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6 Ways to Stop Your Cat From Scratching Your Couch

What worked, what didn’t, and what finally solved the peskiest of cat parent quandaries.

by Robb Fritz
January 23, 2022
Kitten scratching fabric sofa
noreefly / Adobe Stock

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No matter how much one loves cats, there’s one thing that unites all cat owners in endless and insidious dread: the incessant drive of almost every cat to shred their owner’s favorite — and most costly — couches and chairs. As my wife and I know now, the best method for avoiding this is simply to buy couches and chairs that are upholstered with fabrics cats hate to scratch: ultrasuede, leather, velvet, denim, or microfibers. But as it did with us, this lesson often comes too late.

As a bachelor, it was one thing. Sure, I wasn’t happy about my tuxedo cat obsessively shredding the hell out of my couch and chairs, but this sinking feeling was mitigated by the realization that all of that bargain basement crap was only a few years from extinction in any case. Once I was married, however, one of my wife’s and my first purchases was Serious Furniture in the form of The Couch: a brand new, modern, deeply plush, solid piece. We imagined it would stand the test of time, seeing us through years, even decades of TV viewing and gatherings with friends and family.

Unfortunately, we failed to think through our cats’ plans for it. By the end of its second year they had completely eviscerated the front of one of its arms. By year nine, it was an unsightly embarrassment to which we’d formed an unfortunately deep emotional attachment. Fortunately, a friend who lived next door — openly appalled at our inability to part with its tufty, disintegrating remains — insisted that we take the two perfectly fine couches that they were replacing. Unable to say no to such an amazing offer, we overcame our commitment to The Couch and bid farewell. Unfortunately, our furniture wars with the cats began anew.

Did we fully succeed in keeping them from having their way with the new couches? Well, no. But we had learned from our previous failings and finally, after many methods of varying success that slowed the destruction, we finally brought it to an effective halt. So here is our list for saving one’s abused furniture: what worked somewhat, what didn’t work at all, and what finally solved this peskiest of cat owner quandaries.

1. Pheromone Sprays

This was our first wide-eyed and bushy-tailed attempt to keep the cats away. Ostensibly, cats are driven away by these scents, so we tried the cat pheromone spray and diffusers. Maybe these work for some cats, but they did not work for us.

2. Artfully Placed Scratching Posts

Of all kinds: sisal, cardboard, cloth, real wood with bark. They loved the scratching posts, at least some of them. Unfortunately, this did not stop them from also loving slashing away at our couch. 

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3. Sticky Sheets on the Couch Arms

These slightly gluey sheets of various widths, specifically designed to adhere to whatever surface one’s cat has decided to hack away at, were not entirely ineffective. For one thing, they honestly do hate the sensation of having their claws adhere to the sheets, but this just led our cats to find new places we hadn’t covered. Eventually, they figured out they could pull them down and regain access to their favorite spots. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they just look really tacky — no pun intended. Who wants huge sheets of what is basically fly paper stuck to their main piece of living room furniture?

4. Trimming Their Nails Regularly

Trimming a cat’s nails helps, and one should do it anyway for the cat’s well-being, but ultimately this will only slow down the wear on the furniture. Eventually, even with dull claws, they’re going to dig their way through.

5. Positivity Treats

Positive reinforcement through treats has really worked for cats. Lol, no. They really liked the snacks, though, so at least there was that.

6. Home-sewn Arm Covers

This is what finally worked. I’ll admit that the idea for this came into being long before I finally managed the effort — pretty minimal as it turned out — to make it happen. You do need a sewing machine. But if I never make anything else with that sewing machine we inherited from yet another friend, these four arm covers of glory would have been worth it. You can find the pattern here.

I made them for Mother’s Day for my wife out of some leftover ultrasuede I’d used to recover some chairs a few years earlier. Turned out the cats, especially Chickpea (the main offender), absolutely hated the feel of it. Once I put them on the couch, the cats would make half-hearted attempts to scratch on the still exposed arm, but it was a weird, unsatisfying angle and they gave up entirely. Our days of dreading the slow destruction of our couch were over. If you manifest the effort to make these, I trust yours will be too.

Robb Fritz

Robb Fritz is a writer, digital editor, producer, and content creator. He has previously written for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency where he penned a column entitled “History’s a Bitch: A Dog Walk Through Time.” He is now expanding his writing to include cats, which makes sense as he lives with two of them, along with his wife and daughter. They recently moved from LA to the much smaller town of Fairfield, Iowa, where they are surrounded by deer, geese, and a lot of cottontail.