Last Updated on: May 30, 2014 by Ingrid King

Ruby with Scratch Tower

Scratching is a natural behavior for cats. Cats scratch to groom their claws, the scratching motion helps remove dead sheaths from their front claws (they usually chew them off their back claws).  They scratch to mark their territory. Their front paws contain scent glands, and scratching leaves behind their unique signature on the object being scratched. They scratch for exercise; scratching stretches the muscles in the front legs and all along the back. And they scratch simply because it feels good.

The problem comes in when this natural behavior collides with our living space. While some cat guardians  have resigned themselves to living with scratched furniture, sometimes “sacrficing” one piece to the cats, there are simple ways to protect your furniture, and still let your cat be a cat.

Provide your cat with appropriate scratching posts

Both the type of material the scratching surface is made out of as well as the horizontal or vertical orientation of it matter. Some cats prefer corrugated cardboard, others prefer carpeted surfaces or sisal. Generally, sisal seems to be the most popular with cats, and it allows them to really go to town on shredding the material to pieces. Don’t throw out a scratching post when it’s all tattered and shredded, because to your cat, that probably means it’s finally perfectly broken in. Until you know your cat’s preference, it’s best to have a mixture of horizontal and vertical scratchers with different surfaces.  Most cats seem to prefer vertical scratchers, and they should be tall enough to allow the cat to fully stretch her body.  Regardless of your cat’s preference, you should have multiple scratchers throughout the house.

Make the scratching post appealing to your cat

Place it in an area where your cat likes to spend time. If you’re trying to discourage your cat from scratching a particular piece of furniture, place a scratching post right next to it. Once your cat starts using it, you can gradually move it further away. Sprinkle some catnip on it to attract the cat to it. Place treats on or near the post. Praise your cat when she uses the post (and use treats to reinforce the praise).

Discourage your cat from scratching furniture

Never punish your cat – punishment simply leads to increased anxiety and more unwanted behavior.  Apply tape to the parts of furniture that are attractive to your cat. Double-sided tape works well (and it’s clear, so it won’t ruin your decor), as does tinfoil.  Apply Feliway® spray to the areas you don’t want your cat to scratch – studies have shown that it can reduce scratching behavior.  Gently, without yelling at your cat, redirect her to a nearby scratching post.

Keep your cat’s nails trimmed

While this won’t eliminate scratching, trimmed nails can’t do as much damage.  For more on how to safely trim your cat’s nails, click here.

Soft Paws© Nail Caps

These soft vinyl tips are glued onto the cat’s claws so they can’t do any damage when the cat scratches.  I’m not a big fan of these nail caps.  The cat’s paws will still have to be handled to apply the caps, and nails have to be trimmed prior to application, so if you’re able to do that, then why not just trim the cat’s nails, period.  Additionally, once the caps are on, cats won’t be able to retract their claws, and I can’t imagine that feels very good to them.

Don’t declaw

When a cat is declawed, it is essentially maimed. Declawing is an inhumane and unnecessary surgical procedure that involves amputating the top join of the cat’s toes. The Paw Project provides extensive information on this topic.

Do you have problems with your cats scratching where they shouldn’t? Do you have a solution? Share it in a comment.


49 Comments on How to Stop Your Cat from Scratching Your Furniture and Carpets

  1. I have a nice cat, he is over 2 years old, lately, he has behavior that bothers me a lot, often he uses his claws to scratch the furniture in my room. the carpet I just bought but it’s scratched it looks torn. He was very angry and didn’t know what to do. I told my friend about the condition of the cat, he has been breeding cats for 5 years, and he advised me to use furniture tape.

    • I applied your solution above, which is to buy him a cat scratch toy, let him scratch that toy, not my carpet.
      Thank you for this useful article, hope you will post many more articles in the future.

  2. My cats wanted to claim our new couch by scratching years ago. I sprayed Pet Organics “No Scratch,” which has garlic and clove essential oils. It only took a few days, and then from then on they left it alone. It was like magic!

    As for claw trimming, well…One of my babies would let me hold him in my lap and clip his claws with no problem. His brother was (and is, still) more of a challenge. He doesn’t like to be held, so I have to sort of hover over him and hold his paw to trim his claws. It takes a boatload of patience, and we can only do a few claws at a time and then take a break. It is a process, but he will tolerate it. All I can say for those who are struggling is it takes lots of patience. A last resort for me would be taking him to the vet to do it. I would *never* declaw!

    • I do not recommend using essential oils with cats, as some can be highly toxic. And you are so right that nail trims can require a lot of patience!

  3. Does anyone’s cat behave like this: my cat knows perfectly well what he is allowed to scratch and what makes his “parents” frustrated. He starts scratching the furniture or the sofa side just to make me spring out of my bed at night or early in the morning, or stop working at the computer to get what he wants – more food or just some other food (not what he has in his bowl). He knows that he will be scolded for that, a squirt-bottle with water will be used but still he scratches and waits for my reaction. If I feel that he is right and I had neglected him for some time I just stop my work and do what he wants. But when I am in bed at night I really feel frustrated when I had to get up several times to chase him with a squirt bottle. Looks like it’s a good exersice for a kitty after which he goes to sleep! So his scratching the wrong places is always done on purpose, the way to manipulate! What should i do?

    • Cats don’t think this way, Yulia – they don’t do things to aggravate their humans. I’m not a fan of using squirt bottles, and neither is Jackson Galaxy. Here’s why:

      It sounds like your kitty could benefit from some structured playtime to burn off some energy before you go to bed. Play with him for 10-15 minutes before you go to bed. Use interactive fishing pole type toys, and really get him tired. You may find that it makes a big difference, and you’ll both get a good night’s sleep.

      • I believe a cat behaving this way sees the people’s reaction as “playing”. I’ve observed cats scratching in order to attract attention of another cat in order to initiate play, usually a game of “cat and mouse”.

        Scratching and stretching also seem to be social behaviour that cats do as almost as a greeting. If I go into an area where there’s a cat and a scratching post, I try and be polite and scratch my fingers on the post a bit. It often encourages them to scratch and stretch on the post as well.

        When we chase a cat doing some undesirable behaviour and the cat repeats the action like [he] knows what is coming next, I believe he is looking for attention and to play and we are rewarding [him].

        Definitely see information about “play therapy” and stop rewarding bad behaviour by chasing them.

        Maybe develop a routine where the cat gets attention for scratching where [he] is supposed to, on a post placed near where [his] people are.

        Yawning and squinting at them are also calming signals that will help relax the cats and improve the feline-human bond.

        Cats will usually have more stamina and energy for play after they are switched to quality canned food. Many people say their cat behaves more like they did when they were younger.

        An 11-year-old cat we rescued and started feeding canned food now likes catnip where his previous owner said he never used to in all the years he’s had him.

        It can take time to switch to canned with some cats, but it’s very important for their health. The one really finicky cat we had took several weeks. It might have been faster if we had tried using canned Wellness or mixing some of that with another wet food.

        Another benefit of using the better quality canned foods is that we now feed less (recycling box only has about half as many cans in it now).

        I found a feeding chart that can help calculate how much canned food to weigh out, based on a cat’s current weight and whether you want the cat to lose, maintain, or gain weight –

        Too many cats are actually obese. How to tell if your cat is overweight –

        • Cats will do better on a species-appropriate raw or grain-free canned diet. You can find lots of information on nutrition, why cats should never eat dry food, and how to transition cats to a healthier diet, in the Feline Nutrtion section on this site. Dr. Pierson’s is an excellent resource. I can’t comment on the other site you linked to as I’m not familiar with it.

      • I’m sorry Ingrid, I have to disagree! My cat does the same thing…always around her morning feeding time! If I tell her to stop, she yells at me…like a teenager talking back! We will go back and forth a few times until she gives a final yell at me and then runs off! Funny…but it drives me nuts if I am trying to sleep in! Thanks for the advice here though, I will definitely try the different types of scratchers. She likes my couch and the stairs but has no interest in a scratching post or cardboard pad I bought for her a while ago.

  4. Thunder shirt for cats: put it on your cat before trimming nails. They become like putty in your hands.
    Frolic cat laser toy is great, sturdy, and although uses batteries, it’s worth it.
    Also from there, great prices on Comfort Zone plug ins and Feliway refills.
    Solar prism suncatcher from Very inexpensive and beautiful…causes prisms to run around your walls as soon as the sun hits it.
    A scratching post in most rooms, spray periodically with catnip mist.

    • I wish to add that years ago we bought microfiber furniture and our cats have NEVER scratched any of the set!! If you have or purchase leather or textured fabrics you are almost always asking for trouble!! It’s like offering a cat a gigantic scratching post! Who can blame them?

      • That’s very interesting, Roz. I’ve heard that recommendation, but never heard from anyone who’s actually tried it. Makes sense – not much fun for kitties to scratch a smooth microfiber surface!

    • Thank you for all your great suggestions, Roz.

      I have mixed feelings about the Thundershirt for cats. I’ve heard good things about it, but I’ve yet to be convinced that it doesn’t actually cause stress for the cat. Unlike dogs, most cats don’t find being held close with pressur comforting.

      I’ve been meaning to try the Frolic cat toy.

      The Feliway plugins can work really well for a lot of cats, but they don’t seem to work at all for some. They’re definitely worth a try.

  5. My cat Zoey seems to love the softness of one of my area rugs upstairs. I pretty much solved that scratching problem by placing a cat post right next to the rug. However, just directly outside of that particular room she has always clawed the carpet on the stairwell. I cannot put a cat post on the stairwell. First off, it isn’t safe having an obstacle there. Secondly, there is no room to put it. Any ideas for this problem?

    • That’s a tough one, Chris – I have the same problem with one of my girls with regards to the carpet on the stairs. She only started scratching there recently, so I’m hoping it’s just a phase! I redirect the behavior whenever I see her do it (I distract her with a toy), but short of placing double-sided sticky tape on the area, which I’m not willing to do, I haven’t come up with any solutions, either.

      • I put selotape on area of carpet Myrtha Kit began scratching . Left it there for her to notice then removed it half hour later and that was enough for her to give up claim to all carpets …

    • This is the same problem we’re having with our two cats- our stairs look horrible and they’re
      visible from the front door (not to mention our home is only a year old!). We’ve tried everything that’s been suggested here, short of declawing, and nothing has worked. We’ve given up and put a flat cardboard scratcher at the bottom of the stairs. It looks hideous, but for the most part, the cats will scratch it instead of the stairs. It hasn’t solved the problem, but until I figure something else out, it’s what we have to do 🙁

      • Megan,

        I know exactly what you mean! Our house is new and we just replaced the downstairs carpet with hardwood so my scratcher, Nala, has taken to destroying the stairs. I used to be able to clip a few nails but now she freaks out. I have a scratching post and multiple cardboard scratchers in the house but she won’t use them. Can anyone make any suggestions?

  6. I have three cats two of which are scratching my brand new couch. I have various types of scratching posts on each side of the couch. I had to show them at first how to use the posts. Taking their paws and gently use the posts. I also stapled toys at the very top to spark their curiosity.

    I agree with you that declawing should NEVER be an option. I had a cat 15 years ago and at the recommendation of the vet ha her fully declawed. She got out one night and was attacked by all the cats in our neighborhood. It was traumatizing to see her laying there dying. Once the animal control came he gently scooped her up and said he had never seen a cat in such bad shape after an attack. To this day I feel responsible and the can’t get the image of her after the attack.

  7. Good tips, but I’d like to say that if I tried to clip my cats nails, she’d try to kill me. It’s weird. I can flip her upside down and she’s fine. Carry her like a baby and she’s fine. Try to touch her paws and she will try to claw my eyes out of my head. So clipping her nails? Kinda not an option.

    • Unfortunately, trimming nails can be a challenge for a lot of cat guardians, Melissa. Can you get them trimmed if you have someone help you gently restrain her? If not, it’s probably something that needs to be done at your veterinarian’s office.

    • Something I have always done is as I’m snuggling on the couch or whatever I pet my cats paws. Cats don’t like their paws being touched. But if you can build up the trust then you may have less problems!

      • Ideally, all cats should have their paws handled frequently while they’re kittens so it’s not a big deal to them as they get older. I’ve never gotten any of my cats young enough to do this, but as Julia said, even getting older cats used to it gradually as part of your petting routine can make a big difference.

  8. I was wondering with the softpaws. I heard from people that cats are unable to keep their nails ‘in’ when wearing softpaws. Is this true?

    • I tried the Soft Paws with one of mine once and he ended up getting one of them stuck onto a tooth trying to get it off. He hated it and was much more cranky when we tried them.

  9. Our cats are generally pretty good about not scratching stuff, we use a mixture of carpet and sizel scratchers and cat trees. I need to learn how to re-carpet a cat tree one of these days, they’ve thrashed hell out of the big one in the living room and it looks pretty ratty now and doesn’t look too good any longer but they are ridiculously expensive to replace.

    Our only problem kitty is one of our girls, Maia loves to scratch wood, she’s trashed the little cabinet that we use to keep canned and dry goods in but other than that we don’t have any really bad scratchers. They do scratch furniture once in a while but usually it’s because they want attention.

    Those sound like really good tips for modifying behavior in general, now if we can only get little Saul to not get on counters, he’s the worst counter surfer we’ve ever had.

    Another great post Ingrid.

    • Thanks, Tom. As I said in my post, most cats love their scratching posts and trees even better when they start to look really bad to us! You may want to look into getting your Maia a wooden scratching post. They’re a little harder to find, but they are out there. Alternately, if you can find a nice big branch, you may just want to bring that into the house to see if you can redirect her to that, rather than your furniture.

      As for the counter surfer – I’ve given up on that a long time ago. Yes, I admit it: Allegra and Ruby both get up on the counters, and I let them…

      • Wood scratchers can be a great option – some cats love them, others couldn’t care less. It’s all about providing variety, and figuring out what your cats like.

  10. I have multiple scratching surfaces in my house made of different materials. I have tried all of these tips. She eats the tinfoil, plays with double sided tape, and any of the sprays we have tried she licks/eats.
    I am getting very discouraged, but I have a baby on the way and if I cannot find something that will help, she will be getting declawed because I cannot have her wrecking all of babies stuff.

    Any additional tips or tricks.

    • Julia, when you’re dealing with a hardcore scratcher like your kitty, it’s often due to the kitty not getting enough of a chance to burn off excess energy. Try instituting regular play sessions, 10-15 minutes, twice a day. Use interactive toys, or anything your kitty likes to play with. Get her really tired out. I just recently recommended this to a client of mine, and it really made a difference for her cat.

      • She isn’t very interested in toys, she plays for a couple minutes and takes off.
        In the summer her and I go outside and play in the grass (I keep her on a leash), but in the winter she won’t go outside. I got a lazer pointer and it keeps her attention for all of 30 seconds, then she just lays down on the floor and watches it. Or she leaves the room. This is the same with any mice, balls, strings ect

        • Julia – I had a hardcore one, and I started keeping a spray bottle filled with plain water and set on “stream” nearby. Whenever she scratched where she shouldn’t she got squirted. Took patience and dedication but she finally quit!

          • I’m not a fan of squirt bottles, Karen. Some cats, like yours, respond without any issues, but in others, using a squirt bottle can really damage the bond between cat and human. Here’s more on why squirt bottles and punishment don’t work, by Jackson Galaxy:

        • Try “Da Bird” or Da Mouse”. i have a cat who isn’t interested in toys either, but the sound of Da Bird is music to her ears. she will play with that, somehow this is different than any other toy on a wand i’ve tried with her.

      • Hiya, our cat has wrecked our furniture, she has scratchers and toys but she does’nt play with them – I have got balls for her and she snubs em, mazes, pretend mice, da wand had a bit of success, ball in a round thing not that interested, though she does take a bit of interest after I have smothered them in catnip. My issue with that is – she is quite jumpy sometimes also has redirected anger issues which we try to deal with. She does like to jump on my toes when they are out of the bed, while I am sleeping – she does like to scratch at the bathroom tiles and windows and the plastic insulation on the windows (We live in a rental unit with poor insulation) oh and she is dead fussy with her food, can’t get her to eat wet food, tried a gazillion different kinds which I find quirkly amusing as this cat was adopted from the Burlington Ontario shelter after being found in Hamilton abandoned about 1 year of age – we have had her Ms Tilly Mint (her name) for 3 years and still learning things about her, any help with the tiring her out issue? She will run after treats but is now getting a bit chunky cos thats all she will chase – any help appreciated

        • Keep trying to encourage her to play, Gordon and Laraine. Ideally, institute structured playtimes, 10-15 minutes twice a day, and really get her tired out. Since she’s treat motivated, you can try some puzzle toys for her (look for a post on those here tomorrow!). I’d also encourage you to keep trying to switch her to canned food, here are some tips:

    • Julia,
      I beg you please DO NOT declaw your cat ! If you really love your cat you will not maim it in this way. Read up on declawing and how it is done and how it totally changes your cat forever. I do not advocate giving up pets, but that is a better alternative to declawing.

      Please don’t declaw.

      Make sure you keep her nails trimmed often, try Soft Paws for her also.

      This just makes me so sad to hear you are going to do this to your cat.It is barbaric and painful. I have 11 personal cats and I foster and Rescue cats.None of them is declawed,nor would I ever for one second consider it.Cats come with claws period.

      I will pray for your cat.

    • Order a couple of diffusers and extra refills from Entirely Pets. I do not work for the company…bit I didn’t want to pay double the amount at the regular pet supply stores and companies.
      Congrats on the baby, and don’t give up on Kitty. 🙂

  11. Declawing does just sound terrible indeed. It actually really creeps me out. I have never heard of Feliaway spray. Thanks for the tip.


  12. I have lots of cat scratches but; I have one that likes to scratch at the walls and doorways. Never had a kitty do this before. All of kitties have always used a scratcher or their trees. These are some helpful tips I am going to try.

    • Meant to say I have a lot of cat scratchers but; I have one cat that like to scratch the walls and doorways.

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