A black and white tabby cat scratching a scratching post.
A black and white tabby cat scratching a scratching post. Photography ©w-ings | Getty Images.

Stop Cat Scratching That’s Destructive With These Tips

Looking to stop cat scratching? Well, cats need to scratch, but here's how to guide them toward scratchers and posts rather than furniture and rugs.
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One of the most common distress calls I receive is from cat parents upset about their cat’s destructive claws and how to stop cat scratching. While we humans may feel like our cats must secretly hate us (why else would they ruin our brand-new designer sofa?!), they’re really just following their natural instincts when they do a little redecorating with their claws. Here’s how to stop cat scratching that’s destructive and teach cats appropriate scratching behaviors instead.

Why cats scratch

A naughty kitten scratching at curtains.
You can redirect your cat’s scratching behaviors . Photography ©Ztranger | Getty Images.

Before we discuss how to stop cat scratching, let’s discuss why cats scratch in the first place. Scratching is a necessary part of every cat’s life. Using those claws helps your cat strengthen the muscles in his paws and, at the same time, it hastens the shedding of the outer layers of the nails to keep them clean and new. It’s the feline version of going to the nail salon.

Using the scent glands in his paws, your cat leaves his mark on the places he likes best to let other felines know to stay away. It’s part of his natural hunting instincts, done to keep his claws at the ready for the next big pursuit.

Simply put, cats must scratch to maintain good paw and nail health. In nature, this would be necessary so they can hunt for their dinner. Plus, it just feels good.

You’ll never be able to stop cat scratching altogether, but you can redirect those urges to more acceptable places.

Create no-scratch zones … with appropriate alternatives

Stop cat scratching that’s unwanted by letting your cat know that certain places in your home are off-limits to his paws of destruction. Stop a cat from scratching furniture by making your furniture unpleasant for your cat to touch. Cover sofas and chairs temporarily with plastic to make it impossible for claws to take hold. Use double-sided sticky tape on furniture, as cats don’t like the sticky feel.

You can also spray furniture and carpets with an orange-scented spray, as most cats don’t like the smell of citrus.

If you do find your cat clawing the no-no places, clap your hands or throw a soft toy for him to chase so he’s distracted. Because your cat must scratch somewhere, have appropriate scratching alternatives available to guide him to those “good” scratching places and away from the no-no spots (see below).

Stop cat scratching from destroying furniture by trimming your cat’s nails!

Trimming your cat’s nails regularly renders them relatively harmless. You can take your cat to a groomer or learn to do it yourself at home. If you’ve never trimmed a cat’s nails before, ask your veterinarian to show you exactly where to cut.

You can also put nail caps over your cat’s front claws to make them harmless to the objects in your home. You can put them on your cat at home or have your veterinarian or groomer do it for you. Nail caps last about six weeks and come in many fun colors, too.


Get your cat to love his scratcher

A gray tabby cat sitting up on a scratching post.
A gray tabby cat sitting up on a scratching post. Photography ©Viorika | Getty Images.

Offer appealing scratching items to stop cat scratching from destroying your furniture, carpets, etc.

There are many types of cat scratching posts, cat trees and pads available, and observing how your cat uses his claws will help you choose the right style.

Types of cat scratchers

  1. If your cat is a rug scratcher, a flat horizontal scratching pad or box works best.
  2. Cats who like to claw on sofas tend to prefer a vertical scratching post.
  3. Offer your cat a variety of types and textures, so he won’t get bored with just one. Scratchers let your cat flex his paws and keep his nails filed, while keeping him away from your rug and furniture.

Put scratching pads around your home where your cat likes to hang out.

A place central to the household’s action is ideal, especially if it’s a place where you tend to be. Tucking scratching pads away from everyone won’t stop cat scratching because your cat won’t go out of his way to find and use them.

Put catnip on the scratcher, and lead your cat toward it with toys and treats.

When he chooses the scratching post over your sofa, give him praise and a yummy treat to make it a memorable positive experience.

Should you find him scratching your sofa or carpet, gently guide him to the “good” scratching spots and give him a treat. Bribery works, and he’ll soon get the idea that he gets a reward when he uses the pads and posts instead of the sofa.

Give your cat lots of love and playtime.

One of the most important things to consider when trying to stop cat scratching that’s destructive? Boredom can cause your cat to create his own excitement by attacking your furniture, enabling him to release his pent-up energy at the expense of your décor. Play with your cat daily to tire him out, so he won’t redecorate your house with his claws.

This post was originally published in 2016. 

Editor’s note: This article appeared in Kittens, a special issue from Catster magazine. Look for Kittens on a newsstand near you! 

Thumbnail: Photography ©w-ings | Getty Images.

About the author:

Devoting her entire life to cats, Rita Reimers is founding owner of JFCATS.com, a feline health and wellness company. JFCATS has been providing cat behavior services and cats-only pet-sitting for the last 15 years. Rita and her business partner, Linda Hall, are also starting a line of USA-made cat toys and bedding called Gracie & Esther. You can reach Rita directly on Facebook and Twitter @TheCatAnalyst and on Instagram @RitaReimersTheCatAnalyst.

Read more about cat behavior on Catster.com:

7 thoughts on “Stop Cat Scratching That’s Destructive With These Tips”

  1. Pingback: Help, My Kitten Bites! | Rita Reimers

  2. we have used lemon scented spray for cats to stop doing this, they have many scratching posts, toys,tried water bottle, have their nails done,NOTHING works AND they do it when I am upstairs and can see them but they know I cannot get them.I blew 300.00 getting a chair recovered, it is their favorite

  3. Pingback: Best Cat Toys – Fussie Cat

  4. Laura Pittington

    Hi! I got my cat from the local shelter when she was 13 months old. She is beautiful and affectionate but she is in the process of destroying my home. I have tried all of your suggestions and more. I am beside myself – she doesn’t stop getting into everything! The vet has given me some topical Prozac because he saw her behavior but she won’t let me near her when I attempt to apply it. Help , please, because I will have to find her a new home.

    1. Try telling her “no” (while she is doing it, not afterwards). But you have to say it in her language. It sounds like this: SSsssssss. Sharp and loud at the start. It’s how cats tell each other to stop doing something. You’ll know if she understands you because if she does she’ll stop scratching and look at you in surprise (or shock).

      Pet her afterwards (if she enjoys that) to let her know you still love her, it’s just that behaviour you’re unhappy with.

      It might take a few times to sink in. After all, scratching is perfectly natural and feels good, so surely it can’t be that you object to. The lesson might wear off after time, surely you don’t still regard that thing as your private scratching post any more, so another repetition may be needed later.

      Over the years I’ve tried this with several cats who drop by to play with me and it’s worked with all of them.

    2. We used a misting spray bottle of water to help retrain our scratcher. As soon as he started to scratch the sofa we gave one quick mist of spray at him and said ‘NO’. He would run. Then when he came back into the room we gave him lots of affection and took him to his cat tower and put his paws on the tower scratching post and gave him a treat. After about a week we just had to say a firm NO if he climbed on to the sofa arm, and he would get down. It was lots of training, but worth it so we could keep the kitty and the furniture! (We got a big scratching tower because just a post or flat scratcher would move when he used it and it startled him. ) There are nail tips you can put over claws – but they are not easy to use! Good luck!

  5. Pingback: 6 Things to Remember About a Senior Cat’s Needs – Sporty Pets

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