Ugghhh.. Kitty is scratching on my sofa, chairs and wood trim. This can't go on! You are right, it can't go on, BUT...PLEASE...DO NOT EVEN CONSIDER DECLAWING!! It is cruel, inhumane, unnecessary and can cause long term health and behavioral issues.
Cats and Scratching Inappropriately... Of all the cat's natural behaviors none is more complained about than this.
WHY Do Cats Scratch?
First and foremost, we MUST understand that scratching is an innate behavior of cats. No amount of training nor punishment (Please...never punish your cat(s)!!) will stop cats from scratching. They may learn not to scratch in your presence, but they will still scratch. WHY do cats need to scratch? Cats scratch in order to maintain their nail health, which most people realize. But cats also scratch in order to receive an excellent stretch of their front legs, toes and shoulders; also to leave a physical and olfactory (scent) "calling card" of their presence in a territory. This is why we see even declawed kitties still maintain this behavior protocol (leaving an olfactory "calling card").
Punishment Is Not The Answer!
Because scratching is an action that is part of their natural behavior repertoire, it is a behavior that cannot be stopped. It is as essential as breathing. Some people believe punishment is the appropriate answer. However, punishing cats, and particularly for a natural behavior, NEVER works. Important to remember, scratching will continue when punishment is applied and is not because cats are now angry, "acting out" or resentful. As an innate behavior, they are driven to do it. At the least, cats will continue the behavior, but do it while the punisher is not around to "catch them in the act." At worst, punishment will be detrimental to the bond with your cat and create fear. Cats don't understand why you are punishing them and only see it as emotionally (and possibly physically) hurtful.
How To Stop The Damage
So....knowing cats MUST scratch and punishment is out of the question, let's consider what we can do to eliminate the damage to household items. Making the current surfaces unattractive to cats, determining what and how kitty likes to scratch and filling the home with great scratching surfaces will be the steps to correct this "behavior problem." Other actions we can take to diminish damage will be discussed as well.
Prior to training kitty to an appropriate scratcher, it is important to make items you don't want cats to scratch, unattractive to them. Covering the item with a sheet or soft material will "hide" the previous scratching surface and create an unacceptable scratching option for kitty. To protect a chair, sofa or table, be sure to tuck the material in or tape it down so kitty won't be able to get under it and back to the surface. Another wonderful deterrent is Sticky Paws (products page). This is a special double sided "sticky" tape that really confuses and disgusts cats. These preventions are temporary. Once kitty is reliably using a new scratcher, it is no longer necessary to protect your furniture.
Training Kitty to The Appropriate Surface
As stated earlier, one of the reasons cats scratch is to leave a visual and olfactory "calling card." High visibility of the scratching medium gives us a clue to understanding kitty's site choice. In order to train kitty to the new, acceptable scratcher, place it next to the item from which we are deterring the current scratching behavior. If that is not convenient, it can be moved to a new location, slowly...over time. It will need to be in a highly visible spot though. Remember, kitty wants to advertise his/her presence, so it helps if "everyone" can see it. Obtaining a scratcher that is attractive to people, while pleasing, safe and utilitarian to cats is the goal!
Kitty might be a bit confused over the change. Making the new scratcher attractive to kitty will help with acceptance. It should be at least the same height as the previous item, of similar or kitty-preferred surface substrate (rough material/wood, etc.) and secure and sturdy enough to never be toppled over. Applying fresh catnip or catnip spray to the new scratcher, placing treats and favorite toys on and around it, will help to attract kitty. The makers of Feliway have created a product called Feli-scratch (products page), that when applied to a scratcher, entices kitty to be interested and use the scratcher. Anytime kitty is seen using the scratcher, provide abundant praise and treats....Yay...good kitty!
The above covers cats scratching on vertical surfaces. But what if kitty is scratching on a horizontal surface, such as the carpet at a doorway. One of the best ways to deter scratching there is to lay down carpet runner, nubby side up. Kitty will find it quite the irritant and definitely no longer an attractive surface. Placing a horizontal scratcher, such as those produced by Pioneer Pet and Imperial Cat (Product page) in those areas will give kitty a better option for scratching.
Consider why kitty is scratching in those areas. Is kitty secluded in a room and trying to get out? Making the room more comfortable and homey will help calm kitty down. Access to windows, vertical surfaces such as cat trees or even your own furniture is helpful. Also, keep the environment enriched. Using food puzzles, games and toys (see the enrichment tab) are great ways to keep kitty busy, stress free and happy.
Kitty's can also sometimes scratch our skin. Generally this is due to rough play (NEVER allow your cat to play with your hands!!), but it can also be accidental. Some people have thin, easily torn skin and need protection. To eliminate/lessen the damage caused by cats' nails, start trimming kitty's nails. Desensitizing kitty to this function will alleviate the need for forcing kitty and causing stress for kitty and yourself. Nail trims will likely need to be done every 2 - 4 weeks. Another great option is to have nail caps (products page) placed on kitty's nails. These nail caps last several weeks. Nail trims and placement of nail caps can also be done by groomer and some veterinarians.
Make the surfaces kitty is scratching now, unattractive surfaces. Place appropriate scratchers nearby to begin training. Lessen damage to people/pets via nail trims and nail caps. Understanding that scratching is a natural cat behavior and providing appropriate scratchers will bring harmony to the home.