Even the most docile cats have natural instincts that surface in some interesting ways. Which might be meowing up a storm up at night, pouncing on a moving toy…or scratching furniture. But why do our feline friends get so claw-happy anyway? And more importantly: how to stop a cat from scratching your couch, doors, and carpets?

Now if you’ve found your most recent IKEA masterpiece a target of their claws, we’ve got you covered. In this post, we’re going to dive into how to stop your cat from scratching your furniture, why they do it, and some practical steps you can take to redirect their energy. Let’s go!

Why do cats tend to scratch things in the first place?

Cats scratch things as a result of their natural instincts.1 They might also do so for a bunch of reasons – from marking their territory, to stress, and more. So while it may be frustrating to come home and find your new couch covered in claw marks, here are a couple of reasons why our feline friends get scratchy in the first place:

Scratching helps cats mark their territory

Cats have scent glands on their paws – so leaving scratches is how they indicate their presence and territory to other cats. It leaves both a visual and olfactory signal that communicates their boundaries and place in the complex feline social hierarchy.2 

A cat surveys their territory in a garden

You might be more likely to see this in multi-cat households, where everyone’s busy showing each other who’s boss. But you’ll also see this in the wild – for example, one of the ways tigers mark their territory is by leaving scratch marks on trees.

Scratching keeps their claws sharp 

Scratching helps cats shed the outer layers of their nails, which help keep them healthy and sharp. Unfortunately, without any other surface available, they might end up doing so on your curtains, couch, or carpet. 

In many ways, your cat still thinks they’re a lion or a leopard in the wild – and wild cats (including big cats) also tend to scratch trees to keep their claws sharp. It helps them hunt more easily and take down prey quicker.

Scratching helps your cat get a nice stretch 

Cats stretch way out and flex their bodies while scratching, which can actually help them get a bit of exercise.3 Unfortunately, they might just end up scratching your couch or carpet if that’s the only surface available for them. We cover a few ways you can protect your furniture from scratching a bit further below.

A stressed out cat might scratch things more often

Your cat might engage in scratching behavior when they’re stressed, frustrated, or have a ton of pent-up energy. They might experience this as a result of being cooped up indoors for too long or if they’re experiencing a massive change in routine. (Like when you move houses or introduce a new pet or person to them.) You might also hear them meowing, or even crying excessively to get your attention.

A cat sits near their parent on a work desk with a laptop

Now with these reasons in mind, here are a couple of practical ways to stop your cat from scratching on furniture – and redirect their energy elsewhere.

How to get your cat to stop scratching your furniture

Your cat still thinks they’re a hunter stalking prey and patrolling their territory in the wild. So let’s meet them halfway and work with their instincts, not against them. Here are some practical, proactive steps to redirect their scratching instinct – away from your household furniture:

Provide your cat a scratch-friendly alternative

Scratching is a natural behavior for cats. So when you offer your cat a designated “scratching” item, you signal to them that you’re not punishing them. For example, you could provide them scratch posts, pads, or a full cat tree made from materials similar to the texture of your furniture – like cardboard or wood.

A cat sleeping by a scratching post.
  • Initially, we’d recommend you place these close to where your cat tends to scratch the most. (Like your couch or bed).
  • With time, shift them further away.

Your cat will gradually learn the difference and head to the “correct” scratching area.

Reward your cat when they scratch the “right” spots

Cats, much like dogs, learn to associate your responses to their behaviors. So make sure you’re not just giving them attention when they’re claws-deep in your carpet or couch. (Like, say, by scolding them or saying “No!”). Your cat might actually learn to scratch in order to get your attention – like when they’re bored.

So once you’ve set up a scratching post or board and you see them using it, reinforce this behavior. Offer your cat a ton of treats, praise, and plenty of cuddles. Cats respond well to positive reinforcement – so they’ll begin to associate using the scratching post with a positive experience. (I.e. getting affection and attention from you.) So if you consistently praise or cuddle your cat when they use the scratching post, it’ll encourage them to use it instead of your furniture in the future.

A woman patting her cat's head next to a bed

If you’re looking for a fun, practical training method built on positive reinforcement, consider cat clicker training. Much like dogs, cats are highly intelligent and trainable – and they respond to clicker training pretty well. When you sound off your clicker (and give your cat a treat right after), you signal a consistent, positive message to your cat. Aka, scratching post = reward and scratching furniture = no reward.

Use a cat-friendly deterrent on your furniture

Place double-sided tape, aluminum foil, and sticky mats near or on your furniture. Cats generally dislike these textures and it’ll discourage them from venturing close to them.4

Keep your cat’s claws trimmed

Shorter feline nails are less likely to cause significant damage to your sofa, curtains, or carpets. So with regular nail trimming, you can reduce some of the potential damage your cat might cause scratching your furniture.5

For this, we’d recommend you:

  • Trim your cat’s nails every 2-3 weeks. Make sure to use a vet-approved nail clipper, since regular human-style nail clippers aren’t built for cats.
  • Take care not to cut too close to the quick. These areas contain blood flow – which might cause your cat pain.
  • Use a “guillotine”-style blade to make a quick, clean cut.

Not sure how to get started? Here’s a 5-step guide on how to trim your cat’s nails safely by yourself at home. Just keep in mind that trimming your cat’s nails might not be necessary if they’re an outdoor cat. They likely have enough natural scratching surfaces to keep them sharp.

A cat's paws with well-trimmed nails

In the long run, regular nail trimming can help your cat avoid injury from overgrowth. In case you’re not sure how to get started with trimming your cat’s nails, make sure to get in touch with your local vet or a professional pet grooming service.

Use furniture covers or slipcovers

A furniture cover or slipcover can help protect the surface of your couches or chairs.6 They help provide a physical barrier between your cat’s claws and furniture and minimize any damage they might cause. We’d recommend going for slipcovers you can easily put on and off and can wash easily.

Another cover we recommend are blankets. Cats love the soft texture of blankets and tend not to scratch them.

Use a scent repellent on your furniture

Cats hate certain smells, including citronella, citrus, and rosemary. You can create a homemade spray by mixing a few drops of essential oil with water and spraying your furniture.7 It’ll discourage your cat from approaching these pieces of furniture due to the smell. Just make sure to use a substance that doesn’t pose any health risks for your cat.

We’d only recommend going for this option if none of the other tips work. Cats are sensitive to smells and it’s always better to ensure they’re comfortable. So if you live in a smaller flat, it’s likely your homemade spray might spread around your entire house. And if your cat disapproves of the smell, you might find them getting even more agitated and unruly as a result.

Help your cat reduce their stress

Cats tend to be creatures of routine and habit – and change can be stressful. So if you’re observing your cat scratching, crying, or meowing excessively, it might be a sign they’re experiencing stress. So take some time to observe what might be causing it. (Like if you’ve just moved houses or introduced them to a new pet.) Give your cat time to adapt – and make sure to provide them a safe, secure environment full of toys, treats, and your presence.

A cat sniffing a flower in a grassy garden

For example, a leafy green indoor space full of non-toxic plants can be a great way to enrich your cat’s environment and redirect their scratching behavior. It’ll also help your cat keep their inner hunting instincts happy by letting them imagine they’re a hunter stalking their prey in the wild.

Redirect your cat’s scratching outdoors

Letting your cat outdoors helps redirect your cat’s scratching behavior to outdoor objects instead. Because if your cat spends too much time indoors, they might get bored, miss the sensory stimulation, and even dull their natural hunting instincts. So they might end up scratching things to get your attention and feel more stimulated.

So with a bit of supervised outdoor time, you can help your cat benefit from the exercise, build their natural sense of independence, and enjoy the natural sunlight and sensory stimulation. Even your indoor cat can “extend” their territory from your sofa to the backyard – and can scratch an outdoor tree instead of your table legs.

If you’re afraid of the dangers your cat might run into outdoors, you could invest in a dedicated cat GPS tracker. That way, you’ll always know where your cat is – no matter where you are in the world. With the Tractive GPS, for example, you can both get real-time updates every 2-3 seconds on your cat’s location and also make the best of its Wellness Monitoring features, which help you track both your cat’s sleep and activity levels.

Tractive CAT Mini GPS tracker with a safety collar

Know everywhere your cat goes

See where they are in real-time, no matter how far they go. Get alerts if they roam too far home. Find out where they’ve been and discover their favorite spots. Let others track with you.

Discover Cat GPS Trackers

What to do if your cat refuses to use a scratching post

Cats are smart little creatures – and they might be suspicious of a new scratching post or board at first. But with a little troubleshooting, you can help them overcome their hesitation and redirect their scratching from your couch or carpet:

Familiarize your cat with their “new” scratch area

Your cat might be reluctant to try your new scratching post because it might seem unfamiliar or strange. So start slow. Introduce your cat gradually to it to help them familiarize themselves better.

  • Play or spend some cuddling time with them near your new scratching item.
  • Keep their favorite toys around and gradually build up their familiarity with their new scratching item.
  • Place your new scratching post near your cat’s favorite parts of your house – so you can safely and easily “distract” them away from your furniture. For example, you could place it right next to where they sleep, so they can get their daily scratching time first thing in the morning.

Experiment with different shapes, sizes & materials

  • Shapes: Your cat might ignore a horizontal scratching post – but jump right at a vertical cat tree. In general, cats enjoy vantage points where they can survey their surroundings. So play around with some different shapes to get a feel of which one your cat responds best to.
  • Sizes: If your cat is on the larger side, they might enjoy a larger, sturdier scratching post more – since they tend to rub their entire bodies against them. 
  • Materials: You could also try scratching items made of different materials (like carpet, wood, or even rope) for one that’s just right for your cat. 
A brown kitten sits next to a vertical scratching post

Rub a treat near the scratch post

Your cat might be more likely to approach a scratching post or tree if it smells familiar. You could try rubbing a bit of their regular food on the scratching item to encourage them to approach and interact with it.

If you’re a fan of houseplants, catnip is a great option – both for creating a gorgeous green indoor space and keeping your cat happy. Catnip is perfectly safe for cats to sniff, consume, and grow around the house. So if you’re looking for indoor plants that are safe for cats, consider adding some catnip to the list. Just rub some to their new scratching post – and watch your cat approach it in no time.

Try multiple scratching items

Scratching posts and trees add to an enriched environment for your cat. But at some point, you might find your cat bored with the same items. So before they go back to scratching your furniture, you could invest in multiple scratching items around the house. For example, scratching tape, posts, and floor scratchers. Rotate these periodically to keep your cat distracted from the rest of your furniture.

Build a scratch-free household with these simple tips

Remember: scratching is a natural, instinctive behavior for cats. Your goal as a responsible cat parent is to provide them a safe, secure environment that works with their instincts – not against them.

Preventing your cat from scratching on furniture, couches, and carpets needs patience, understanding, and a proactive approach. And with these tips, you’re on your way to building a cat-friendly, scratch-free environment at home for good.

Want to see an expert redirecting feline energy in action? Check out some more helpful tips on how to stop your cat from scratching furniture:

Got a friend, follower, or family member with a scratcher in the house? Share this article with them and take them one step closer to a scratch-free indoor space.