my cat, my cat, my claw-y claw-y cat.
February 14, 2013 6:08 PM   Subscribe

one of my cats claws up furniture. I've tried a huge list of fixes, with no luck. I'm considering that he's bored. I'm on my last thread here, and the options are maybe now he goes outside and hope that being less bored helps, or that he gets declawed, which I'm totally against. help me with more creative ideas?

I have two cats Jango and Boba who are both neutered males, around 4 years old. They're great cats, I love them both more than you're probably supposed to love your cats. They're named for Jango and Boba Fett, from star wars :)

Both cats were adopted, Jango was a stray and Boba (who I commonly call Bobes or Bobaka) was being put outside permanently at a farm if no one took him, since a new baby was having allergies. both were about 7 months old when I got them and came with a small slew of problems, a lot of which we either worked out or lived with.

when I got the cats, I lived with my exboyfriend in a small apartment and we had a HORRIBLE couch (the one in the picture of Bobes.) it was a disaster. the cats quickly took to scratching it, which I tried my best to prevent, but exboyfriend didn't care at all and never followed up on chasing them off/spraying them, or encouraging them to scratch elsewhere for the year we lived together. they wrecked that couch. I realize that I am part and party to the cause of this problem.

I moved into my own place and took the cats. This would be about 2 years ago now. bought nice leather furniture. built a gigantic hilarious gate in the hallway to keep the cats away from it unless they were being supervised so I could get them used to the idea that furniture is not for scratching. between the long hard road of spraying and scatting and wrapping things in aluminum foil and plastic wrap and providing a never ending train of options for scratching posts and surfaces close to the problem areas, I've mostly untrained them that the couches are fair game. Jango is completely happy to use posts, and boba has some sisal floor scratchers he likes, and a sisal moon-shaped thing.

here's the kicker though, boba will scratch the furniture when I'm not at home. no matter what. I've got the no-scratch spray, I've taped aluminum foil to all the corners, I've rubbed them in lemon oil and garlic and I've bought those little shocky mats and taped them to the corners. he'll stop, but as soon as the foil/shocky mat goes away, he's back to scratching them. sometimes right in front of me if he's not getting enough attention, he figures. he's wrecked these couches. slowly, slowly, as the problem is much better than it was, but not solved. (I also moved, so can't just build the gate again, it would leave like.. no room for cats here. and one of the cats is fine.)

boba was an inside/outside cat on the farm, which makes sense, but I'm not really keen on the idea of him being an inside/outside cat in the city. I put him out on a harness and long lead for a few hours whenever I can and it's not snowy or really cold (canada), but he's pretty much cooped up at nights or if I'm busy, and all winter. I think the scratching may be boredom related, as he'd REALLY like to go outside. he meows at the doors/windows a lot. the cats have tons of toys, and I play with them, laser or the bird, they play alone, etc, I think they're well-entertained cats.

do you feel like this is my only option? I worry about bobaka and cars, since he's from the farm there wasn't any traffic, and there is some (though not TONS) in my 'hood. I also worry about dogs (there's lots) and coyotes (seen em). but I realize these are the risks of outdoors. I guess (I GUESS!) but it's horrible, that my other option is to declaw him, even though I feel absolutely repulsed by the idea, or to just accept that he's a furniture ruiner for life and just not buy nice couches.

I'm just looking for general opinion and experiences with this kind of thing. more creative ideas of running him off the couches would be great too! opinions on i/o city cats and declawing are also helpful. I just feel like I need some perspective and help on my very mischievous cat who doesn't understand how much his little bored habit is vexing me.
posted by euphoria066 to Pets & Animals (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Could you try getting him Soft Paws? I've heard great experiences with these, though my cat would never let me put them on her.
posted by dayintoday at 6:27 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

He isn't scratching because he's bored; he's doing it because he's a cat. Letting him go outside is not going to keep him from clawing at the furniture.

I've also heard good things about Soft Paws, and if you can't get them on yourself, your vet can do it for you. What I have done, though, is just cover my furniture with blankets when I'm not home.
posted by something something at 6:33 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've got my cats about 98% trained not to scratch the furniture and carpets. A couple of keys have been:

1. Not just giving them scratching alternatives, but making sure that the alternative scratchable surfaces are very close to the textures they prefer to scratch. One of my cats really, really likes to scratch the leg of an old (fortunately not very nice or valuable) solid wood desk I have. I got her a scratching post that's made of solid, unfinished wood in roughly similar dimensions to the desk leg. My other cat is really big on scratching carpets. I got him a carpet-like fabric-covered thing to scratch. The orientation of the scratching surface is important, too—vertical scratching is not the same as horizontal scratching, to a cat.

2. Giving BIG TIME rewards for scratching the appropriate surfaces. The cats now know that if it's anywhere close to their usual feeding times, they can "earn" a meal on demand by scratching their scratching posts and toys. Now that they're pretty well trained, I don't give a treat for every scratch, but when I was trying to reinforce the habit, I would give treats whenever I noticed them scratching the acceptable surfaces. If I'm going to reward them for scratching in the right place, I exclaim "good kitty!" while they are still scratching, then go get the treats (the same idea as clicker training: you need a way to connect the behavior to the treat that might follow a few seconds later). I can sometimes even get them to scratch on command.

I have a tentative theory that the cats have a certain amount of "need to scratch" and if they get it out of their systems daily by scratching for rewards or scratching on command, they won't feel compelled to scratch inappropriate surfaces later on. This theory is based on observing my two cats, though, and might not generalize to all other cats.
posted by Orinda at 6:33 PM on February 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

Seconding Soft Paws. He'll still try to claw, but he won't do any damage. It worked big time for my Mister. The only downside is that you have to replace them as the cat's claws grow.
posted by patheral at 6:40 PM on February 14, 2013

Third Soft Paws. My mom uses them on her cat. She calls it "getting her nails done." They don't hurt the cat (so long as they are indoor only) and they still get to do their scratching motion without hurting the furniture.
posted by sweetkid at 6:42 PM on February 14, 2013

Oh, we have the vet put the Soft Paws on Mister for a small fee. My honey is mildly allergic to cats and one prick will make him break out, so it's totally worth it for the peace of mind because Mister is a kneady cat.
posted by patheral at 6:44 PM on February 14, 2013

Response by poster: soft paws are chewed off in under 2 hours, tried that one a few times.. was hoping he'd get used to it, but they're goners. he pretty much destroyed his own claws in the process, splintering them up to the quick and they were bleeding. I wouldn't like to put him through that again.

rehoming the cat isn't going to be an option.

you don't think getting a leather scratching post would just.. encourage leather scratching?

both cats use and like their various posty things, and know rewards are often offered. the couch scratching seems more like.. a statement then a scratching. he VERY rarely does it in front of me (maaaybe once a month or two?) I think he knows it's not going to go over well.
posted by euphoria066 at 6:46 PM on February 14, 2013

Best answer: Don't let your cat out. Don't declaw him. I think you know that both are cruel and pretty much non-options.

I think you need to play more. I know you say you're already playing, but if it's boredom, then the solution is always play. Maybe crinkle balls or a long kicker toy to engage those claws and that prey instinct? I'd also be thinking about adding more horizontal and vertical spaces, depending on which way he's clawing. A tall cat tree with horizontal surfaces to sleep on and claw placed right beside the couch should be good, as well as some tall sisal posts. In my experience, most aren't big enough for tall male cats to really stretch out on.

the couch scratching seems more like.. a statement then a scratching. he VERY rarely does it in front of me (maaaybe once a month or two?)

It's not a statement of anything other than "digging my claws into this sure feels good (and if I do it around mom I get squirted by a spray bottle)." Watch out for projection! Cats aren't people and they don't think like us, either.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:18 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Kitty cat beauty parlor! You can trim their nails down to non-destructive nubs (look carefully in the light for where the vascular bit ends and don't trim into that). Swaddle them in a towel if they aren't cooperative; it should only take a minute.
posted by (F)utility at 7:26 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

If your cat is into catnip, rubbing it heavily into the posts you want it to use could also help.
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:37 PM on February 14, 2013

Best answer: My cats respond well to having their toys and scratching posts/items rotated. I put some in the closet for a while, then switch them out every couple of weeks. It's like new things! I do this with cardboard boxes, too, I try to keep a few boxes around for them, but rotating because JOY NEW BOX will entertain one of them (the most scratchy one) for two days. You already have your furniture, so it's sort of ... done... but we got a wood-framed couch and they don't scratch on it. One of them used to sit on the back of the couch and scratch up there, but I kept a folded blanket there for a while, she stopped and never started again. I've sort of accepted, grudgingly, that a life with cats is a life with at least some damage to my furniture because I can't watch/entertain them 24/7. Seconding nail-clipping. One of my cats (the most scratchy bad thing) has started letting my daughter clip her nails. The one piece of furniture she can't resist ever is a big ottoman and I think her new short nails are helping. My daughter starts the clipping when kitty is sleeping in her lap, and now she can usually get at least one paw done, often both, in one relaxed go.

Your cats are adorable.
posted by upatree at 7:46 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you tried double sided invisible tape? I used to have a problem with my cat walking across my desk all the time and I tried aluminum foil. Then I did the double sided tape. It worked. I think it was because she couldn't see the difference easily when I stopped putting it down.

I believe the main key is to get them to associate "couch + scratch = bad" not "foil = bad".
posted by slavlin at 7:49 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You mentioned the flat sisal floor scratchers, but have you tried the plain old honeycomb cardboard floor scratchers? Our cat liked to scratch furniture, too, and *never* would use any carpet or sisal scratcher we'd put in front of her--but the "iScratch" completely turned her around. She started out with the thin "iScratch," but we found that she was sleeping on it, too, and that was just too pathetic as she'd sort of pour over the sides of it as it was really narrow, so we started buying the "double-wides." They all typically come with a little bit of dried catnip - that will start the initial, "Ooooh, I can stretch and scratch this!"

In the beginning, she'd still occasionally scratch a couch (but it was so much rarer an event) -- whenever she did this, I'd clip her nails (using safety clippers) and eventually she stopped altogether, so much that we can travel with her with no worries, just pack one of her cardboard scratchers (yeah, she's got a few now...) and she uses it as scratcher and bed.
posted by jenh at 7:51 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

you don't think getting a leather scratching post would just.. encourage leather scratching?

If he has the choice of a crap-grade scratching surface and a nice-feeling one, he'll go for the nice one. So putting a mucky scratching post in the room with the leather couch means he'll go for the leather because it feels nice.

Putting a leather scratching post in the room with the leather means he may go for the post. Especially if the couch is covered with a blanket.

etc.and coyotes (seen em)
In coyote country, cats either live 6 months and get picked off, or 10 years if they're lucky and clever.

He isn't scratching because he's bored; he's doing it because he's a cat.
Yeah, partly to scent mark his turf, and partly get his nails to feel right.

I've got the no-scratch spray
Try the motion-detecting cat-off-couch spray devices - they're just compressed air, but startle the moggy.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:57 PM on February 14, 2013

I just want to second a) double-sided tape, and b) trimming the claws.

The cats at my parent's house are indoor/outdoor, and still scratch furniture. Except for where the tape has been.

My current cat (indoor city cat) only scratches when her nails get long enough. For a couple weeks after trimming, she doesn't scratch at all.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:14 PM on February 14, 2013

Best answer: I can only offer my experience of weaning my adult cat off of scratching on my couches:

I got Gwen when she was about one year old, supposedly a stray, but I think a house cat that got out and got lost (she is rather friendly, but still has obvious stray qualities, like mooching food.) When I got her, I too had beater couches that she liked to scratch on; they were "velour" or velvet-like coverings or brocade. She liked the stretching and the texture on the couches and the carpets in the apartment and she liked stretching up high to do so.

Fast forward a few years, and I ditch the couches, and she has to rely on scratching posts as I didn't have furniture she liked (either a bed or a futon with e metal frame, so she couldn't scratch on those.) I got her a scratching post that was carpeted because I recalled that was the texture she liked, and sure enough she went crazy for it and didn't bother existing couches as she had all the vertical height in carper she could want.

A few years after that, I'm contemplating buying a new couch. In the interim, she lived in a space with a denim couch and never scratched on it. But the 'berber' loveseat? She'd scratch it whenever she was alone, but I never, EVER, caught her in the act. I couldn't believe how sneaky she was, but the damage was evident: she was scratching away when we weren't around.

So, my solution was two fold: Bitter apple on the things she wasn't supposed to scratch, and a scratching post that had the height and texture I knew she loved. I moved the scratching post away from the couch, very gradually (like, two inches every few days.) She began to follow the scratch post, and started to leave the loveseat alone.

I then bought new couches covered in a fabric I knew she wouldn't really care for (twill cotton.) So far (three years in), she has completely ignored the couch and has stuck to the scratch posts (with an occasional paw at the floor, which is berber carpeting...) She utterly ignores the sisal side of the pictured scratchpost, which means 90% of modern day scratchposts would be useless to me now because they're all covered in sisal and she just detests the stuff.

All that to say: Use a scratchpost that has a texture and height you cat likes, put it near the couch with lots of catnip or other postive-reinforcement, and keep the foil or other negative reinforcement on the couch for a long time while your cat learns that scratching happens on the scratchpost, NOT on the couch. Then, slowly move the scratchpost away from the couch, keeping up with the catnip and foil/doublesidedtape/whatever. This will probably take months. But, hopefully, they will eventually learn.

Gwen will scratch whether her claws are trimmed or not, but trimming the claws gets you less damage to furniture in the short-run.

Good luck, and in the end, it just might mean ditching the leather couches and getting a material you know they don't like... keep an eye on them and see what they like and don't like. Good luck; it's a tough row to hoe!
posted by absquatulate at 8:28 PM on February 14, 2013

You need to leave the shock mats or foil or whatever works up longer. Like 6 months or a year. Some animals are dumb and it takes a long time to change their behavior. I have one too, you have my sympathies.
posted by fshgrl at 8:51 PM on February 14, 2013

Best answer: Get rid of the cat-incompatible leather furniture. Just get rid of it. Hear me out.

The incremental improvement you get in your life enjoyment from a fancy leather couch is more than offset by all the worrying and gate-building and lemon-rubbing and tinfoil-taping you do and the subsequent interruption of your peaceful enjoyment of your home and your friends the (very adorable) cats.

Get yourself a nice wood rocking chair, or some other thing you like that's compatible with cats. I like my cheap but nice and awesomely-comfortable Ikea "POANG" because the fabric part, which is NOT vertical and adjacent to the floor in prime clawing configuration, can be easily and cheaply replaced if a cat-related incident messes it up (but mine are angels, probably mostly because I make it easy, by considering them when I make decisions about what should be in the house). The neat thing about the POANG is it rocks by flexing, which makes the part on the floor cat-tail safe.

Quit thinking of this a competition with your cats, where you're some kind of failure if you can't make them act a certain way. Instead, concentrate on making a place where you can all live together in peace.
posted by fritley at 9:06 PM on February 14, 2013 [11 favorites]

I've had great success with treats for acceptable scratching and a shaken coffee can of pennies to disrupt bad scratching.
posted by Theophylactic at 3:23 AM on February 15, 2013

You're entitled to the kind of home you want, with the furniture you want and you are not obligated to give that up just because you have cats who have resisted all reasonable attempts to mitigate the issue.

Have them declawed. It doesn't make you a bad person and it doesn't make you a bad cat-owner.

They're pets; not people. People and their priorities come first.
posted by DWRoelands at 3:51 AM on February 15, 2013

Best answer: Please don't declaw. Declawing is probably the single most barbaric thing that humans do to pets. The US is one of the only developed countries that even allows it - it's considered abuse and is illegal just about everywhere else.

Declawing removes the entire first knuckle joint of a cat. Imagine having all your toes chopped off at the first knuckle. You'd be crippled, and in pain. It's worse for cats because they use their last toe joints akin to how we use thumbs, to grasp and manipulate objects. It also causes long term physical complications and mental issues in a lot of cats. Their personalities often change for the worst, they can become more aggressive or withdrawn, and you have no way to know how your cat is going to react until it's too late.

If you care even the tiniest bit about the animals you invite into your home, declawing should NEVER be on the table. Furniture is not more important than humane treatment of an animal.
posted by zug at 5:21 AM on February 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Have them declawed. It doesn't make you a bad person and it doesn't make you a bad cat-owner.
They're pets; not people. People and their priorities come first.

Declawing is certainly a legal option. And we can't have a fight about it here. But even if you accept DWRoelands' opinion above, you should add into your calculus that many people will feel otherwise, and that some other humans may think less of you if you do it. So, there's that side effect of the operation to think about.
posted by tyllwin at 6:12 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Stressing out over inanimate objects is not worth it. Trim the cats' claws regularly, keep it up with the scratching posts and mats, and work on getting to a place where you realize it's just a couch. If having nice things is really important to you (no judgement, it's important to some people and totally not a concern for others) maybe no more cats after these ones pass on.
posted by crankylex at 6:13 AM on February 15, 2013

I am so surprised to see only one 'get different furniture' comment. It is such a nice way to go. I have two cats and a small child and my sofa is a total wreck -- a very comfortable, reasonably clean wreck, but, a wreck. And we're all happy with that, and I can't imagine the stress that would come from a nice sofa in this house.

I put nice-looking blankets over the shredded sofa to distract the eye, but that's arguably even worse aesthetically, but... Again, clean, comfortable, and, the occupants of the home are happy.

Once I saw an apparent co-existence of nicer sofas and a pair of cats and it involved clear acrylic bent to the shape of the lower corners of the sofa and screwed into place. A possible option if your cats only scratch certain parts and you're good with throwing a little money at the problem.

One of my cats has some sort of cat mental illness, and he has had problems with aggressively scratching odd stuff up when anxious. Feliway worked well for that, though I would not suggest it as a general scratch-stopping nostrum.
posted by kmennie at 6:32 AM on February 15, 2013

My cat with claws has the same issue, and I've never figured out anything really effective so far. The only thing that's gotten it under any control, is letting him have free reign to claw some things, but spraying the bejesus out of him when he claws others. He's not that destructive, but he's going to claw something. So, it's a good thing our furniture is blah stuff. (He also tore out his own claws, rather than tolerate the Soft Paws.)

My old cat used to belong to my grandmother, and Grandma had this cat declawed. Old Cat is a neurotic biter, and her vet told me that declawing cats can make them biters. She also has anxiety issues related to the declawing, so she freaks out and pisses herself sometimes.... and other times, she freaks out and shits herself, followed by barfing. And the vet said that happens sometimes. So, keep in mind: if you think that claws can wreck your furniture, try urine, puke, and feces.

After having lived with us for a long time, we've made her life comfortable enough that it somewhat compensates for the anxiety and defensiveness that she developed as a result of her declawing. It was a LOT of work, and it really shouldn't have had to come to that. She is a good cat, and I'm sorry for her. Don't declaw the cats.
posted by Coatlicue at 6:46 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have two cats who have destroyed the family room couch and the living room couches. The new family room chairs seem to be getting a bit of the old claw thing too.

I've given up and have adopted a shabby chic outlook. I have cardboard scratchers, sisal scratchers, a carpeted kitty condo for scratching and we give lots of love and treats for appropriate scratching. It doesn't matter.

In my next life, I'm going to try the double-edged tape thing, but my cats are pretty smart, and when they were kittens they learned how to work doorknobs, so I'm not holding out hope.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:02 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Somehow I missed that you were considering declawing as a last resort. Like others I urge you not to do this.

Honestly, rehoming is a better option for the cats' sake, even though you said that's not an option.
posted by sweetkid at 7:14 AM on February 15, 2013

Best answer: Double sided tape on the couch where your cat tends to scratch.

Gigantic cat tree.

Clip your cat's nails.

None of that whack cruelty.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:14 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: pfft, I won't declaw the cats, no one worry. I got out of the shower this morning to this and even the idea of chopping his poor fingers off makes me want to throw up. I mean, I can't even put the soft paws on him again because he chews up his claws so bad, I don't know what I'm thinking, thinking I could make him go through a painful surgical procedure for my convenience.

I'll definitely try building some taller and sturdier scratching posts, I do notice that mostly (other than the mattress which is low) he does tend to scratch on things that are taller than any of the posts were have.

I also maybe don't mind the acrylic corners idea, and I also don't mind the "live with it and don't get scratch-able furniture" which is the current plan I guess.

I'll also try some different scratchers, maybe I could try mounting a cardboard honeycomb one (I've never tried that.. our cat when I was a kid disdained that kind of scratcher, and I guess I just never thought to try one again.) to the wall, a little higher than posts go too. maybe I'll try making a scratching corner.

thanks for the perspective everyone. these cute cats will remain whole cats with claws and tiny teeth, and stay inside except with supervision. I'll continue to work on the scratching, and if I never have success? ah. that's life with cats. worth it :)
posted by euphoria066 at 7:35 AM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

these cute cats

ugghhh you are not even kidding with that! Good luck with the little beans. I know it's frustrating, but hopefully this advice helps as cats are one of the things AskMetafilter does well.
posted by sweetkid at 7:47 AM on February 15, 2013

Just a note of experience with declawing. I'm now in possession of a cat my parents had declawed (my dad can't care for him anymore), and it really, really is pitiful. He can't jump very well because he doesn't trust himself to stick the landing with no claws, and he can't defend himself against my other cats (one of whom wants to play, and one of whom wants him dead) because he's effectively unarmed.

Scratching posts in all the areas where he likes to scratch most is a good option. We've tried tape with some of ours, with varying results (one of our cats just rips it off and eats it... and then claws the sofa anyway.) I've read about people trying citrusy-smelling sprays, but our cats never seem to mind stuff like that enough to prevent the clawing.

I'd say, just live with it. Life is too short to stress out about how your furniture looks. The only people who will judge you for it are not cat people, and what use are they, anyhow? :)
posted by kythuen at 7:47 AM on February 15, 2013

Late to the party but I went to IKEA and got a lot of cheap fleecy throws and threw them over my furniture. When company is over, I take them up for everyday but kitty scratches them and gets his furs all over them and not my furniture.
Also, they machine wash!
posted by pointystick at 12:38 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Glad to hear your response! My cat loves Molly and Friends scratchers (we have a similar model that has a shelf on top to keep him off my desk). It's really good for tall cats, and really sturdy. Highly recommended.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:23 PM on February 15, 2013

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