How to Stop Cats From Scratching Furniture

Wondering how to stop cats from scratching furniture? A pro cat behaviorist weighs in — plus, understand why your cat scratches.

A cat looking up from scratching the couch.
A cat looking up from scratching the couch. Photography © noreefly | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Often, my cat behavior consultations have a theme. A few weeks ago I had a run on cats who were upsetting their people because they were hanging out on kitchen counters and lounging on computer keyboards. The theme of last week’s consultations was how to stop cats from scratching furniture. One consultation stands out.

Shelly lives with her husband, her five-year-old son and their three cats, Pantera, Bugatti and Enzo. The family lives in a cozy house, filled with antiques and lush carpets. Everyone, including the cats, loves the furniture. The three felines frequently focus their attentions on an antique chair and two ornate sofas. In addition, Pantera exercises her claws on Shelly’s favorite oriental rug. Shelly tried everything she could think of to stop the destruction, but with no success. She hung a scratcher from a door, placed a scratching post in one of the rooms and yelled at the cats. The only change Shelly noticed was that they scratched with more vigor after she yelled at them.

Thankfully, Shelly is completely opposed to declawing. But, now at a breaking point, she is seriously considering finding new homes for the cats in order to save her furniture. Reluctant to rehome them, but wanting unscarred furniture, she contacted me for advice on how to stop cats from scratching furniture.

Scratching is an instinctive behavior

A gray kitten on a couch, licking with his tongue out.
Is your cat scratching the furniture? Here’s how to stop cats from scratching furniture. Photography by 5second/Thinkstock.

Before we look at how to stop cats from scratching furniture, let’s look at cat scratching behaviors. Shelly’s cats are not unique — all cats scratch objects. Even declawed cats scratch. The behavior is natural and instinctive, common to all felines.

Why do cats scratch?

Another thing to consider when learning how to stop cats from scratching furniture — why cats scratch in the first place.

  1. Scratching objects is one of the ways cats communicate. They have scent glands on the bottom of their paws. Every cat has a unique signature, which is “stamped” on the objects scratched. In addition to broadcasting information about themselves to other animals, scratching marks territory. The observable damage caused by scratching is also a visual signpost.
  2. Scratching is a displacement behavior. Often, cats who feel conflicted or stressed will scratch. Sometimes when faced with choosing between conflicting behaviors, they scratch. They are not the only ones who are the masters of displacement behaviors. People are, too. We often scratch our heads, sharpen pencils, bite our fingernails, or do other interesting and sometimes annoying activities when we feel stressed or faced with difficult decisions.
  3. After napping, there is nothing as fulfilling as a slow stretch followed by a satisfying scratch.
  4. Play is often accompanied by scratching nearby objects. Scratching in the middle of a raucous play session may burn off excess energy while the cat determines what his next move is going to be.
  5. Cats also scratch to maintain their nails. Although cats do not really “sharpen their claws” when they scratch, scratching does help eliminate the old nail sheaths and promotes the healthy growth of new claws. Essentially, cats give themselves perfect manicures when they scratch.

Although scratching is mandatory, Shelly’s cats do not have to focus their sharp attentions on the antique furniture and the oriental rug.

How to train cats to scratch where you want them to

In order to learn how to stop cats from scratching furniture, you need to get cats to scratch where you want them to. People like Shelly can have the best of both worlds. She can save her antiques and keep her cats. She will need to make the furniture off-limits, while simultaneously addressing the cats’ needs and reinforcing them for their good behaviors.

Here are the three steps Shelly, and people like her, will need to keep in mind when it comes to how to stop cats from scratching furniture: 

  1. The targeted furniture needs to become objects that do not feel good to scratch. Shelly should either stick double-sided tape on the scratched areas or cover them with sheets or fabrics that are not conducive for scratching.
  2. The cats need something more appropriate to focus their claws on. At the same time Shelly makes the targeted areas unavailable, she needs to place tall, stable scratching posts directly in front of the blocked areas. She should also place a horizontal scratcher on the carpet, on top of the area Pantera is shredding. Although scratchers need to be made out of materials that the cats love to scratch, they should not be the same texture as the sofas and carpets.
  3. Shelly needs to reinforce the cats whenever she catches them in the act of scratching the posts and horizontal scratchers. Affection, treats and clicker training work well for reinforcing and rewarding good behavior. The reinforcement will also help insure that the cats will continue to favor the approved furniture and ignore the antiques.

How to stop cats from scratching furniture — definitely don’t yell at them!

Yelling at the cats may stop the behavior in the moment, but it does not train the cats to scratch the approved furniture, and it can have unwelcome side effects, such as those observed by Shelly. Her cats reacted to her yelling by scratching the antiques and the carpet more intently.

It will take Shelly a little time to assemble everything and to put the plan in place. In the meantime, she can protect her furniture by fitting nail caps on her cat’s claws. This is a temporary solution while she trains her three cats to bypass the antiques and focus their attentions on the scratching posts and horizontal scratchers.

Tell us: Got other tips for how to stop cats from scratching furniture? Share them below!

This piece was originally published in 2013.

Thumbnail: Photography © noreefly | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

About the author

Got a cat behavior question for Marilyn? Ask our behaviorist in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. If you suspect a behavioral problem, always rule out any possible medical issues that may be causing the behavior by first having your cat examined by a veterinarian. Marilyn can also help you resolve cat behavior challenges through a consultation. Find the Cat Coach on Facebook!

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17 thoughts on “How to Stop Cats From Scratching Furniture”

  1. is online furniture store in Lahore that is plentiful with an excess of furniture items and interior design artifacts. To confirm their home’s furniture, offices furniture proposed buyers or current owners touch with us to avail of way to great furniture items

  2. my cat always scratched and tiered my bedsheets sofa covers nice article I tried to train as you said and use your tips for that. thanks a lot for sharing. and mostly I like the font you use.

  3. Please remove your suggestion on using cap claws as they are detrimental to the cat’s ability to retract their claws which as you know affects their ability to walk (on their toes remember?) , there are several other reasons why not to use claw caps which I presume you already know. Please accept this in good faith and not criticism of you. Meow Samantha

  4. Oh yes, I have the perfect way to stop the scratching….her name is Talulah, a WestHighland Terrier. She’s the greatest! The minute she hears any wrong scratching, she stops them, and she is NOT mean about it, she just makes them stop, so they go to their scratching posts. It’s really GREAT! Before I had Talulah, I used aluminum foil placed on the furniture and yes, the double tape. They both worked. I have had furniture mutilated in the past. My Manx kitten was trained by her breeder to use a scratching post before I picked her up. That was a great help. Something all breeders should think about. When I bought her, Gabbi, her scratching post, she ran right to it, and knew what to do.

  5. NEVER EVER SQUIRT WATER ON YOUR CATS . NEVER. They will hold it against you and they will be afraid of you. Is this what you want? I think not.

  6. Theresa Joseph

    I have a cat that is trainable. She rarely tries to scratch the sofa because if I catch her doing it, I say, No, firmly. She knows exactly what that means and, immediately stops and runs away. She clearly knows that I don’t want her to scratch the sofa and so she doesn’t, except, occasionally. I have hardwood floors and keep some old carpet pieces where she likes to scratch.

  7. There is a spray product you can purchase that deters cats from scratching. Put it on a rag or cloth if you have fine furniture. Otherwise just spray it on the area you want to keep the cats away from. I have six cats, four cat posts, two cardboard scratchers and four, three and four level cat trees. Cats rule here, but it took moving fast and a lot of praise to keep them off the couch and counter. Whew!!!

  8. I knew years ago that having cats meant getting your sofa scratched and shredded. Funny they don’t target beds and they avoid leather. So, after an infestation of bedbugs in 2012, I threw everything out and bought the cheapest sofa I could find. I knew that its corners would be destroyed by Miss Eliza and Dinah…and they were. If you’re investing in Louis XV furniture, don’t have cats.

  9. Linda Szymoniak

    I’ve actually started trimming my cats’ nails – it’s not that hard and as long as you are very careful and make sure not to hit the quick, I find that it has almost eliminated my cats scratching anywhere they are not allowed. I do have a number of scratching posts and those cardboard scratchers, and they get plenty of use. When my senior girl, Moko, started scratching her face and head really badly when she had an allergy issue, I made sure her nails were trimmed and even put those little rubber caps on her back feet (those were the ones she was scratching her face with – not the front). Once we got the allergies under control and she stopped scratching her face, I let the nail covers grow out and fall off. I haven’t used them since and only used them because she was hurting herself.

  10. gary n horvath

    thanks for all the good imput i have posts which work well i have never yelled because ive heard that before that it makes it worse so i will try some new ideals and i agree with the other comment that sometimes cats are gonna be cats and as i sit here with my 4 cats laying at my feet knowing iam writing about them with their claws no matter even when they get into the garage and lay on my vette they are not going anywhere we not only love them THEY ARE FAMILY gary h

  11. I have 3 cats and my daughter has 1, so there’s 4 in the family, along w/a dog. I have found that spraying a deterrent on the furniture and other areas I don’t want them to scratch and spraying a good quality catnip spray where their allowed to scratch, has worked very well.
    They sometimes try to scratch where their not suppose to, but when they look at me first and I say NO and put my hand on the water spray bottle, the 2 young one’s run away and the 2 older cat’s turn and saunter away as if to show me their indifference. I find it cute. I do use the double-sided tape on a couple item’s and it does work also.
    Cat’s are very smart, so just be patient and they will catch on to what you want them to do.

  12. Thank you Paul for your comments! And thank you for the article! I love Catster! You have great information and I always save them in files.

  13. My solution was to get the perfect sofa and chair microfiber fitted covers thick and it protects furniture just fine. Got at SUREFIT.COM. I have 8 cats they have their own cat room which has a large cat tower and they use the sisal posts…since I’ve slip covered furniture they’ve lost interest! Cats Will be cats you can’t say no to them it’s a joke to them. And never declaw them…just don’t have cats or any pets! For me their quality of life is more important that material things that can be resolved with common sense. Just a suggestion! So don’t bite me!

  14. Petrine E Bronson

    The article was very educational. I have 3 cats and I also have a spray bottle of water that if they scratch on a particular chair, I spray them (not a mist, a sharp, stream of water). I found that they will look at me before they would attempt to scratch that chair. They are smart, they know the bottle sits on the coffee table. I keep their nails clipped also, but like in the article, even a declawed cat will scratch. All three of mine have their claws. I have tried everything else from scratching posts to spraying the furniture.

  15. I find that telling the cats to stop works. Of course, you have to do it in their own language. Cats are like some French and Welsh people: talk to them in English and they’ll pretend they don’t have a clue what you’re saying even if they understand every word; say the same thing in their own language (however atrociously) and they will admit they understand you.

    The cat word for “stop doing that” is “SSsssssssss.” Said sharply, with a loud start to the word. The cat will stop scratching and look at you as if shocked (probably because it is). Reinforce by comforting your cat afterwards: it’s the behaviour you object to, not the cat.

    You may need to do it more than once. Scratching is natural, so surely you didn’t mean “don’t scratch the furniture.” It may take a few repetitions for the cat to get the idea. The cat may also forget after a few months, or think you’ve lost interest in what it decided must have been your private scratching post. A repetition will fix this.

    I’ve tried this with several of the cats that dropped by to play with me over the years and it’s worked with all of them. Don’t scratch the furniture, don’t get on the counter, etc. It is, after all, the same way they tell other cats to stop doing something.

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