Cat scratching behavior – a nuisance or necessity?

What can we mean by scratching and why do cats do it?

If you’ve spent any time with cats you’ll have noticed that they’ll occasionally scratch on items with their front paws and claws. They are doing this by hooking their claws into the fabric and raking against the surface with their paws. Cats will scratch on both vertical and horizontal surfaces but often develop a preference for one or the opposite. Similarly, they will develop a preference for the sort of fabric they wish to scratch. The scratching behavior is normal for cats and that they perform this behavior for a couple of different reasons.

One of the functions of scratching is to sharpen the ideas of their claws and keep them in fitness. If you own a cat you’ll have noticed that the highest coat of your cats’ claws, referred to as the sheath, can become worn and frayed. Scratching allows cats to get rid of this outer sheath which keeps the claws sharp and prepared to be used when climbing, hunting, or in self-defense if needed.

Perhaps the foremost surprising reason for scratching is its use in communication between cats. Cats deposit scents produced by specialized glands between their toes and on the most pad of their foot once they scratch. These scents are often detected by other cats and we believe that they use this as a way of marking out their territory. The visual marks left by scratching are thought to enable other cats to simply locate the scent mark, which provides them with information about the cat who originally left the scent. Whilst we may take more notice of cats scratching inside, cats also perform this behavior outside and you’ll notice scratch marks on fence posts or other prominent areas within the garden. The precise purpose of scratching during this way remains unclear so we’ve more work to try to know this behavior fully.

Providing the simplest scratching facilities to satisfy your cat’s needs

If we understand why cats scratch, we will more clearly appreciate they got to express this normal behavior. rather than trying to stop scratching behavior, the main target should get on providing our cats with appropriate opportunities to perform this behavior. we will do that by providing scratching facilities within the sort of scratch posts, scratching mats or boards, or more elaborate cat ‘trees’ that also incorporate platforms or enclosed sleeping areas.

However, are all scratching posts built equal? When watching the choices for cat scratching facilities there’s often an enormous array of choice in terms of the form, size, and material used. Different material options can include cardboard, sisal rope, wood… it is often a minefield knowing where to start out. Often the designs are catered to our human ideals, instead of that specialize in what a cat really needs. This will cause many scratch posts or boards being designed in a way which will actually be off-putting to a cat, instead of encouraging them, as we might imagine. This will cause cats to use other items, often inappropriate in our minds, like the sofa or carpet. Therefore, it’s really important to think about which features make an excellent scratching facility for cats, and also recognize the individual preferences of our own cats when providing the simplest resource for them.

Which features should we glance for when buying a scratch post or board?

Horizontal or vertical scratching facility?

  • Watch your cat and see if they show a preference for scratching vertically or horizontally. For instance, do they particularly target their scratching on horizontal surfaces like carpets or rock bottom steps of the stairs? Or on vertical surfaces like the arm of the sofa or table leg?
  • If they don’t show a preference for either it might be good to supply options for both sorts of scratching.
  • If you’ve got quite one cat within the home, you would like to supply for the preferences of all the cats.

Height

  • The post or board must be tall enough that the cat can fully stretch out and extend their legs whilst scratching.
  • A minimum height of 60cm is suggested for an adult cat.
  • Remember that if you’ve got a kitten, they’re going to quickly grow into an adult cat and ‘kitten sized’ scratch posts will not be appropriate. it’s always best to think ahead when buying items for your cat.
  • Some cat trees include scratching posts, which give sleeping and scratching facilities in one place. However, sometimes the interruption of a platform for resting or sleeping can mean the post isn’t tall enough as within the photo below.

Stability

  • One of the foremost off-putting features for a cat may be a scratch post that moves, wobbles or bends once they place their weight against it. Posts become ineffective to be used and may even provide a cat a fright if they move unexpectedly, putting a cat far away from using it again.
  • The scratch post, therefore, must have a good, heavy base to assist support your cats’ weight once they scratch. If the post begins to wobble and can’t be mended, don’t be tempted to go away, it’s time to shop for a replacement one.

The material

  • Materials that provide resistance when scratching include sisal twine, corrugated board, carpet, or bark/wood.
  • Loop weave carpet and heavy-duty carpet designed for top traffic areas are recommended when providing carpet scratching facilities which are good for horizontal scratching.
  • Some owners may worry that providing a scratching board or post made with carpet will encourage cats to scratch carpet around the house. However, there’s no evidence for this, and if attractive scratching facilities are provided then a cat will target these and not furniture or items around the house.
  • Materials with a vertical weave are considered to be better than horizontal weave because it allows cats to tug their claws downwards. Nonetheless, many cats do appear proud of using scratching boards and posts with sisal twine-wrapped horizontally.
  • Age may influence a cat’s preference for a cloth. A study of cat owners found that older cats between the ages of 10 and 14 years showed a preference for carpet substrate most often, while all other ages preferred scratching facilities made from rope first.

Cathcart behavior expert Dr. Sarah Ellis provides us together with her thoughts on why this could be “Older cats might not have the maximum amount of muscular power in their limbs for scratching. The resistance provided by the tight structure of the sisal is probably going to be much greater than that of carpet and thus would require greater strength to tug the claws through. Carpet is therefore likely to be a neater and easier option for older cats.”

How many scratching facilities should there be?

  • It is common practice to only buy one scratching post for a cat. However, as cats can perform this behavior frequently throughout the day (and night), having multiple options increases the likelihood that a post or board is going to be used over other items like furniture.
  • The number of scratching facilities to supply in your home considerably depends on the number of cats in your home and therefore the size of your home. If you’ve got multiple cats living during a home then avoiding the necessity for cats to share facilities helps prevent competition for resources occurring.
  • The usual rule of thumb for the number of key resources is to supply one per cat plus one extra. for instance, in houses with two cats, three scratching posts should be provided as a minimum. Seems a lot? Compared to the damage caused by a cat scratching carpets and furniture, placing three scratching posts around the home could also be less of a deal.

Where should they be located?

  • The location is another really important factor to think about when encouraging the utilization of scratching facilities provided. We frequently place scratch posts in visually pleasing locations for us, usually out of the way or in corners of the space. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always match up with what our cats need.
  • Cats often scratch after awakening, so scratching facilities should be provided near sleeping areas. Scratch posts, or boards attached to the wall, are best in these locations as cats usually stretch up when scratching after waking.
  • As cats scratch during territorial marking, having scratching facilities at the boundaries of their territory, for instance, near entrances and exits to the house, can help prevent inappropriate scratching here.
  • If your cat has already started using the furniture or other undesirable locations then scratching facilities should even be placed near or ahead of those areas. this may encourage the cat to use the scratching resource and not the inappropriate object. If this is often not an appropriate location for the post or board to stay permanently, then the scratching facility is often moved very gradually (i.e., a few centimeters at a time) to a more desirable location.
  • It is also really important to not punish cats for scratching, including shouting at them – this might cause anxiety for the cat and potentially cause other problems like the cat actively avoiding you.

Don’t forget to encourage the utilization of them!

  • It was common advice to physically place a cat’s paws on the scratching post and encourage them to scratch by moving their paws up and down. However, this type of handling is often frightening and intimidating for cats and there are kinder and simpler ways to encourage the utilization of a scratching facility.
  • Placing dried catnip or spraying catnip scent onto the scratching post or board may encourage a cat to approach and investigate it.
  • Gentle praise can help encourage a cat to repeat the behavior if you reward them immediately after they scratch within the correct place.
  • Playing a game employing a piece of string or fishing-rod style toy around and over the post or board will encourage the cat’s claws to form contact with the surface. This successively often encourages the cat to return to the resource and use it to scratch.
  • Move the location! If the cat isn’t employing a scratch post or board, try moving it to a different area of the house. The novelty may encourage the cat to re-investigate it.
  • Another way to potentially encourage the utilization of a scratching resource is by employing a product called ‘Feliscratch’. this is often an artificial version of a pheromone, which is released by scent glands on the most pads of the cat’s feet during scratching. Pheromones are chemical messages employed by cats to speak with each other. This pheromone is additionally believed to encourage the cat to return to an area they need previously scratched. By applying this synthetic version of the pheromone to scratch posts or boards, we will help attract a cat to scratch during a location of our choosing. (To determine more about this product please visit the manufacturer’s website here).
  • Place a food treat on the highest of the scratching post – this will encourage interaction with the scratcher which will cause scratching behavior.

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