Understanding Cat Scratching


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Understanding Why Your Cat Scratches (And What To Do About It)


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by Lorie Huston, DVM on March 3, 2014

Scratching is a perfectly normal behavior for cats. Unfortunately, it can become an issue when your cat decides that your expensive new leather couch is there for his scratching pleasure. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the reasons why cats scratch and what you can do about it.


Why Do Cats Scratch?

Cats scratch for many reasons. Scratching allows them to remove the outer sheath from their nails, so it is part of a cats normal grooming behavior, much like cleaning themselves. But the behavior goes way beyond that.

Cats use scratching as a means of communication. There is both a visual and a chemical element to the behavior. Scratching is visual in that it leaves visible evidence of your cats presence. It is chemical because cats have scent glands in their paws and your cats scent is unique. You won’t be able to smell the chemical that these glands leave behind but other cats certainly can. Cats use scratching as a way to mark their territory. It says “this is my space” to other cats in the area.

Cats also use scratching as a form of exercise. While scratching, they can also stretch their muscles and remain fit.

Most cats do have preferences about the types of surfaces they choose to scratch. Some cats like horizontal surfaces; others like vertical surfaces. There may also be a preference for a particular texture as well.

How Can a Cat Be Stopped from Scratching?

Honestly, cats cannot be stopped from scratching. It’s an instinctive behavior that comes naturally to your cat. It’s important to understand that your cat does not scratch out of spite or because he is mad at you. When your scratches, he’s only doing what comes naturally. In other words, he’s being a cat. (The same is true for female cats!)

Even though scratching is normal for your cat, I realize that it’s difficult for many cat owners to deal with. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to encourage your cat to use a scratching post rather than scratching your furniture or other items in your home.

This questionnaire-based study looked at the scratching behavior of 128 cats.

“The data emphasized the importance of having a scratching post as an option. When a scratching post is available in the cat’s environment, the cat is likely to use it. The analysis disclosed scratching does differ between intact and neutered cats, regardless of sex. Intact males tend to scratch other surfaces, while neutered males and females will rarely choose furniture. Kittens cannot retract their claws until 4 weeks after birth, and will scratch correctly at 5 weeks of age. Adult cats appear to prefer a properly placed scratching post or one suitable for them and will avoid unsuitable posts.”

There are a few things you should keep in mind about the scratching post you provide for your cat.

*The post should have both horizontal and vertical surfaces to scratch. It should be tall enough that your cat can stretch to his full length when using the vertical portion. It should also be rigid enough to allow your cat to scratch it without having the post bend the opposite direction.

*Cat trees are useful and can provide not only scratching surfaces but sleeping areas and perches for your cat as well. If you choose a cat tree, make sure it is stable. Having a tree fall over while your cat is using it will be counterproductive in terms of encouraging your cat to scratch there and there is the potential for injury to your cat as well.

*Location, location, location. Where you place the scratching post is important. Try placing it near a window, particularly if the scratching post has more than one platform (i.e. a cat tree). Locating it near your cats favorite sleeping spot might also be useful.

*If your cat needs a little encouragement to use the post, sprinkle or rub a little catnip on it. You can also place a bit of food on the post to encourage your cat. Entice your cat to explore the scratching post by using interactive play with a teaser or cat wand on or around the scratching post. Spraying a bit of Feliway on the post will tempt your cat also. Do not manually place your cat’s feet on the post and try to “teach” him to scratch.

*If your cat is currently using a piece of furniture in your home instead, place the scratching post near the piece of furniture and make the furniture as unattractive to your cat as you can. Temporarily covering it with a plastic runner is usually a good option. Make the scratching post as attractive as possible using catnip, food, Feliway, or toys. Once your cat is using the scratching post regularly, you can gradually move it to a more suitable location and remove the plastic runner from your furniture.

Once your cat becomes accustomed to using the scratching post, his scent will become embedded in the post and he will return to the post to scratch.


What other tips have you found useful for encouraging your cat to use a scratching post? Please feel free to share your ideas.

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About Lorie Huston, DVM Lorie Huston is an accomplished veterinarian, an award winning blogger, a talented author and a certified veterinary journalist. She is available for writing assignments, blogging and social media consultation, and SEO strategy.

This article is posted and shared through the courtesy of the Pet Health Care Gazette