If you own a cat, you’re most likely aware that they have sharp claws and are not afraid to use them. In fact, cats love using their claws at every opportunity they get.
Have you ever wondered why cats scratch? The answer might surprise you, as there are actually quite a few reasons why cats not only enjoy scratching, but need to do it to stay healthy.
Read on to find out exactly why cats scratch and some outlets you can provide which will be more appealing than your sofa or favorite sweater!
Reasons Cats Scratch
Let’s start with the obvious – if your cat is scratching you, it’s probably a mechanism for self defense. Contrary to popular belief, cats rarely play with their claws out. The Humane Society explains that mothers teach their kittens to inhibit their bite and scratch during play.
If your cat was separated from its family too young, it may have missed this lesson. Not to worry, it’s easy to teach him yourself by using a training spray or clicker when the claws come out. Personally, I find a simple but firm “NO” does the job.
When your cat scratches a piece of your furniture, he’s physically marking it as his. In addition, his paw pads release pheromones which communicate to other felines that the area is a no-go zone.
Of course, we can’t stop cats from marking territory. It’s an innate instinct that originates from their wild ancestors. However, we can protect our furniture by putting a scratching board in front of the problem area. The sisal fabric or cardboard material of the pad should be more appealing to your kitty as it shreds easily under their claws for maximum satisfaction.
Removing Old Claw Sheaths
Have you ever found what looks like one of your cat’s whole claws on the floor? Since we have two cats, I find these quite often. Don’t worry, your pet hasn’t ripped out a full nail, they’re actually old claw sheaths.
As a cat’s nails grow, the old claw’s blood supply dries up and it eventually falls off. The nail is replaced approximately every three months so it’s a continuous process. Your cat will bite at his nails or scratch the carpet to help pull these dead sheaths away.
Again, you shouldn’t try to stop this as it’s normal, healthy behavior. However, you should provide a scratching post or board so kitty doesn’t damage your belongings.
Finally, you may have noticed that your cat often strikes a yoga-esque pose with limbs elongated while he scratches the floor or vertical surface. Well, the purpose is similar to human yoga – he’s stretching!
Latching his claws into a piece of fabric and pulling gets the blood flowing in his legs and helps restore alertness after a good old cat nap.
Healthy Scratching Options for Your Cat
By now, you should understand that although your cat shouldn’t be scratching you, he does need an outlet to keep his claws and limbs fit and to mark his territory. You may be at your wit’s end if your pet is destroying your soft furnishings but luckily there are lots of solutions to this problem.
Firstly, I shouldn’t have to say this but never have your cat declawed. It’s extremely painful, unnecessary and often ends in disability for your pet. An often used comparison is that it’s similar to cutting off your finger at the last knuckle! You can read more about it here.
Scratching Posts & Boards
Ideally you should have multiple scratching posts and boards spread around your home. You can find very cheap options made of corrugated cardboard – mine was only $2 and it’s lasted for more than a year.
Sisal fabric is another good material to look for in a scratching board. It tears easily which is satisfying for your cat and it doesn’t release sharp fibers like sisal rope can. Avoid carpet scratch pads if you have carpet in your home as your cat will think it’s okay to scratch there too. You can read more about the pros and cons of different scratching materials in my blog post.
The taller the scratching post, the better – especially if your cat is on the large side. Some designs come with a perch on top where your pet can nap. This is a clever design feature as cats usually want to scratch right after they wake up.
Training is Necessary
If you’re lucky and your cat is particularly clever, he’ll know what to do with a scratching board right away and leave your furniture alone. However, others need a bit more guidance. It may take a couple of weeks of moving the scratching pads around and discouraging bad behavior for it to settle in. If your cat still won’t use it after a few days of persistence, you can always rub a bit of catnip into the board to entice him.
Clip Those Claws!
Even if you have the best trained cat in the world, accidents do happen. If your cat does scratch you or your furniture despite training attempts, keeping his claws short will reduce damage. Clipping your cat’s nails also reduces risk of injury if his claw gets caught in a carpet or fabric loop.
Some Other Tips for Cat Scratching
- Putting double sided tape or aluminum foil on a door or piece of furniture is said to deter scratching, along with citrus scented sprays. Personally, I haven’t had any success with these methods (multiple cardboard scratchers per room did the trick) but they might work for your cat.
- If you can afford it, buy different types of cat scratching post – horizontal, vertical and angled. This will allow your cat to stretch different muscles.
- Cats don’t like to share scratching posts. You need one per cat at a minimum but I recommend getting as many as possible.
- Again, if budget allows, choose a high quality scratching post. I bought one from a certain Chinese wholesale site and it didn’t last long. Screws will come loose if the post is made of fiberboard and your cat will avoid it when it becomes unstable. If you have DIY skills, making your own is even better.
Well written! Why do cats scratch? Well DUH, they scratch but why? You covered some really good biological and phycological reasons. Most people think that their cats just want to hurt them because they are bored of them or that their cats want to cut their furniture because they didn’t get them their favorite food…
Understanding your cat’s life, behavior and biology will help you provide a better life for your furry little companion!
I almost forgot about how cats change their claws. Thank you for reminding me! 🙂