Scratching: A Natural Habit

Why Cats Scratch

Scratching is a natural instinct for cats. It’s a way to stretch muscles, sharpen claws, shed old cuticles and communicate. When they scratch, cats leave scent cues to mark territory and communicate with other cats. They also can scratch to say something to you. Some cats scratch when they are being playful, as a greeting or when they feel frustrated.

What They Scratch

Cats will often only scratch a few select objects around your home, such as room entrances, sleeping areas, couch corners, trees or fence posts, and will return to them over and over again. Even if they are declawed, cats will continue to scratch. So whether they have claws or not, it’s a good idea to introduce scratching posts — instead of your furniture.

Selecting a Scratching Post

To select a scratching post, observe the texture and location of the objects your cat likes to scratch. This will help you determine the material and whether it should be vertical or horizontal. Keep in mind that you’ll usually need to have more than one post, especially if you have multiple cats.

Introducing the Post

When training your cat to use the post, it’s best to do it slowly and gently. First, cover the areas they usually scratch with unpleasant materials, such as aluminum foil or double-sided sticky tape. Then, place the scratching posts near these objects. Make sure vertical posts are secure, so they don’t tip over and scare them away. Never take your cat’s paw and force them to scratch it. Instead, scent the post with catnip, play with toys around it, praise them or use treats as rewards.

Once your cat has adjusted, you can slowly move the scratching posts (about three inches per day) to a location that meets your needs. This is a gradual process and might take some compromising with your cat. Consult your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist if you have additional questions or concerns about your cat’s scratching.

Sources:

The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Scratching.” The Indoor Pet Initiative. 2008. http://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats/basicneeds/scratching/index.cfm Accessed 15 Feb. 2012.

Estep, Daniel Q., Ph.D., and Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D. “Why Cats Scratch Things.” Animal Behavior Society. http://www.animalbehavior.org/ABSAppliedBehavior/article-applied-behavior/why-cats-scratch-things Accessed 15 Feb. 2012..

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