How Do I Stop My Cat from Damaging My Furniture?

This is a desperate plea that we hear from cat owners every day. Really it stems from a misunderstanding of how cats view their world and how they leave messages for themselves and us!

Cats regard humans as being somewhat dim and clumsy cats. However, this does not prevent them from trying to communicate so the key to the problem is to learn Cat Language - and that doesn’t just mean Meow!

Why do cats scratch?

Cats evolved to live in a dangerous world, where the safest place to be is up a tree. They also lived in a very low density environment with hardly any other cats around in their desert habitat.

Consequently they developed a sort of email system by leaving a message on a tree till the next cat came by and picked it up. Cats leave visual information by scratching trees - which also sharpens their claws ready to climb it in a hurry. They also leave behind a subtle smell from glands in their paws and from their face to give an individual scent signature.

So when your cat is clawing your furniture - think of it as a message that she’s sure you are going to want. Jumping up high is your cat’s best way to guarantee its personal safety.

But what can I do?

I love my couch and I don’t want ALL my ornaments broken!

There are some really good ways to keep your cat happy and your furniture safe. It is much easier to reward a cat for doing the right thing than to keep pouncing on them for doing the wrong thing. Just think how hard it is to figure out what is bothering your cat if it only hisses or cries; you have to keep guessing! So treat your cat like a toddler - reward it when it does the right thing, then ignore the wrong thing!

The first is to get a really good scratching post. It needs to be at least one metre high (so your cat can have a good stretch on it), and be sturdy enough to withstand your cat pulling down on it. That is why your cat loves your couch - it doesn’t move when they dig their claws in!

Put the new post near where the cat scratches, and rub their feet on it. Catnip often attracts them to the post as well. Play with toys on the post or put some food on top so your cat will explore and discover they can dig their claws in usefully.

Once your cat has started using the post, move it away, and then start to make your own couch unattractive by wrapping it in bubblewrap or double sided tape (cats hate sticky things on their toes). You can also spray repellents on the couch (but not until your cat is using the post otherwise they will just choose something else you might not want scratched!)

What about jumping on benches?

The same principle goes for stopping your cat from jumping on things - but here you have to be consistent. If you don’t want your cat on a bench top or whatever, you have to make it unpleasant every time your cat jumps. It is no use some members of the family thinking it is funny or OK to have a cat on the table, and others not - you will only confuse the cat.

So, squirt with a water pistol (with a touch of lemon juice or vinegar in it if there’s no reaction to plain water) whenever the cat jumps up. Whatever you do, don’t respond with noise or shouting because you want the cat to think the table has squirted it (or someone invisible). If you shout at the cat, they will then avoid the table - but only when you are there!

Another trick is to put contact paper on the surface (icky sticky feet again!) or a shallow tray of water just beyond the edge of the table, out of the cat’s sight.

For total repulsion there is a motion-activated pressure can that sprays citrus when the cat goes near it (SSScat). For around $160 it can keep your cat away from anything. However, remember once again - you have to let your cat do something - there is no point repelling it from everywhere as then it will just get completely confused and stressed.

Why does my cat scratch while I’m watching?

Cats who scratch while you are watching have probably figured out they can get your attention by hooking the cloth on your favourite chair. In this circumstance they are usually attention seeking and your ‘no’ is just what they are after.

This is much harder to stop - you can try squirting but you will find the cat is watching you anyway and will run before you get near it! Try distracting them with a game (something on a long line) and then pay attention to them when they sit near the toy rather than when they hook the couch!

About the Author

Dr. Kim Kendall BVSc MACVSc (Cat Medicine and Animal Behaviour) is one of Australia’s and the worlds best known Cat Vets. 

Since 1994 her dedicated cat-only veterinary, boarding and grooming centre, The Chatswood Cat Palace has been based on Sydney’s North Shore.  

Kim loves cats, and wants the best for them, using science to back up intuition and passion for feline health. She is also a pioneering expert in the field of Feline Friendly Care at home and at the vet clinic and has written extensively on the subject. Read more

By Dr Kim Kendall - Last updated 3 November 2014

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