Why Cats Need to Scratch

Whether they shred your favorite sofa, a fancy plush carpet, or your new favorite sweater, your cat’s sharp little claws seem to have expensive taste. Before you decide your cat has a personal vendetta against you and is determined to drain your bank account, understand that their scratching isn’t personal. Scratching is deeply rooted in feline instinct and plays a pivotal role in their health and wellbeing. Our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team digs into feline scratching behavior’s purposes and offers tips to save your furnishings, clothing, and most important, your relationship with your cat. 

Do cats really need to scratch?

Cats enjoy scratching, but they also need to scratch for many reasons. Scratching is an instinctual behavior that has evolved over thousands of years for various functional and communicative purposes. Frustrated cat owners often seek ways to curb their cat’s scratching completely. However, because this behavior is normal and healthy, you should not ask, “How can I stop my cat from scratching?” but rather, “How can I encourage my cat to scratch in appropriate places?”

What is the purpose of scratching for cats?

Your cat doesn’t shred your prized possessions because they are angry with you. Cats’ scratching serves several purposes, including:

  • Claw conditioning — Cats scratch with their front claws by dragging them on horizontal or vertical surfaces to remove frayed and worn outer nail layers, helping keep their nails sharp and healthy.
  • Satisfying stretch — Cats need to stretch their whole body frequently, which involves scratching as they rise on their hind feet, arch their back, and extend their back legs and paws.
  • Clear communication — When a cat scratches a surface, they apply scent and visual markers to communicate with other cats, and to claim territory. 
  • Stress relief — Scratching can relieve a cat’s stress when they feel anxious or excited or need to release excess energy. 

You can learn to redirect your cat’s inappropriate scratching and maintain a balance that helps them remain comfortable and your furniture intact. To help your cat satisfy their instinctive needs without wreaking havoc on your upholstery and clothing, follow these strategies:

#1: Trim your cat’s nails 

Regular nail trimming can reduce your cat’s scratching frequency and intensity. Trimming will likely require practice, and perhaps a demonstration from our veterinary team, but if you can master this skill and keep your cat’s claws short, they’re less likely to do damage. When trimming your cat’s nails at home, always use feline nail trimmers, which give you better control and help prevent splintering their nails. Remember to always trim your cat’s nails in a calm environment, and provide positive reinforcement by rewarding them with a high-value treat.

#2: Provide your cat with scratching posts 

If you don’t want your cat to shred your furniture and drapes, you need to provide enticing scratching alternatives. Ensure your cat has appropriate outlets for their natural scratching instinct by placing scratching posts near their food and water, litter box, and favorite napping places. Scratching posts come in various sizes, from a basic single structure to an elaborate floor-to-ceiling unit that provides various scratching surfaces and orientations, and includes multiple levels where your cat can play, exercise, and rest. Posts should be tall and stable enough to offer your cat a good stretch without tipping or wobbling. You can determine your cat’s scratching post material and orientation preference by giving them posts in various shapes and surface textures. The scratching post your cat uses the most is likely the type they prefer. 

#3: Use temporary feline synthetic nail caps 

Adhesive claw cap covers fit over your cat’s natural nails and reduce the damage their claws can cause. The covers come in various sizes, so you can easily find them to match your cat’s natural shape. They also come in fun colors. Claw covers can last for four to six weeks. 

#4: Provide your cat with environmental enrichment

Cats need plenty of physical and mental enrichment to alleviate boredom, which can lead to inappropriate scratching and other destructive behavior. To encourage your cat to engage in appropriate instinctive behavior, provide them with the following:

  • Interactive toysStimulate your cat’s predatory stalking and pouncing behaviors with toys that trigger chase behavior.
  • Food puzzles  — Ditch your cat’s food dish and feed them using puzzles that require your whiskered pal to use their problem-solving skills to reach the food.
  • Window perch — A window perch offers your cat a spot to sunbathe with a view. By placing a bird feeder outside the window, you provide your cat with additional enrichment. 

If you have questions about redirecting your cat’s inappropriate scratching or need help cutting their claws, schedule an appointment with our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team.

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