Your brand-new, outrageously expensive sofa sits in your living room, oozing elegance, when from the hallway’s shadows, out slinks your cat, eyeing the new addition with wicked delight. They creep closer, admiring the material, stretching their toes in anticipation… 

If this scenario sounds like your worst nightmare—or perhaps describes a horror that you’ve already witnessed—you are not alone. For centuries, sofas, loveseats, sectionals, ottomans, and a host of other upholstered furniture have suffered at the hands—make that claws—of cats. But why do cats love to shred our precious fabric fixtures? We promise it’s not retribution for the time you pet them for one second too long! Your whiskered pal’s motives for scratching are much less sinister. Cats need to scratch for their mental and physical wellbeing. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Waller team explains why scratching is not only a desire but a necessity for cats and describes how you can support this instinctual behavior while salvaging your sofas.

Why cats need to scratch 

Scratching is deeply rooted in feline behavior and serves many purposes that support your cat’s health and wellness. Reasons for feline scratching include:

  • Claw care — Rather than sharpening their claws when they scratch, cats shed their nails’ outer sheaths to reveal the newer claws underneath. This natural process ensures that a cat’s claws remain healthy and functional. Without regular scratching, the old layers might not shed effectively and can easily snag on carpet and upholstery.
  • Exercise and stretching — Cats spend most of their time indoors and don’t always get as much physical activity as in the wild. Scratching serves as a vital exercise routine that keeps your cat active. In addition, when your cat scratches, they perform a full-body stretch, especially along the back and shoulders. This action is like a mini yoga session for your feline friend. Stretching improves your cat’s flexibility and muscle tone and increases blood circulation.
  • Marking territory — Cats are inherently territorial, and they like to mark places they consider theirs. Through their paws’ scent glands, a cat releases pheromones when they scratch, marking the territory with their unique scent. This is a cat’s way of communicating with other cats and securing their territory. 
  • Stress relief — Other pets, loud noises, and environmental changes can upset cats. Scratching’s repetitive motion and satisfying sensations release endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, offering a therapeutic way for a cat to cope with anxiety and stress.

The negative consequences of feline declawing  

During a cat’s declawing procedure, the surgeon amputates the last bone of each toe. Imagine having the tips of your fingers removed. That’s what declawed cats experience. Fortunately, you can support your cat’s instinctual need to scratch and avoid putting them through a declawing procedure by changing their environment and managing their resources. 

How to redirect your cat’s inappropriate scratching

Redirecting your cat to scratch in appropriate places, preferably not the back of the couch, satisfies their instinctual need sans destruction. To teach your cat to scratch appropriately, follow these tips:

  • Invest in scratching posts — Place scratching posts near your cat’s food and water, litter box, and favorite napping places to ensure they have appropriate outlets for their natural scratching instinct. Most cats like to scratch vertically, so your cat’s scratching posts should be taller than their body length. You can determine your cat’s preferred scratching post surface texture and configuration (e.g., vertical or horizontal) by providing them with a variety. The scratching post your whiskered pal uses the most is likely the type they prefer. 
  • Keep claws trimmed — Reduce your cat’s scratching frequency and intensity by trimming their nails regularly. Trimming a cat’s nails takes a little practice, and our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Waller team can advise you and demonstrate an effective technique. To prevent your cat’s nail from splintering, always use feline nail trimmers, which give you better control. Remember to always trim your cat’s nails in a calm environment, and provide positive reinforcement by rewarding them with a high-value treat. 
  • Engage your cat — A bored cat is a scratching cat. Ensure your feline friend has plenty of toys, engage with them in interactive play, and consider giving them puzzle feeders to stimulate their mind. An engaged cat is less likely to turn to your furniture for amusement.
  • Use feline pheromone spray — Pheromones can reduce your cat’s stress and anxiety, decreasing unwanted behaviors such as inappropriate scratching. Apply pheromone spray to the area or object where your cat scratches inappropriately, or use a room diffuser to deter scratching. 

If you are concerned about your cat’s behavior or health, schedule an appointment with our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Waller team to determine the causes and address the issue.