A woven mat with a soft blue-and-white fabric. An authentic ikat rug with pretty fringes. A couch with a classic pinstripe pattern. A delicate, white curtain that touches the floor.

No, this isn’t a wish list for someone trying to furnish a brand-new home. It’s a list of things which have been probably been torn, scratched, and vandalized by―who else?―your beloved cat!

If you’re watching helplessly as your cat scratches your expensive bedsheets in blissful ignorance, consider this your emergency intervention.

THE FURNITURE VANDALIZER… A.K.A. YOUR CAT! – Stop scratching your head and wondering how to keep your feline friend from ruining everything it gets its paws on! There’s no need to steer clear of fabric altogether, but there’s no need for your upholstered furniture to go to waste, either.

WHY HE DOES IT – All the seemingly destructive scratching is actually normal cat behavior, says veterinarian and pet expert Dr Rizalyn Zunio, co-founder of The Pet Project Veterinary Clinic and Surgery. She said that before you scold your cat for poking another hole through your blanket, it’s best for you to understand that they “need to scratch.”

Your cat is itching to get his paws on almost every fabric it sees―he believes it’s part of his being a fab feline. When he scratches his claws on the carpet, he is simply trying to complete his daily grooming ritual by sharpening his claws.

If he doesn’t keep his claws sharp, he can’t paw his way up the walls or climb up his favorite bookshelf. He might even hurt himself if he can’t latch on while surveying his territory (a.k.a. your home) from atop the kitchen cabinet!

Why it’s more serious than you think…

“It’s just a cat that wants to scratch stuff. What’s so serious about that?” one might ask.

Yes, the perennial scratching puts a strain on the budget, what with furniture being thrown out or reupholstered and new curtains being purchased every now and again. But that’s just scratching the surface.

What’s worse is this: It puts a strain on a cat’s relationship with his beloved human!

Many frustrated cat owners label their feline companions stubborn and uncooperative―some even go as far as to call them evil – once their cats go on a scratching spree. This misunderstood feline habit puts a wedge between a cat and his human companion, one that may very well lead to a frustrated human and a homeless cat.

THE PROBLEMATIC SOLUTION – Buying a scratching post for your cat makes sense. It allows him to go on with his regular grooming, sans the furniture mayhem, of course. However, there are a few problems you may encounter.

“Shawn likes climbing trees,” says happy purrent Jonna Baquillas.If your cat does, too, he needs to sharpen his claws by scratching them on anything that provides resistance… including your couch. (Ouch!)

1. Your cat thinks it’s an ugly, useless thing.

You come home happy one day with what promises to be the solution to your problems. It costs a little more than you expected from something that looks blah, but the saleslady over at the pet shop said it will put an end to your cat-scratch misery.

Unfortunately, your cat pretends the expensive scratching post you bought doesn’t exist. Even after you followed the vet’s instructions by placing his paws on the scratching post, your cat just won’t use it.

2. YOU think it’s an ugly, useless thing.

Whether or not it works, it just stands there in the corner, looking like an out-of-place tree that lost its leaves after giving up on life. Yes, it’s not pretty―and it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Life with a cat isn’t always purr-fect. Your cat’s relentless scratching, however, is something you can put a stop to. 

ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS

If you can’t get that scratching post to work for you and your cat, there are two things to focus on: deterring your cat from scratching the furniture, and encouraging him to scratch where you want him to.

MARKING NO-SCRATCH AREAS – Notice how your cat rubs against the legs of your table? He’s marking his territory by rubbing his cheeks against the wood. This transfers his scent onto furniture, effectively marking the vicinity as his territory.

In other words, your cat uses scent as a way to communicate! This is something you can do if you want him to understand your message.

Use odors to ward off a cat from areas he shouldn’t scratch. You can purchase deterrent sprays that smell of citrus, Dr Zunio advises. Your cat has a keen sense of smell; his sensitive nose will find the tangy odor too overwhelming.

However, if your cat is unfazed by commercial lemon-scented sprays, why not make your own? Mix chopped chili peppers in a bottle of water and spritz on areas where he likes to scratch!

“It may seem extreme, but it may work in worst-case scenarios,” says Dr Zunio. Just make sure to do the spraying while your cat is away.

Are curtains your cat’s preferred scratching area? Keep them from becoming too much of a temptation by tying their ends away from the floor. (Having a do-scratch rug nearby might also do the trick; see below.)

PROVIDING DO-SCRATCH AREAS – With a little creativity and resourcefulness, you can live a happy life without ever having to buy a scratching post! Here are a few alternatives.

1. Area rugs made of tough fibers

Cats are drawn to rough fibers; they know they make more effective claw sharpeners. Fake sisal rugs make a good neutral palette for home decorating while also giving your cat a scratch-resistant area to sharpen his claws!

2. Resilient woven mats as upholstery protection

If your cat loves scratching your couch, protect the sensitive fabric with a decorative mat that can withstand his claws! There are many woven mats that come in different patterns and colors. These can prettify your couch even as they give it a layer of protection.

Of course, don’t forget to reward your cat when he scratches in the right places! Give him a healthy treat and tell him he’s doing a great job.

This story appeared in Animal Scene’s March 2015 issue.