Cat Scratch Fever
May 7, 2022 10:29 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to keep cats from scratching up upholstered furniture? What do people do? Banish the cats from the living room, resign themselves to destroyed sofas, or?

I have heard that you can have nice furniture, or you can have cats, but not both. Please say it isn't so.

I have two neutered, indoor-only male cats, Pirata and Jack. Pirata is 6 and pretty mellow, but Jack (1) has scratched the shit out of my current sofa and easy chair. They look pretty bad at this point. I am contemplating getting a new sofa and chair. That's $$$, and Jack is totally going to think they're a present for him.

I could:
  • Not let the cats in the room with my nice new furniture. But that's probably where I'd spend most of my time – I work from home – and would mean I wouldn't be hanging out much with the cats.
  • Become the cat police and spray Jack with water – he hates that – every time he tried to scratch my furniture. That would also mean the cats could never be in the room with the furniture unless I was in that room too. Would Jack ever learn not to do it? Or would I be protecting-and-serving Jack forever?
  • Get some sisal and carpet-covered cat furniture, douse it with catnip, and hope Jack would prefer it to my stuff.
  • Other???
I'd be grateful for the benefit of your lights.
posted by pH Indicating Socks to Pets & Animals (35 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps I've just been lucky, but my cat does not scratch furniture. Main thing I do is have a few of the cardboard scratchers around and I regularly sprinkle with dried catnip. Those become the happy scratching places and the catnip is a reward for scratching where the kitty is supposed to.

Any whiff of scratching actual furniture is met with a loud clap and "NO." the noise is deterrent enough.
posted by brookeb at 11:06 PM on May 7, 2022 [4 favorites]

I had a scratching post and a couch; the cat liked scratching my couch and ignored the post.

On my vet's recommendation I simply moved my scratching post next to the couch my cat liked scratching. Worked like a charm! Simple carpet-covered thing, just high enough for the cat to reach the top when he was on his hind legs.
posted by mark k at 11:07 PM on May 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

Previously, including my suggestion of sticky tape strips. Also, your boys are adorable. Orange (and orange-and-white) cat lovers of metafilter, unite!
posted by alygator at 11:18 PM on May 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

Cats need to scratch. They need to be given surfaces to scratch on that are meant to be scratched. Ideally, that should include vertical and horizontal surfaces longer than your cat fully stretched out. A big favorite is corrugated cardboard scratchers, which can be made in all sorts of cool shapes and are surprisingly durable but totally compostable when they get too raggedy. Some cats prefer the kind of carpeted texture you see on classic cat furniture. Some like sisal. Some enjoy driftwood or bark textures. Some cats really want the thing they scratch to have give in which case things like weighted plush toys can work, or just covering furniture with layers of blankets you don’t mind getting abused.

I have two cats and at any given time three or four cardboard scratchers of different shapes and sizes scattered around. I have a tall cat tree with rope wrapped columns and two scratching posts that are about waist height that are easy to move around for cleaning and such - one is carpet and rope, one is sisal wrapped. One of my cats clearly prefers each style of post for vertical scratching, but they both like cardboard for horizontal. Most of my couches and chairs have blankets where they both kneed and make biscuits and get a little crazy and claw up the fabric - but they are simple blankets I just machine wash, not my actual couch.

You can’t train cats out of scratching. You can only give them plenty of places to scratch that work for the both of you. If you are concerned about stylishness, you can investigate the many modern cat tree options out there now - there are some cool rattan numbers that go with the current trend perfectly, for example - and if money is the issue cardboard is the smart choice but also you can get sisal wraps with Velcro to put around things like table legs. If you get them scratching options and they don’t use them, you can try a different material, or a different orientation, like some cats enjoy scratching on an incline, or something more secure because they don’t like when the scratcher can be moved by the force of their scratching. Also, get some king sized bedspreads on clearance and cover up your couch in the meantime.
posted by Mizu at 11:18 PM on May 7, 2022 [5 favorites]

Do you trim their nails? It can be rough to do at first. Two of mine were real fighters when I got them, an absolute battle to do nails, and now they are mostly ok with it, only mildly grumpy. You can trim well above the quick (the pink bit inside the nail), just take the sharp tip off, and it'll really lessen the damage they can do. With my 3, I check front paws every 10 days to 2 weeks, usually just a nail or two on each paw will need a trim. And I only do back feet when they're stabbing me when they jump off my lap, maybe every other month or so.
posted by dorey_oh at 11:58 PM on May 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've read that scratching, besides being a necessity, can also a bonding response. Cats will scratch near their owners. Mine scratches on one particular scratch area every morning after they have eaten their full of served breakfast.

I keep a scratch pole near one end of my couch, and I have a heavy wave jute table-runner nearer my desk hanging lengthwise down the other arm and overhanging to the floor. Ed doesn't scratch anything else in the house except an occasional few plucks on flywire on a sliding screen door.

Strong scratch material does away with the need to cut their nails and you can refurbish scratch poles wrapped in rope with a glue gun and a jute skein from the hardware.
posted by Thella at 12:02 AM on May 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also talk to the people at the furniture store about fabrics that are less attractive to cats. Mine loved my old couch but leaves the newer one alone - it’s not a good scratching surface.
posted by Sukey Says at 1:13 AM on May 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

We successfully trained a cat out of scratching a certain chair by providing plenty of alternatives, and then sticking aluminium tape (available at hardware stores) on the areas of the chair that she wanted to scratch. Cats don't like scratching aluminium foil.
We left it on long enough for her to fall out of the habit. It was then easily removed.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:38 AM on May 8, 2022

We praised our middle aged cat for scratching her scratchers, and if she occasionally scratched on the furniture we did a gentle firm “no”, picked her up, and brought her to the proper place. Then praise for using the scratcher. She hasn’t really scratched any furniture.

The scratcher became a way of greeting us when we got home, or if she had Big Feelings to deal with.
posted by Hypatia at 5:43 AM on May 8, 2022 [4 favorites]

How do your cats like to scratch? Our cat loves to scratch but almost always scratches her post except when she's mad or stressed, and I think that's because she really like to stretch out tall to scratch and we got her a giant post.

This company, the Felix Catnip Tree company, makes the best scratching posts. They are not cheap but they last a very long time - I got the current one in 2019, our cat is a mighty scratcher and I'd say it's got another year or two to go. A critical feature - it's not wrapped in sisal rope but covered in sisal fabric, and they get a better scratch that way. It is really good for keeping her claws in good shape - the surface is very robust and helps work off old bits of claw.

She also likes to scratch the soft pine verticals of some shelves we built in the basement - that doesn't matter, of course, since they're just unfinished storage, but it's the robust nature of the pine and the long verticals that do it.

Also her big scratching post is in her favorite part of the house with her food ("the lair") so scratching on it is very satisfying for that reason.

We have the post next to a little table, so she can stretch out to scratch or sit on the table and do a more compact scratch, and this has both extended the life of the post and given her a lot more enjoyment.

I do think that cats most often scratch furniture, etc, because they want to scratch a big heavy surface and most scratching materials are not big and robust enough.
posted by Frowner at 5:47 AM on May 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

What hasn't yet been mentioned is that scratching leaves scent marks, and since cats like to mark territory, they like to scratch/mark on very obvious objects. Hiding scratching posts away in a dark corner will not work; your furniture is attractive because it's front and centre. So: sturdy scratching post / cat furniture in a prominent place in a frequently used room in the house.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:21 AM on May 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

We use plastic stickers on our furniture to keep the cats off.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:33 AM on May 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

We've found that the weave of the fabric is most important in determining if our cats scratch it. Ours absolutely love to scratch anything tweed or with a grippy, woven texture. They are completely uninterested in microfiber or smooth weave fabrics. When we replaced some furniture recently we opted for velvet and a very smooth weave cotton and even though they love sleeping on the furniture, they never scratch it.

Could you replace one small piece with something similar as a test run?
posted by defreckled at 6:58 AM on May 8, 2022 [4 favorites]

My cat is not deterred by soft fabrics. Also I bought some of that deterrent tape and he worked out how to pull it off.

Best results have been in providing other scratchers and also covering the arms/exposed sides with blankets.
posted by emjaybee at 7:24 AM on May 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

I put a scratching post in front of any surface I see my cat scratching. She prefers the posts and will use those when given the opportunity. This means we have 3 different posts in our living room, facing each tempting side of our couches, but it’s mostly saved the upholstery!
posted by music for skeletons at 7:39 AM on May 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Get a felting needle (A long metal needle with subtle barbs all over it, costs $5-10 at a craft store) and stab the little torn threads back into the couch. Makes a huge difference! You can even tape a few felting needles together to make the job go quicker.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:52 AM on May 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

I got these plastic shields for my new couch to keep Ms. Butt from doing to it what she’s done to my easy chair, and they’ve worked great! She has become deeply uninterested in that couch (except to lay on top of me when I am laying on top of it).
posted by heurtebise at 8:29 AM on May 8, 2022

When I had a cat, I used toenail clippers to regularly clip the tips of her claws. She got used to it, and it helped a lot. Scratching post or posts with catnip, of course, and we made a tallish post and tied a toy from string as an additional attractant; this was successful. And when she tried scratching furniture, I did squirt her, assaulting her oh-so-precious dignity. Foil, stickers, tape, blankets, all sound like good ideas. In short, do all the things.
posted by theora55 at 10:42 AM on May 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

My couch is a velvet-type material, and the recliner is microfiber. My cats so far do not seem interested in clawing either one. What they do like is an old side chair that has a burlap-type fabric, and they have torn the hell out of that. Thankfully I was never very fond of it so I don't care. It's theirs now. We do have a couple of cat trees with scratching areas, and they use that sometimes but they still love the chair the most.

So yeah, I would try finding a scratching post they will really like, and douse it with catnip, and hope for the best. And plastic protectors for the sides of your nice furniture, to be safe.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:34 AM on May 8, 2022

Agreeing with folks who say that microfiber / faux suede isn't an attractive scratching surface for cats (or at least mine). Also agreeing with folks who say that many cats like sofas because they can really work it and tussle with it in a way they can't with scratching posts. The cheaper storage ottomans made of fabric covered cardboard have been good upgrade re: surface area and sturdiness for scratching posts.

I don't think squirt bottles work because you can't be vigilant when you are not there!
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:29 PM on May 8, 2022

Watch out for microfiber, though, when you reupholster. We had our couch redone in a nice velvety microfiber, because we believed the people who wrongly told us it was a good idea for living with cats. It's true that the cats never scratched it on purpose, but they inadvertently left holes behind with their back claws every time they jumped off the couch. The microfiber was a terrible mistake.

We have stretchy slip covers on the sofa now. Not perfect but vastly better looking than the old non-stretchy sort. The cats don't damage them at all, but if they did, replacement would be simple. Someday we will reupholster again, if we can ever find a more suitable fabric.
posted by metonym at 12:40 PM on May 8, 2022

Seconding everyone who is pointing out that cats need to scratch. It's an instinct.

Since they're cats, and don't understand the value of nice furniture, they'll scratch whatever is the most satisfying - whether that's because of size, texture, placement, or some combination of the three. You can reduce the likelihood of them scratching your furniture by providing them with other things to scratch.

Most scratching posts are much too short. Personally, I've had luck with a tall sisal-wrapped cat tree and some wall-mounted flat cat scratchers. One of the wall-mounted cat scratchers is attached to the corner of the sofa that they used to scratch, but this is a solution that works well because of the particular design of my sofa (metal frame with canvas cushions, so I could tie it on to the back of the frame). My cats almost never scratch anything they're not supposed to.

That said, I would never buy furniture if I would be upset if my cats scratched it. You can definitely reduce the likelihood that they'll scratch it, but there's no guarantee - they're cats. You should plan what you do around that, whether it's getting a rugged fabric you don't care bout, getting covers, etc.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:02 PM on May 8, 2022

I used stiffer plastic covers like these . Once my cat found found something more satisfying to scratch (I am an idiot and bought sisal stair treads), I was able to take them off and she hasn't scratched any of the new furniture either. I realize I probably just got very lucky!
posted by sm1tten at 1:31 PM on May 8, 2022

I found that cat plastic helped, as did having dedicated scratchers as others have said, but one other thing that's made a big difference is covering one of the sofa's arms with a small sheepskin rug. He LOVES the fur, and as soon as it was available spent all of his living room time sitting on top of it. I've even seen him furtively groom it from time to time. I don't think it was an accident that he stopped scratching all the other furniture in the room as soon as it appeared.
posted by Violet Blue at 1:46 PM on May 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

The cats used to scratch the first end of the couch they encountered whenever they'd enter the living room. I put a cute sisal-covered cactus-shaped scratching post there and it solved that almost entirely. It's the first thing they encounter when they walk into the living room now, and they'll always stop and stretch on it. That's the second cactus scratcher in that hallway, so they have a couple stopping points before they hit the couch. I also got super soft plush blankets from Society6 and put one over each side of the sectional, so they don't claw the cushions too much. They also have plenty of other scratchers, including a couple cardboard scratch pads and a big sisal-tube cat tree. They don't scratch the sisal mushrooms or sunflower very much, but I do think it helps them feel more at home. Your place should look like cats live there by having enough toys and scratchers around that are theirs to keep them from scratching up what's yours.
posted by limeonaire at 2:01 PM on May 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

We got a corner protecting scratching post like this curved one at Amazon. It slips under a furniture leg so you have to make sure the legs are also at the corners, but our cats are pretty consistent about using it and nothing else.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:43 PM on May 8, 2022

We use a sisal door mat as an ad hoc scratching pad and it works great, and looks fine in the room. It's placed underneath the front legs of an armchair to both keep it planted when he scratches and keep him from scratching the chair.

It has worked amazingly well and he uses it every day and had never scratched any furniture.
posted by qwip at 4:46 PM on May 8, 2022

My cat shredded my woven fabric sofa to bits. She can’t get purchase on my velvet sofa to save her life—too slippery, no weave pattern to sink her claws into—so even though she tries, she doesn’t do scratching sessions, or cause any noticeable damage.
posted by kapers at 5:13 PM on May 8, 2022

2nding the felting needle tip. i wish i had learned about it sooner. you can honestly make the upholstery look like new.
posted by wowenthusiast at 6:37 PM on May 8, 2022

I have two cats and despite trying All The Things (offering plenty of different authorized scratching surfaces, making loud noises/spraying water or citrus scent if unathorized scratching occurs, covering things in aluminum foil), ultimately both of them scratch non-human-approved areas.

The 1 year old, who loves to scratch wallpaper and furniture that humans are sitting in, now gets claw covers (aka "soft paws") put on her front feet professionally every month or so. It is SO nice for the humans! She can jump up on laps, or climb legs, without hurting us. She still does the stretch/scratch posture even though she has the covers on, but she doesn't harm human furnishings.

My 5-year-old tom is too much of a scaredy cat to torture him with a visit to cat-grooming stranger, and there's NO way he would let us put covers on! So he continues to scratch the carpet in my bedroom sometimes, and I continue to make weird loud noises when I notice him doing it, which if emphatic enough will usually get him to stop... temporarily.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 7:08 PM on May 8, 2022

My cat loved to scratch on suitcases, to the point where I upgraded my luggage and then kept one old suitcase in my living room and one old suitcase in my bedroom. They were solid enough that they didn't move when she scratched, and they were long enough that she should stretch out (both important things that make the cat want to scratch, as another poster mentioned above). These are the roller suitcases with fabric on the outside, of course, not the plastic ones. Then as a bonus, she loved sitting on the things.

She also really loved scratching up big pieces of Styrofoam from packaging.

I also got her a tall, heavy wood scratching post; can't recall where I got it but it was just some person online who made them. (Basically trying to replicate the idea of a tree.)

Cardboard boxes that were on the larger side, such that she could stand on top of it to keep it still.

She rarely scratched the couch because there were so many other good things to scratch. My apartment looks like a hoarder's nest, but my furniture is fine. Another thing she never scratched were those carpeted or sisal things that are so ubiquitous but often aren't actually designed the way a cat would like in terms of stability or height.
posted by unannihilated at 11:07 PM on May 8, 2022

One thing that helped my cat adopt her new furniture as her preferred scratching spot was for me to go to it when my cat wanted my company. For us, it was when I would get home. My cat would be at the door to greet me and I'd head straightaway to the giant cat tree I built. Sometimes I'd break out the catnip or have a treat for her, but not always. But it was always the spot I'd go first when I came in, and pretty soon she was always there before I got the door open.
posted by hydrophonic at 5:34 AM on May 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

Two game changers as far as scratching for our four cat household. 1) This scratching post, placed centrally in the living room. Tall enough, heavy enough, and the nimble one can use it as a perch. 2) Replacing our old scratched-to-hell chairs with chairs that have loose cushions, similar to these. That way when they try to scratch, the cushion moves and it's not so much fun.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:29 PM on May 9, 2022

I think appropriate scratching surfaces and making your furniture have been pretty thoroughly addressed above. You may need to experiment with surface type (e.g. sisal, cardboard, wood) and angles (horizontal, vertical, and slanted) to find their faves.

Absolutely don't spray the cats with water. This may stop them in the moment, but it won't stop them when you are gone, and it will teach them to fear you. You cannot punish cats into compliance, and it's cruel to try. Don't destroy your relationship with them like this.

Also, two of my cats are perfectly content to dig their nails into the back of my microfiber/suede sofa, specifically to get a good stretch when they wake up from napping in the sunny spot in the middle. They don't full on scratch like they do on their many scratching posts, but they do snag it sometimes. If I cared, I would need to keep it covered with blankets to protect it always, and secure said blankets somehow.
posted by ktkt at 2:16 PM on May 9, 2022

Seconding that the texture of the furniture fabric makes a difference. I had a velvet sofa that my cat never scratched but a rough-textured armchair that he loved scratching.
posted by switcheroo at 12:05 PM on May 10, 2022

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