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Why your cat scratches furniture – and how to get it to stop

Cats scratching furniture may not be inevitable.
Getty Images
Cats scratching furniture may not be inevitable.

Updated July 11, 2024 at 18:04 PM ET

Even the biggest cat lover has to admit feeling a little helpless when their pet just won't stop scratching the furniture.

Fortunately, there may be a science-backed way to prevent our feline friends from shredding our couches and rugs. Yasemin Salgirli Demirbas, a professor of veterinary physiology at the University of Prince Edward Island co-wrote a research paper on why cats scratch. It’s not because they’re out to get you.

Scratching “is not a behavior that’s displayed to punish the owners,” Demirbas said in a Morning Edition interview with hosts Sacha Pfeiffer and A Martinez.

She says the research team found a relationship between scratching and environmental factors like loud noises or kids. This highlights the importance of shielding your cat from these stressors when crafting a plan to solve your cat’s furniture-scratching habit.

Still, cats are divas, says Mikel Delgado, a certified animal behaviorist and cat behavior consultant from Sacramento, California, so giving them an outlet for damage-free scratching like several scratching posts can be helpful.

“You need to have more than one scratching post, and you want to put them in locations that your cat is likely to use them,” said Delgado. “That might mean right next to your couch if the couch is a place that your cat really enjoys scratching.”

Demirbas and Delgado detailed these additional steps cat owners can take to keep their favorite feline from scratching up the furniture.

Cats need space to hide

You could build these spaces in your home by making a pillow cave, or getting a cat bed or crate. These escapes could help your cat calm down, and reduce its desire to scratch. Demirbas said the research team saw a decrease in scratching when her team “designed an environment for our cats.”

Use positive reinforcement

It’s easy to get frustrated if your cat is resistant to this training. Delgado notes it is easy to do more harm than good if you take that frustration out on the cat. She still recommends nudging them towards alternative outlets, which she says is “much more effective than yelling at your cat, or trying to chase them away from the couch, or squirting them with water - all methods I do not recommend.”

Monitor the way you play

Your behavior could also contribute to the cat’s stress. If your cat doesn’t get to catch its prey when playing, that pent-up energy can get released later on through scratching. Demirbas discussed one example: “if you let them play with laser toys, you will see that they keep chasing this dot, but at the end they get nothing.” The cats don’t like this, she says, it made one cat frustrated: “he felt like he’s an unsuccessful hunter.”

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Charlotte Engrav