Q: My cat uses the sofa as a scratching post. I tell him "no" and he’ll do it right in front of me! I’ve tried squirt bottles. We do have a scratcher but he won’t use it. I don’t want to declaw him!
A: Scratching is a normal, healthy feline behavior. It is also a social and rewarding behavior. Cats will scratch, or want to, when they anticipate something good, including before a play session, when you come home or enter a room and so on.
If you use aversives such as scolding, yelling, shaking cans or squirting water, your kitty will fear you or the situation. You did not mention the age of your cat. Young cats will scratch rather frequently, especially before play or in anticipation of "hunting" for toys and household objects.
REMOVE THE TEMPTATION
Buy furniture or slip covers made with smooth fabric, such as microsuede.Cats like textured surfaces, such as tapestry, heavy textured cotton, wicker, and berber. In addition, the visual scratch marks cats make after scratching encourages them to scratch there again. Smooth, soft and plush fabrics are less appealing for cats to scratch on.
If it's a wood surface kitty favors,such as a table leg, use sand paper and some wood stain to smooth the area. Spray some Feliway (a pheromone available in many pet supply stores) on the scratched area. If you can easily reposition the chair or sofa so that the vantage point is less appealing to your cat, do so.
You can also block access to the area your cat scratches on by putting another piece of furniture in front of it, such as a coffee table or end table, or a large plant. This is also a good location to place a really good scratching post.
AND GIVE KITTY A BETTER OPTION
Invest in a few good cat scratchers. One is not enough! A good scratching post will be large, sturdy, made of wood and textured — berber, sisal, coir, or textured wood. The more tattered and shredded, the more inviting it is to kitty! For floor scratchers, invest in heavy coconut or sisal throw mats.
Cats tend to scratch vertically. When they stand on their hind legs, they tend to be taller than most posts. A scratching post should be at least 3-4 feet in height and as wide as possible.
Also, cats need solid surfaces to scratch on since when they scratch they use their weight as well as their claws. Scratching posts made of cardboard are narrow, tippy and flimsy. If the scratching post rocks, sways or nearly falls over when your kitty tries to scratch on it, your cat will find an alternative. To make matters worse, many scratching posts are made of plush carpet with glossy faux wood bases. Although these can look nice in modern apartments or houses, they are not at all appealing to a cat.
Locations are important. Even if you have a great scratching post, your kitty will not use it if it's in an unattractive location. Cats prefer to position themselves where they see all entries and exits of an area. They want a nice vantage point or peripheral view.
Do not place scratching posts or mats in corners, hidden behind furniture or flush against walls. Instead, put them in front of the areas your cat normally scratches and in strategic locations, such as a hallway, entry to a kitchen, in the living room or social area, and with a nice vantage point (from your cat’s view).
Direct kitty to the scratching post. Play with your kitty around the posts and add catnip to them. Encourage your kitty to scratch on the posts by mimicking scratching yourself. When your cat scratches the post, praise kitty. Rewarding with treats is also good.
Be calm and unemotional if your cat scratches the sofa, or another area you dislike, and simply remove your kitty from the area and redirect him or her to the scratcher, or divert your kitty’s attention to something else.
Finally, never declaw. It is incredibly painful and invasive (actually an amputation) and can create other behavior problems, such as timidity, hiding and retreating, biting and failure to use the litter box.