To prevent your cat from shredding your upholstered furniture and drapes, you must provide them with adequate available scratching opportunities to help ensure they have a healthy and happy quality of life. When you understand scratching’s purposes and mental health benefits, you can focus on providing suitable places for this healthy and normal feline behavior. Our Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek team explains why scratching is cats’ ultimate self-care.
Why cats need to scratch
Scratching is an instinctual feline behavior that serves multiple functions. Scratching supports your cat’s mental and physical wellbeing by providing the following:
- Nail care — Comfort and self-care are essential to good mental health, and scratching ensures your cat can move comfortably without long, damaged nails snagging on carpeting and furniture. A cat’s claws grow in layers, and scratching removes the worn outer layer to expose new growth underneath. Cats scratch with their front claws by dragging them on horizontal or vertical surfaces to remove frayed nail layers, keeping the nail sharp, healthy, and at an optimal length.
- Flexibility —A deep stretch can feel wonderful. Your cat’s scratching is a form of kitty yoga, helping them stretch their muscles by rising on their hind feet, arching their back, extending their legs, and extruding their claws. Cats extend their spine and maintain flexibility through whole-body stretching while maintaining reliable nail extension and retraction, which allows grip and dexterity for climbing and hunting.
- Self-soothing — We all have ways to soothe ourselves when we feel big emotions—massaging the temples, stretching the neck, or rubbing the hands together. Similarly, your cat may scratch to self-soothe in response to excitement, stress, or anxiety.
- Communication — A cat’s paws have scent glands, and when they scratch something, they apply their scent and visual markers or messages, communicating with other cats and claiming the territory.
How to encourage your cat to scratch appropriately
To prevent inappropriate feline scratching and clawing, pet owners have for decades elected to have their cats declawed surgically. However, as veterinary professionals’ understanding of feline medicine and behavior has progressed, the viewpoint on declawing cats has shifted. Declawing is an extreme—and potentially damaging—response to a behavior issue that is easily remedied through training, environmental design, and resource management. You can support your cat’s instinctive need to scratch—without sacrificing your furniture—by following these tips:
- Keep your cat’s nails trimmed — Keeping your cat’s nails short reduces their need to scratch. Becoming adept at trimming your cat’s nails will take some practice. If you are unsure of how to approach this task, ask your veterinarian to demonstrate an effective procedure. However, if you can master this skill and keep your cat’s claws short, they’re less likely to do damage.
- Place scratching posts around the house — Place scratching posts near your cat’s food and water, litter box, and favorite napping places to ensure they have appropriate outlets for their natural scratching instinct. Most cats like to scratch vertically, so your cat’s scratching posts should be taller than their body length. You can determine your cat’s scratching post surface texture and configuration—vertical or horizontal—preferences by providing them with a variety of types. The scratching post they use the most is likely the type they prefer.
- Use temporary synthetic nail caps — You can glue these caps to your cat’s trimmed front claws to prevent damage to furniture and injury to people. The caps, which come in an array of colors and styles, stay adhered for approximately 4 to 6 weeks.
- Use feline pheromone spray — Pheromones can reduce your cat’s stress and anxiety, decreasing unwanted behaviors such as inappropriate scratching. Apply pheromone spray to the area or object where your cat scratches inappropriately, or use a room diffuser to deter scratching.
- Encourage appropriate scratching with a cat attractant — When applied to a scratching surface these products can attract your cat to scratch there.
- Provide enrichment for your cat — Provide regular opportunities for personal interaction, such as petting, snuggling, and playing. Encourage your cat’s natural behavior by providing them with perches, hiding places, and puzzle toys that simulate hunting and foraging.
Scratching is essential to your cat’s health and wellbeing, and you can redirect and manage their scratching through cat-friendly methods. If you find yourself struggling with your cat’s inappropriate scratching, contact our Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek team so we can determine the cause and create an individualized plan to redirect your cat’s behavior.
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