratchers come in the form of vertical posts and horizontal scratch pads. Watch your cat’s behaviour – does she prefer scratching against the couch and curtains, or on the carpet? This should give you a clue as to which type of scratch post she’d enjoy, although it won’t hurt to try one of each.

So many textures

Your cat will also be quite particular about the type of surface she likes to scratch. Cats have a go at couches and other chair legs because they are sturdy and have a surface they can really get their claws into. Scratch posts are covered in natural-looking and feeling surfaces like sisal rope or woven sisal fabric, corrugated cardboard, or combinations of surfaces – so it may take some trial and error to find the scratch post that really gets your cat going.

Location, location, location

Once you’ve made your choice of scratching post(s), the next important factor to determine is where you’ll put it. You can start by placing it near to the forbidden furniture and covering the furniture with something unpleasant to your cat, like double-sided tape, tin foil or sandpaper. She will be used to the location, but, presented with an appropriate alternative, she’ll soon learn that the scratching post is MUCH more fun!

If your cat really needs to be purrsuaded to use the scratching post, try placing some cat treats on it or sprinkling some catnip over it. It may be a while before she leaves it alone again!

Purrposeful punishment

Leave the unpleasant coverings on your furniture for a few weeks while your cat becomes accustomed to the new scratching post(s). Gradually remove the unpleasant coverings from your furniture until you’re confident your cat is solely focused on her purpose-post. If you do catch your cat scratching your furniture again, don’t punish her directly. A much more effective method is to interrupt the scratching process ‘remotely’. Throw a cushion, make a loud noise, or use a water gun to create an unpleasant experience when she scratches your furniture. She will associate a positive experience with her scratching post… and maybe then you can have nice things again.

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