Cats scratch furniture because it helps them to mark their territory, stretch and exercise, and to keep their claws healthy. Unfortunately, this innate behaviour can cause serious damage to your favorite pieces of furniture. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent and/or deter your cat from scratching up your furniture. In many cases, simply re-directing where they scratch can solve the problem. However, in other cases it may be necessary to use a combination of solutions, including positive reinforcement (rewarding them when they scratch on a scratching post or pad) and negative reinforcement (squirting them with water when they scratch the wrong surface).
It is important to understand why your cat scratches so you can figure out how to prevent it. For example, some cats like to scratch soft materials such as fabric, whereas others prefer rougher surfaces such as wood. You can help to determine what type of surface your cat likes to scratch by observing where they tend to scratch and by looking at their claws after they are done. For example, their nails are often rounded at the end but sharper toward the base. If you notice that they are scratching a particular area of your furniture, you can cover it with an old blanket or sheet and tuck it in snugly to discourage them from clawing it. For smaller areas, you can also try covering the furniture with something that is sticky or unpleasant to touch, such as aluminum foil or double-sided tape. Another option is to use a commercial scratching spray repellant that contains a strong smell such as citrus. If you spray the furniture when your cat is scratching it, they will learn to associate the squirt with their behavior and avoid that piece of furniture.
You can encourage your cat to explore their scratching posts by scenting them with catnip or placing toys on them. You can even hang a bell on them so they can play with it when they want to stretch and scratch. For a more permanent solution, you can attach strips of clear plastic or the knobby side of a vinyl carpet runner to the furniture you wish to protect. This will make the furniture less appealing to the cat because they will not like the feel of the hooks on their paws.
In addition to re-directing their scratching, you should also make sure that you have enough scratching posts and pads around your house so your cat has a variety of places to choose from when they need to stretch and scratch. Some of the best locations for these are family room areas, spots where they sleep or rest, and areas where you have found them scratching on other furniture.
Be careful not to get frustrated with your cat when they scratch their furniture as this can only serve to stress them out, which will only exacerbate the problem. Punishment is not effective either, as most cats do not respond well to it and may link the punishment to you and your presence, not the behavior itself. In addition, declawing is an extremely traumatic procedure that should be avoided at all costs. Consult with a qualified animal behaviorist to determine the most appropriate solutions for your pet.