My Cat Is Climbing the Furniture
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Those of us who share our home with one or more cats probably know that coexistence can raise some issues. Although capable of showing us immense affection and being true companions, there are some basic feline behaviors which can be a little frustrating. While they may simply think they are playing, they can often be destructive with their actions. Clawing furniture is one of the most common issues with cats, especially if their guardian is house-proud.
At AnimalWised, we see what we can do when your cat is climbing the furniture. We provide ways to stop cats climbing on the bed or couch, or any furniture which is inappropriate.
Why do cats climb on furniture?
Before we bring you practical tips on how to stop cats from climbing the furniture, we need to better understand why cats do it in the first place. We also need to look at how our own actions may influence this behavior. It is a common myth about cats that they are impossible to educate and they will ignore their guardians. Such myths prevent us from having a deeper understanding of our feline friends. They lack empirical and scientific evidence, resulting in too many cat guardians not providing the right level of care.
We need to invest time in our cats, starting by attaining an understanding of their personality and character. After doing so, we can implement positive techniques to influence their behavior, including stopping them from climbing on furniture.
Cats love to climb high, something which is linked to their wild ancestry. They would use trees and other positions of height to both survey their territory for prey and to stay safe from predators. Sleeping up high also helps them to feel more protected. Climbing on furniture allows them to feel a similar sense of security.
However, cats will also climb up on furniture to investigate what might be up there. Whether the couch or the bed, once they find places which are comfortable and they like, they will want to return. This is especially so for housecats who do not have the luxury of going outside. The upholstery and cushions of furniture can be ideal spots for cats since they are high and comfortable.
We are also often on the furniture. Cats are not as aloof as some would have us think. They want to be with us, so when we are laying in bed or watching TV on the couch, they will want to join us. When we are not at home, they know the furniture is somewhere we usually go, so they sit there to feel close.
Unfortunately, cats can climb furniture for less healthy reasons. When there is insufficient environmental enrichment in the home, cats can become bored. They may run along the house, rampaging on the furniture as a way to express this boredom. This is especially so when they have a lot of energy and few ways to expend it. If they can't exercise or express themselves freely, climbing on the furniture easily becomes an outlet. When cats are stressed, this is also a common way to express the frustration it causes.
Our own involvement can easily lead cats to climb up on the furniture. When the cat is young, we will often tolerate behaviors because we find them endearing. A little kitten climbing up on the couch doesn't cause much commotion. By letting young cats climb up on the furniture, we give them a permission it is difficult to revoke. If the cat is allowed to climb furniture when they are young, we shouldn't be surprised they expect to do the same as an adult.
Finally, if a cat climbs walls in a way which is out of character, we need to bear in mind they may have a physical problem. Take the cat to a veterinarian if we are at all unsure to carry out a health checkup.
Cats climbing on the furniture doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. However, if they are being destructive or you have a valid reason, then you can look at the following techniques to stop a cat climbing on furniture:
1. Teach cats to stop climbing the furniture
As we have stated, our cat may climb on the furniture because we have allowed them to in the past and they have internalized this permission. Educating cats is both difficult and vital. Re-educating or reversing learning is more difficult still, but it can be done with perseverance.
To stop cats climbing on furniture, we need to understand the difference between training and educating a cat. Training requires an animal to perform an action after being given a certain order, such as telling a dog to ‘sit’. Cats do not do this well, something we discuss in more detail with our article on whether cats can be trained. Education is a much broader concept which teaches the animal how to coexist in the domestic environment for both their well-being and the well-being of others. This includes establishing a routine and boundaries.
Ideally, if we do not want our cat to climb the furniture, then we should not allow it form the beginning. By teaching kittens when they are young they cannot go on the bed or couch, they will be less likely to do it when they are adult.
If a cat does climb on the furniture when they are older, we need to educate them to show they have better options. We do so by using positive reinforcement and not by scolding them or throwing them off the furniture. This only breeds confusion and even resentment, worsening the problem in the process. Instead, we have to find ways to encourage them.
2. Prepare spaces for your cat
If we want to keep cats off the furniture because we want to keep them comfortable and safe spaces for ourselves, you are part way to understanding how a cat feels. They also want to experience comfort and security. They will need well-conditioned spaces which meet their feline needs. We can help by providing spaces for these needs individually.
For example, the cat will need somewhere to eat, go to the toilet, play and sleep. If your cat climbs the furniture to sleep, you can provide them with a suitable alternative. Choose a quiet space out of the way which is warm and comfortable. Then choose a comfortable bed. This can be an expensive kitty bed from a store, but many cats will be just as cosy in a cardboard box with a folded up blanket inside. If your cat is having trouble adjusting, you can look at our article on how to get a cat used to their bed.
Sleeping spaces are not the only areas a cat needs. Since cats like to be up high, ideally we should buy them a cat tree. This is a special set of platforms which has resting areas, scratching posts and toys attached to them. Cats can find peace and fun there. It also helps the cats to stop scratching the curtains or other upholstery since they can condition their claws on the scratching posts.
If we have the option, we can even make special walkways for the cats. These are structures which attach to the wall and allow the cat to climb, just as if they were scaling trees in the wild. There they can climb, explore or rest as needed.
Whatever spaces we create for our cat, we need to remember that each feline is an individual. Observe them and discover their likes and dislikes, then create the space for them accordingly. We also need to ensure their basic needs are met in terms of proper feeding bowls, water dishes and litter trays. Keeping the latter away from the former is of particular importance.
3. Enrich the cat's environment
We have already described some elements of environmental enrichment which can help to keep a cat off the furniture. However, this does not mean providing spaces to rest is enough. Since cats will often climb furniture out of stress and/or boredom, combatting these problems is a very efective way to prevent the behavior.
Cats will need to play with toys as a way to exercise their hunting instinct. Some of the best toys to do this are fishing rod toys which use a lure to act as ersatz prey. We can also use food toys to help the cat play. These are toys such as the kong which hides treats inside which the cat has to work at to get out. You can even make your own cat toys using toilet roll holders and other household objects.
Stimulating the cat's mind is just as important as allowing them to play. Intelligence games and toys can do this by helping the cat use their problem-solving skills. Often these involve placing food in a maze or similar contraption and the cat has to devise a way to get it out. This will help to reduce stress and boredom, but can also be used to help cats with health problems such as obesity.
Another trick we can use is catnip. This is a plant which stimulates cats in different ways. It can make them feel energized or relaxed, but it is a good way to keep them encouraged. We can also use this to place in areas we want them to stay instead of the furniture, thanks to the alluring properties of catnip.
See more advantages as well as some suggestions on playing with cats in the video we share here:
Should I seek professional help?
If your cat keeps climbing on the furniture even after you have tried these suggestions, then we need to consider the alternatives. Most importantly, we will need to take them to a veterinarian for a checkup. This will help us to know whether there is any physical reason for the unwanted behavior.
After the checkup, if the cat is physically well, we can think about seeking a feline ethologist or cat trainer. They will be able to assess the cat's behavior, as well as our own, and find practical ways to help us better coexist. We also need to think about whether we really need to keep the cat off the furniture at all.
If you want to read similar articles to My Cat Is Climbing the Furniture, we recommend you visit our Basic education category.
- Willson, E. K., Stratton, R. B., Bolwell, C. F., & Stafford, K. J. (2017). Comparison of positive reinforcement training in cats: A pilot study. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 21, 64-70. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2017.07.007
- Herron, M. E., & Buffington, T. C. A. (2010). Environmental enrichment for indoor cats. Compendium (Yardley, PA), vol. 32, 2010.