Cat Behavior: Scratching

(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

Scratching is an intrinsic, natural feline behavior. Just like his brothers and sisters in the wild, a domestic cat needs to scratch. Generally, scratching is done to accomplish the following:

  • Communicate: This is where I live.
  • Mark territory: Sweat glands in the cat’s foot pad leave a scent reminder that this is a cat’s area. Other cats smell it and know where their friend – or enemy – has been.
  • Exercise: Cats scratch for exercise. The act of stretching and scratching is pleasurable and keeps the cat’s muscles toned. Think how good it feels when you stretch first thing in the morning.
  • Shape up claws: Scratching removes the dead outer layer of the front claws, allowing the new nail to grow underneath.

Indoor-only cats feel an innate compulsion to scratch, but sometimes they do it in inconvenient places — like the leg of a chair or your favorite couch.They usually pick a small number of highly visible items in their environment to use for scratching. This marks their territory for anyone who might be walking by.

Important: There is no way to stop a cat from scratching nor should you want to. But you can teach an indoor cat to scratch in acceptable places. A scratching post or cat tree is necessary for the cat to do his scratching appropriately.

Scratching posts

Scratching posts should be at least three feet tall with a sturdy, solid base. The cat needs to be able to reach up, dig his claws into the top of the post, and pull them all the way down to the bottom of the post.This stretches his spine and muscles properly and exercises his claws. A cat tree, withroom to scratch or climb and cubby holes to burrow into, gives a cat multiple opportunities to exercise his muscles and claws.

Make sure the scratching post and cat tree are sturdy and balanced so they don’t topple over when your cat jumps or climbs on them. Once a piece of equipment falls over and scares your cat, he might never use it again.

Remember to check the material on the scratching post.Good scratching posts often are covered in sisal, a rope like material, which cats like.If your cat is scratching on your carpet or couch, you don’t want a scratching post covered in similarly textured material. This confuses your cat and makes him unsure of where he should scratch.

Some cats like to scratch horizontally — for them, there are inexpensive scratchers made of corrugated cardboard.To entice your cat to scratch in the right place, rub some catnip on the scratching post. Reward him with a treat the first few times he does so to reinforce this appropriate behavior. With any luck, your cat will get the hang of it quickly. And your couch, curtains, and favorite chair will remain intact.