Cats have two reasons for scratching the furnishings – both associated with their behaviour in the wild: they like to keep their claws sharp, and they like to mark their territory so that other cats (or people in your household) know that the cat is in charge of this area, and aren’t tempted to invade. However, if your cat happens to like scratching your brand new sofa or an 18th-century sideboard, it is time for action to modify the behaviour.
If you share your home with a cat, you’ll have to be prepared for a few changes – and for a bit of work to persuade your cat that you like your home as it is. Ragged curtains, shredded cushions and scratched furniture might make your cat feel at home, but it’s not how you want your home to look.
The best time to start any form of training with cats is when they are young. Teach them good habits from an early age, and you will be able to live in peace. However, cats aren’t as easy to train as dogs: because dogs live in packs, they’re used to being put in their place, but cats, being solitary creatures, like to rule their own roost.
You have two lines of attack to train your cat into good household habits. Discourage it from antisocial behaviour, but at the same time you should encourage your cat to find other places to sharpen its claws and mark its territory.
The first thing to do is to offer it a scratching post: this could be a full `cat gym’ with rope-bound uprights, carpeted resting shelves and enticing dangling strings to attract puss’s attention. There are also simpler scratching posts that can be fixed to the wall, or you could try to get hold of an actual log (dry and free from rot and insects, of course) that you could lean in a favourite corner of the room. These have the advantage of actually offering your cat a better scratching surface than will be found in most pieces of furniture, and may be all that is needed to discourage your cat from clawing the wrong surfaces.
If offering something better does not work, you’ll have to use your other path of attack, which is to actively discourage your cat from clawing the furnishings. The simplest method is to have a plant misting spray ready to hand: set the nozzle so that it will direct a fine, long-range jet, and when you cat starts to scratch, simply squirt it with water.
If you praise your cat for using the scratching post, you should have little trouble keeping your furnishings in good order.
Q. I bought an expensive cat gymnasium, but my cat is not interested in it. Did I waste my money?
No: you need to teach your cat how to use it, just as you would be taught to use gym equipment. Put food treats or toys on the platform to lure your cat. Give her lots of attention when she is exercising, so that she feels good using the equipment.
Q. My cat doesn’t scratch the sofa, but she does chew the cushions. Why does she do this?
Many cats show an interest in soft, woolly fabrics. Most behaviourists agree that ‘wool sucking’ is a comfort activity, taking the cat back to memories of kittenhood.
Q. Can I stop her from doing it?
Provide scraps of soft fabrics as playthings, and re-cover your cushions in a firmly woven fabric that will not be so attractive.
- A cat gymnasium is a very worthwhile investment if you keep your cat indoors. It will provide stimulation and exercise for house-bound cats.
- In the wild, cats scratch tree trunks, and in the garden they will mark garden fence posts to announce their territory.