Why Does My Cat Scratch My Couch?

Most people know that cats will scratch objects with their front paws to sharpen their claws, but there are secondary reasons as well. Believe it or not, cats often use scratching for communication. They have scent glands on their paws, which leave their specific scent onto objects telling other cats they have claimed those objects as their own.

As a consequence, cats will scratch very obvious objects, such as couches, trees, doors, fence posts, etc. Both male and female cats will do this so it is not related to gender specific hormones. Therefore, spaying and neutering will not change the scratching behavior. Declawing will also not change the scratching behavior since the scent glands are still left behind on the feet so the drive to scent mark is still there.

Cats will also scratch as part of their play behavior, to stretch, to greet people, and occasionally to relieve frustration.
Overall, it is much easier trying to prevent problematic scratching behavior rather than trying to change a cat’s preference for a scratching surface. This means that owners should work hard to provide appropriate scratching surfaces as soon as they acquire a cat as a pet before problems arise to establish appropriate behavior. This will lead to a greater human-animal bond and reduce the likelihood of cats being relinquished to shelters.

General Recommendations
– Provide several scratching posts in multiple areas of the house where your cats like to spend their time (focus on areas where they sleep or play).
– Encourage cats to use the scratching surfaces by scenting them with catnip or placing dangly toys for them to play with easier.
– Try covering the inappropriate scratched surface with something cats do not like to scratch to try to deter them from further destroying that object (plastic, aluminum foil, mesh).
– Praise cats when they use the correct scratching substrates.
– Trim your cat’s nails regularly to minimize damage to your furniture.
– Declawing cats should be the last option.

Alex Philippine, DVM