Q: Help! My new cat Rosho is ruining the antique sofa by scratching it. My husband threatens to declaw the cat, because the sofa belonged originally to hubby’s great-grandfather and is highly treasured. Does my cat have to scratch?
A: Your cat has to scratch, but he does not have to scratch the antique sofa. Scratching objects satisfies a number of cats’ instinctual needs, including marking territory. He has scent glands on the bottom of his paws, so when the cat scratches, he is communicating information about himself to other animals. The cat also scratches in play, when he feels conflicted, and Rosho, like most cats, loves to stretch and scratch after a good nap. In addition, of course, the cat scratches objects for nail maintenance.
You can train your cat to focus his attentions away from the antique sofa and on to scratching posts and horizontal scratchers. Start by making the sofa undesirable to his claws by covering the scratched area with something that does not feel good under his paws. Either securely tuck a sheet around the targeted area or cover it with a double-sided tape. To make sure that the tape does not harm the antique fabric, test it first before covering the targeted area of the sofa. Place a small piece of the tape in a hard-to-see area on the sofa and then carefully remove it.
Simultaneous with blocking the scratched area, you must give your cat something more appropriate and feels better to him to scratch. Provide your cat a post made from a material that he enjoys scratching. The post needs to have a surface different from the sofa or carpets. Many cats enjoy the feel of sisal, other cats like the feel of cardboard and some woods. If you do not have rugs, carpeted posts are an option.
Strategically place the new post immediately in front of the blocked area. When your cat tries to scratch the target area, your cat will naturally favor the scratching post because the texture is conducive to scratching. Verbally praise or clicker-train your cat when he scratches the post.
The scratching post does not have to live forever in the middle of the living room. After your cat consistently scratches the post, move it one inch every day to another spot in the same room. Gradually remove the double-sided tape after your cat ignores the sofa and favors the post in its new location.
Do not declaw your cat for this fixable problem. Declawing cats is a very painful and inhumane procedure and can lead to other behavior challenges such as aggression and inappropriate elimination. If your cat is not progressing as quickly as you’d like in his training, apply nail caps to each of his claws. Nail caps will help save the furniture until your cat learns to focus his complete attention on the scratchers.