All I did was scratch at the corner of the couch near the door! You’d think I killed someone or stole their tuna or something! What’s the big deal?
Scratching isn’t just something that feels good; it also helps us get rid of the old claw sheath to expose the new sharp claw underneath. Plus, of course, the scent glands in our feet make sure that the whole world* will know who this object and this territory belong to. The higher the better, make it clear what a great and powerful cat you are, and that you’re not to be messed with!
Unfortunately, humans have some very peculiar ideas about this kind of thing. To begin with, they think that the things in your house belong to them, not to you. They see your tasteful and artistic work as ‘damage.’ Strangely, it’s the really new ones and the really old ones** that they get the most upset over. While choosing prominent locations to draw attention to your work simply makes sense, these are exactly the locations to which humans object the most strongly.
Realistically, you just aren’t going to be able to convince them of the rightness of your point of view. The need to scratch just isn’t going to go away, though, it’s an essential part of felinity.
Ask your human to provide you with other objects to scratch. Try multiple textures until you find which one or ones feel right to you. Many commercial ‘cat trees’ and the like are great for achieving extra height and playing in, but the soft side of carpet is more for the benefit of your human’s aesthetic sense than for your claws, so insist on one with at least one section of wrapped sisal rope that you can really dig your claws into. Cardboard boxes can be lots of fun, and humans generally don’t mind these being clawed into pieces from the inside out. Maybe your human has an old chair that they don’t mind you using.
My personal favourite is solid natural wood with the bark still on it, or natural cedar even without the bark. A fine-grained bark gives you texture without being too coarse, and it satisfies that clawing instinct in a very primal way – and it’s environmentally friendly, if your human can acquire it from someone felling a tree for some reason! Be sure they get a piece that’s tall enough for you to get your claws into it at a decent height, at least twice the length from your nose to the base of your tail.
Remember, it’s not only about what it is, but also where. Anything will generally be more appealing if placed in the kind of prominent location that will ensure every feline passerby will notice it. (A pinch of catnip or a couple of kitty treats or a favourite toy mouse don’t hurt either!)
If you just can’t resist going after the furniture, your human can help, by laying a surface uncomfortable to your paws on the floor where you’d have to stand to scratch – crinkled aluminum foil, a reversed piece of a vinyl hall runner with pointy bits that are normally supposed to face down to anchor it, double-sided sticky tape.***
Remember, it’s important for your human to be happy too, so try to see their perspective and compromise!
* At least, the feline population of the world, which is after all what matters.
** Humans call these ‘antiques’ and value them, even though they’ll claim that your favourite cardboard box or shiny paper ball is old and throw it out without a second thought.
*** This also works if you just can’t keep yourself from jumping on the kitchen counter, which is a space many humans consider too sacred even for us, absurd as that idea is.
A special note about leather furniture: your human may bring home furniture made of tanned animal hide, which they call ‘leather.’ Though their noses are inadequate to detect it, this leather often has a scent to us strongly reminiscent of urine. This is a result of the tanning process. The scent may trigger all your territorial instincts and convince you that a strange cat has been scent-marking your territory – and this can lead to an uncontrollable urge to scratch and/or urinate on or against the leather, even when you know that it will upset your humans. This conflict can be highly stressful, and not only for your human.
I strongly recommend that your humans not buy furniture made of ‘leather,’ but if they absolutely must, they should speak to a qualified leather expert about safe ways to clean it and minimize residual scents, and they should provide you with lots of alternatives and be understanding if you just can’t stop yourself.