How to stop cats from digging the furniture

cats-diggingScratching is a natural behavior for cats – they all do it, and it’s even good for them.  But if you’ve ever had the back of a chair or the arms of your sofa reduced to fringe, you know the galactic-level frustration of coping with a furniture-digging feline.

Scratching is just a part of cat life. The degree to which this feline factoid threatens your uphostery depends entirely on your cat; some are furniture diggers and some aren’t. If you have one who is, you must be clear on a couple of things.

1. You’re never going to get a cat to stop scratching. It’s an innate behavior that serves a whole lot of feline purposes, from stretching to territorial marking. Scratching is as much a part of being a cat as purring. They don’t do it to be dicks (though the results suggest otherwise) – they do it because they’re cats. Accept that and put your energy into finding ways to redirect them.

2. Punishment (hitting, shouting, etc.) is stupid, useless, and downright counterproductive. Cats just don’t understand or respond to punishment. Trying to punish a cat out of undesirable behavior will almost certainly destroy your relationship with the cat, and may even exacerbate exactly the behavior you’re trying to eradicate.

For those of us who refuse to even consider declawing, the key to happy co-existence with furniture diggers is to get them to answer this call of nature in a way that doesn’t destroy your property. Here are some ways to do that.

1. Create a diversion. Set up a scratching post or pad. This makes sense;  if you’ve got a cat with a bigtime urge to scratch, give him an approved place to do it. In my experience the scratching pads (usually some kind of cardbord-ish material in a low flat box) are cheap, readily available everywhere, and insanely effective. I get ’em at WalMart and right now there are three of them in the livingroom, which basically keeps all five of my cats happy. They wear out pretty quickly, but who cares? At a few bucks a shot, it’s no sweat to replace them.

On the other hand, the whole scratching post deal has met with decidedly mixed success. Some cats loved them and cooperated immediately and wholeheartedly, while others just couldn’t have cared less – they might give the post a casual dig every now and then, but never really gave up on deconstructing the upholstery. And some just remained eternally suspicious of it, not to mention slightly offended by it. But if you’ve got a furniture digger wreaking havoc on the recliner and the cheap-n-cheerful scratching pads don’t work, it’s worth a try.

There are lots of commercial scratching posts available, mostly some variation on a carpet-covered block. I don’t think the design particulars are very important but be sure to get one that’s heavy enough to remain upright when being scratched. If it falls over on top of the cat every time he tries to use it (and yes, I once had one that did just that), it kind of defeats your purpose. I’ve tried the scratching post deal several times over the years and without a doubt, the one that got the most action was a big, flat-bottomed section of a huge log, about two feet high and a foot and a half wide.

Put your new scratching post right in front of whatever it is the cat has been scratching. Granted, a two-foot stump might not be exactly the perfect accent to your decor, but then neither is shredded upholstery. If the cat really likes it, you can always gradually move it to a less conspicuous place (though I never did – if scratching post can get a digger to let the furniture alone, I’m perfectly willing to decorate the whole room around it). If you meet with a lot of resistance, try rubbing it with catnip.

Depending on your situation, you might also try turning a doorway into a “scratching wall” by wrapping and stapling some old carpeting around the bottom part of the doorframe. Yes, I know that sounds terrible and I probably wouldn’t do it in my livingroom (at least I haven’t done it yet) but I have two “scratching wall” setups going in less-public parts of the house and they’re a major hit.

2. Take preventative measures. Cover the area that’s being scratched with wide smooth tape, like postal strapping tape. Duct tape works too, but it looks almost as bad as the scratched upholstery. Or try covering the area with aluminum foil taped in place (looks REALLY awful, but sometimes works pretty well). If none of those coverings work, try covering the area with double-sided tape. Cats hate sticky surfaces.

3. Go on the offensive. If you can actually catch the cat in mid-dig,  a quick shot with a water pistol or a spray bottle full of water is pretty effective. So is blowing a whistle or banging a tin pan. This is a tricky one, though, cause point here is NOT to punish the cat, it’s to make her associate scratching the furniture with something she isn’t nuts about (water or loud noises).

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