A few years ago, I was assisting in an appointment and the client was complaining because her 2 new kittens were scratching up her furniture. I remember standing there and thinking hey I just adopted two kittens why didn’t I have this problem?
In order to prevent scratching, we should first understand it. Cats scratch things to leave both a visual mark and a scent mark on the item. In their world this means this thing is mine, I like it and it makes me feel good to have my scent on it. This is how cats make a house their home. It is location-based and instinctual. We will never magically convince them to stop scratching altogether, it’s just not going to happen. Even cats without claws still scratch.
Since it is mainly location-based, we can’t stop them from scratching the sofa in the living room by putting a scratching post in the basement. They want to scent mark the item where it is in the house. The only thing we can really do is move the behavior onto a more acceptable item. And that acceptable thing needs to be right next to the unacceptable thing. As an example, I have two large scratching posts flanking both sides of my sofa. If they want to scent mark that general area, they can do it on the posts and not the sofa itself. In fact, as I look around my living room/dining area I count 8 appropriate scratching items, some tall simple posts, some cardboard scratchers, and one big cat tree. A good scratching post needs to be tall enough for the kitty to stretch out on and have a wide enough base that it is stable and won’t wobble around when they use it.
I was lucky in that I had a bunch of scratching posts before I brought home new kittens. And if the posts are there and offer a better scratching surface than the furniture, they will automatically pick the posts. As with all training, it works best if we set them up to make the right choices from the start. Cats aren’t dumb, if the scratching post is great and nubby and tall and the sofa is sticky and yucky, they’ll pick the post.
For those that are trying to correct an already established scratching behavior, you have a little more work to do. Again, we need to make the sofa unappealing and the posts very appealing. This can mean putting double-sided sticky tape or tin foil on the sofa where they scratch and putting the new tall scratching posts right next to the spot they like to scratch. The idea is that they go to the sofa and think “yuck this tape feels gross on my feet but hey this other thing is really cool”. I will admit I once got down on the floor and showed my first cat how the post worked. She watched me scratch the post and a few days later she was trying it out on her own!
There are so many different scratchers out there it would be impossible to cover them all. And every cat will have a personal preference. Some cats really want vertical surfaces and some like horizontal ones. Some cats really love the cardboard scratchers, and some prefer carpet or sisal. I even had a wood scratching post at one point, meant to mimic scratching on trees. My very first cat Toni loved that thing! Buy a bunch of different kinds and see what your cat likes the best.
My one last word of advice which is totally anecdotal is cats don’t seem to enjoy scratching on microfiber fabric. It’s smooth and doesn’t offer them a good texture to dig their claws into. My last 3 sofas were all microfiber and I have at least 2 friends who have had success with this fabric type. All I know is my sofas will always be microfiber from here out!