One of the most common cat behaviors that can cause problems at home is scratching, especially when cats choose to scratch your most treasured possessions. While declawing used to be a common prevention practice, we know now that declawing procedures are painful and harmful to a cat’s long-term wellbeing. The procedures have been outlawed in many cities, states, and countries.
As a feline-friendly certified practice, the Staples Mill Animal Hospital team is responsible for educating cat owners about the reasons their cats scratch, why scratching is essential to feline health, and how you can provide acceptable scratching outlets and other strategies to eliminate this problematic behavior in your home. Here are the top four reasons cats need to scratch and ways to accommodate your cat’s needs.
#1: Scratching as a communication tool
Outdoor cats and wild cat species scratch on sturdy vertical surfaces, such as tree trunks, to communicate with other cats in the area. The scratch marks visually denote the cat’s territory, and leave a chemical pheromone scent from glands on their feet. This chemical “signature” provides helpful information about a cat’s health, sex, and breeding status. Cats who live indoors also mark their territory, and choose to scratch vertical surfaces based on their location in your home. The more central and visible the scratch marks, the better.
#2: Scratching for nail maintenance
Cats use their claws for several purposes, including grooming their fur, climbing objects, playing, and defending themselves from predators or perceived threats. While dog nails require trimming or wearing down on a rough surface to prevent overgrowth, a cat who meticulously cares for their claws rarely needs a nail trim, although you may still want to trim your cat’s nails to prevent accidental injuries or damage to your clothes. Scratching is one way that cats keep their nails sharp and remove dead outer nail husks.
#3: Scratching for physical health maintenance
The act of scratching helps maintain your cat’s physical health by allowing them to stretch and strengthen their toes and legs. Cats use their limbs during play, grooming, hunting, and climbing, and scratching helps them stay in tip-top shape.
#4: Scratching to alleviate anxiety or boredom
Scratching also maintains a cat’s mental health by relieving stress, pent-up anxiety, or boredom. Indoor cats often are troubled by relationships with other pets, competition for resources in the home, limited space to run and play, less-than-ideal litter box setups, household changes, and visitors coming and going—essentially, anything out of the ordinary. Scratching also is a soothing outlet for anxious cats and gives bored cats something to do.
Tips to reduce problem scratching
Now that you understand why cats scratch and how scratching keeps them healthy, you can work toward providing healthy, acceptable scratching outlets that will preserve your household belongings. Try the following strategies:
- Scratching posts — Purchase scratching posts with varied surfaces that mimic previously chosen scratching areas and place them near where your cat is scratching. For example, choose a horizontal scratcher with soft material if your cat is scratching the carpet nearby.
- Playing games — Entice cats to try the scratchers by inciting a game nearby, so your cat naturally investigates, or sprinkling catnip on them.
- Spraying pheromones — Feline facial pheromones, such as those made by Feliway, should be sprayed on the areas you do not want your cat to scratch, but not on the new scratchers. The pheromone will trick your cat into believing they already marked the area.
- Rewarding your cat — Reward cats with petting, brushing, treats, or a favorite toy—whatever they enjoy most—when you see them using the designated scratchers.
- Never punishing your cat — Spray citrus deterrents or use furniture-safe double-sided tape to prevent cats from scratching the old areas. Never yell, shove, or otherwise punish your cat for scratching, which will create more anxiety and worsen the situation.
Cats who scratch excessively or persistently, despite being provided with appropriate scratching surfaces and taking home measures to reduce their stress, could have an underlying medical or behavioral issue, or you may be missing a key element causing the problem.
Our Staples Mill Animal Hospital feline experts can provide a fresh set of eyes to help uncover the problem’s source, rule out a medical issue, and tailor a behavioral management plan to your cat’s specific needs. Contact us to schedule an appointment, or if you have questions about our feline-friendly and Fear-Free approach to veterinary care.