Cats and Furniture: A Roundtable

THe bad cat scratched a leather armchair. He went to prison for it.

A perpetual question emerging from most lovers and servants to cats is how to prevent scratching of furniture. Cat have claws, and they certainly like and need to use them. The doctors of all five District Vets have risen to help preserve your furniture, sanity, and maybe marriage.

Erika Martin, LVT
Eastern Market

If you decide to get a cat, know that they will scratch your furniture. They just will. There it is, plain and simple. It’s not a bad habit, it’s just what they do. Now, it is possible to lessen the amount and frequency of scratching, for sure. I’ve found, through trial and error, what my cats prefer for scratching materials. Their favorite is a good ol’ sisal rope scratching post. They hold up pretty well, and even when the rope starts to unwind, a hot glue gun can buy you a few more months. The sisal rope tends to shed a bit, but so do your cats and I hope you’ve accepted that by now. Second favorite – a good ol’ cardboard box. It can be empty, it can be flattened, whatever. If it’s there, they will scratch the corners of it like it’s just the most fun thing ever. Cardboard boxes also make really fun, free playhouses. A few random holes cut make for some great rounds of hide-n-seek. If I had kids (thankfully, I do not), I’d also keep them busy by having them decorate the boxes for the cats. Two birds with one cardboard box.

Amanda Evans, DVM
Eastern Market

I have found that my cats prefer certain types of scratching posts and it is very much a process of trial and error. Looking at what they are currently scratching (vertical vs horizontal, what type of material) helps to pick an appropriate scratching post. Positioning the post near the area where they are scratching is also helpful and I have had some luck with Feliscratch by Feliway , a product applied to a scratching post that attracts the cat.

Brant Hassell, DVM

I find the biggest mistakes clients make is using weird/non-appealing scratching items (usually posts, but I’ve had a few clients just buy random lumber from Home Depot) and/or not having enough scratching surfaces or having them tucked away in non-socially important locations so the most appealing thing to scratch on is the living room couch or rug. 

Rochelle Camden, DVM
Eastern Market

Sometimes cats prefer different textures to scratch so supplying just one type of cat scratcher is often not sufficient. They also have preferences on how the scratcher is positioned (vertical vs horizontal surfaces).

Dan Teich, DVM
Navy Yard and Eastern Market

Also essential to healthy indoor-cat life (and furniture health) is keeping your cat’s nails trimmed. Shorter claws do less damage. Slowly train your cat in claw-trimming. For those cats who insist on scratching objects you’d rather keep intact, you can try nail caps, such as Soft Paws or a similar product. These require dedication and constant attention, but may be an option for some people.

Evans: I also recommend lots of cardboard scratching mats.  These mats are great for letting cats leave both a visual and scent mark.  The scratching surfaces should be in socially important areas where the cats will be more inclined to mark.  I have at least one in every room and at the tops and bottom of all my staircases and at the doorways of the most coveted rooms.  I don’t recommend the skinny cardboard scratching mats because they’re not terribly stable.  The “double-wide” ones really let the cats get a good scratch in.  You can also fine some nice wood frames for your double wide scratching mats (got mine from Etsy) so they match your mid-century modern furniture.

Martin: See what materials your cat likes. Just know, they will like your furniture. Cats scratch as part of their nature. In a pinch, I’ve covered the parts of the couch my cats like scratching (like the arms and corners) with old T-shirts. Looks like a hobo lives in my house, but it helps me give the illusion that I have not-terrible furniture when guests come over (and I remove and hide the T-shirts, of course).

Hassell: I recommend that clients replace their living room furniture with wood framed mid-century modern furniture.   The cats can’t really damage the wood frame and if the fabric cushions get damaged they are easy to re-upholster.

When it comes to cats scratching furniture, there are options to lessen the behavior. You have to understand your cat’s preferences and natural behavior.  Scratching is what they do, provide them with an appropriate, desired outlet and hopefully you can enjoy your mid-century modern furniture.

Happy holidays from all of us at District Vet.

Dr. Teich is the medical director for District Veterinary Hospitals in Navy Yard, Eastern Market and Brookland.  Visit for more information.