The surprising reasons why cats are destructive — and how to get them to ditch it
But don’t despair. There are ways to keep your sofa or rug safe. The key is to redirect your adorable little destroyer to another target. Here’s how.
Declawing your cat is a 1990s trend that should never be revived. It turns out that the procedure is quite cruel. It involves amputation of the knuckle at the end of the cat’s paw and can cause long-lasting pain, says Zazie Todd, animal behavior expert and author of Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy.” “There’s no use for the cat,” she says. “If you think scratching is normal behavior, you don’t want to prevent cats from being able to do something that’s normal for them.”
More and more veterinary practices are refusing to declaw cats, says Sara Everett, clinical assistant professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Others only do this in extreme cases (e.g. when the owner could otherwise give up the animal).
More than a dozen U.S. cities, as well as New York and Maryland, have enacted bans on the procedure.
Design inspiration can come from anywhere, including your cat
The ideal place for your cat to use its claws is on a scratching post. But not all of them are created equal, and it may take some trial and error to find a post your cat loves.
A critical factor to consider is texture. Some cats like the knotty feel of a carpet-covered scratching post, while others prefer cardboard or sisal. “Maybe you just need to offer them a little scratching post cafeteria or a buffet and see what they pick,” says Amy Pike, an animal behaviorist and owner of the Animal Behavior Wellness Center in Fairfax, Virginia.
There is also the question of vertical versus horizontal. Most cats love tall scratching posts, but some prefer a surface that is flush with the ground. If you’re going vertical, make sure you get something sturdy. Jackson Galaxy, a cat behaviorist and author of “Total Cat Mojo,” says part of the appeal of furniture is that it doesn’t tip over when cats pull down during a long stretch. If you’re looking to replace a sofa or chair, you’ll need to find a sturdy scratching post with some weight at the base.
Set up the scratching post in the right place
Finding the perfect scratching post doesn’t matter if you hide it. Your cat hasn’t gone into town on your favorite chair out of revenge, but because you spend a lot of time there. Busy areas of the home tend to be “areas where they get a lot of attention from their owners, like petting, cuddling, and playing,” says Everett, so cats want to mark these places as their territory. (It’s kind of cute when you put it that way.)
That means putting a scratching post in an infrequently used spot won’t work: “They don’t bother scratching areas of the house that aren’t valuable to them,” says Everett. Instead, place the post near the furniture your cat is ruining so she’s more likely to see it as a replacement. You can add catnip to the post to make it even more attractive.
Some owners go to extraordinary lengths to accommodate their picky cats
Don’t punish your cat for scratching
This section sounds a little like it was written by a cat, but it’s true: punishment doesn’t work very well with our feline friends. Your cat is unlikely to associate your harsh words or tone with scratching, so the only thing you will accomplish is to make her anxious.
Instead, try rewarding your cat for the desired behavior. “If you see them using their scratching post and wait until they’re done and then get them a treat very quickly, it will make them more likely to use that scratching post in the future,” Todd says.
Protect your furniture from cat scratches
There are several ways you can protect the sofa, although some methods are more aesthetically pleasing than others.
You can wrap your furniture with a product like Sticky Paws — essentially double-sided tape that makes scratching less than satisfying for many cats. Galaxy uses these types of products as a training tool: “It doesn’t mean you have to leave that stuff there with that couch or cat for the rest of your life — they’ll learn.” He also emphasizes that this tactic only works if you have one provide another scratching opportunity.
Other options include adding throw blankets to protect an area prone to scratching, or wrapping a material like sisal around the bottom of a chair or sofa to protect it.
When shopping for new furniture, think about the textures your cat likes to scratch. If she loves bumpy fabrics, choose pieces upholstered in smoother materials like velvet or leather. New furniture also presents a new opportunity to train your cat, Todd says, because she doesn’t have your pheromones yet. “If you bring something new home, it will smell different, and that would be a good point to make sure you have your scratching post set up and in the right spot,” she says.
They bought a blender. Three weeks later, her cats continue to hold her hostage.
Some cats are more stubborn and destructive than others. If you consistently come home with ruined furniture, consider a product like Soft Paws – little caps that you slip over a cat’s natural claws. These allow your cat to scratch normally without causing as much destruction. They last about a month to six weeks, and while they can be a bit awkward to use, Everett says some veterinary practices will put them on for owners. As a fun bonus, they come in a variety of colors so your cat will look like he’s had a shiny manicure.
Sometimes you have to let the cat win
Sometimes you just have to surrender. Pike, for example, has a chair in her house that has become a scratching post for her cat, “and we leave it like that,” she says. When cats express such a strong fondness for a piece of furniture, it’s better to give them an option than to get rid of it altogether, she says. (This also applies to a scratching post, which you might think has reached the end of its useful life.) By ceding the chair, Pike has basically protected the rest of their furniture.
“When we have visitors, we take it away and move it around so it doesn’t look so gross,” she says, but other than that, the chair now belongs to the cat. “He’s become a cat scratching post that someone can occasionally sit on.”