Q: My 4-year-old-cat, Oscar, has started scratching the arm of my wife’s favorite sofa. She’s threatening to declaw him, which I know is an awful thing to do. How can we train Oscar not to claw the sofa? He has a cat tree in the other room that he scratches. Shouldn’t that be enough?
A: Don’t declaw! Oscar can easily be trained not to scratch your wife’s favorite sofa. Start by making the sofa arm off-limits to Oscar by covering it with double sided tape or by tightly securing a sheet or other material that isn’t conducive to scratching to it.
Whenever making an area off-limits, another more appropriate scratching surface, such as a tall scratching post, needs to be placed in front of the now unavailable area. Ideally, the post should be made out of an appealing scratching surface that is different than the sofa material Oscar enjoys scratching. Most cats love scratching posts that are wrapped in sisal though there are other materials that work just as well. Oscar can be encouraged to scratch the post by playing with him around the post and by using your own fingernails to imitate scratching. Some cats are motivated with a little catnip rubbed on the post, as well. Make sure to reward Oscar with praise and treats whenever you see him scratch the post.
The scratching post doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture in front of the sofa. Once Oscar is consistently using it, move it, one inch a day, to a more convenient location in the same room.
In addition to the one scratching post placed in front of the sofa, provide Oscar with a variety of posts and horizontal scratching areas throughout the house. The one cat tree you have is not sufficient for his scratching needs.
Cats have an instinctual urge to scratch. Besides giving themselves manicures when scratching, cats mark and broadcast information about themselves while scratching. They have scent glands on the bottoms of their paws that release pheromones whenever they scratch. Cats will also scratch when they feel conflicted, when playing, when bored and sometimes they will stretch and scratch after a satisfying nap.
I am against declawing. Besides being painful and inhumane, it can lead to aggression and inappropriate elimination challenges. Instead of declawing, train Oscar to scratch cat-centric furniture and posts.