If your cat is clawing at your couch, it’s not because he’s feeling destructive. Scratching is part of normal cat behavior, and is important to your cat’s well-being for several reasons. First of all, scratching keeps a cat’s claws trimmed and sharpened by removing the outer layers, while also allowing the cat to stretch his muscles. Cats also scratch because the sweat glands in their feet leave behind their own distinctive scents. This allows cats to mark their territory, reassuring them and making them feel at home. Even if a cat’s claws are removed, he will still imitate a scratching motion with the pads of his feet. So although scratching can be a nuisance, your best bet is not trying to prevent it, but instead trying to redirect it onto specific surfaces.
There are several alternatives that will be just as appealing as your furniture to a scratching cat. If you have an outdoor cat, he can scratch his claws on trees or logs. If not, there are also indoor options, such as scratching posts, cat trees, and scratching toys, which work equally well. A few rules of thumb: any scratching post should be extremely stable so your cat can climb up and pull on it; it should be covered with material your cat can sink his claws into; and it should be in a prominent location so your cat actually uses it.
Scratching posts are usually less than 3 feet in length and can be either vertical or horizontal (like a log). Scratching posts are designed to imitate what your cat would find outside, so some are actually designed like logs. Keep in mind, however, that it is best to buy an actual scratching post or prepared log instead of bringing in logs from outdoors, since these could contain bugs, worms, or pesticides. Whatever kind of scratching post you choose, make sure it is sturdy. If it falls over on your cat, he’ll be afraid to use it again!
While it is a good idea to give your cat a variety of surfaces to scratch, a cat tree is the single best investment you can make. A cat tree is a tall structure with perches and cubby holes your cat can climb and sit on as well as scratching surfaces. Cats have a firm belief in their own superiority, and cat trees allow them to look down on everybody! You can buy dangly toys to attach to a cat tree as well, just make sure they are cat-safe and can’t be swallowed. You can even get cat trees custom-made to match your furniture (which will no longer be the target of your cat’s claws!).
Once your cat’s new post or tree is in place, you can attract your cat to it by teasing him with a cat toy and then giving him praise or a treat when he scratches it. If your cat likes catnip, you can rub some on the post to get his attention. Let your cat become accustomed to his new scratching place on his own, though; avoid putting his paws on the post, as cats do not like being forced to do anything. Most importantly, you need to make sure to let your cat know that scratching the new post is allowed and encouraged.