Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why do cats like to scratch things?

Cats love to scratch things, and if they don't have a scratching post available right where and when they want it, the thing of preference might very well be the expensive living room sofa. Why do they do that?

It is normal for cats to scratch, and they are quite motivated to do so, for a number of different reasons:

  1. Scratching conditions the claws - it removes the dead outer layer
  2. Scratching is a way to mark territory. Cats have scent glands on their paws, and besides leaving  a visual mark, the scratching also leaves a scent
  3. Cats are quite athletic, and scratching helps them stretch the entire body while flexing claws and feet.
Some cat specialists also say the scratching can be used during play, and to communicate dominance. 

Since this is such a big part of cat behavior, it's not realistic to try to prevent cats from scratching altogether. Make sure you have acceptable objects, such as scratching posts, in strategic places. Many posts have catnip under the outer material to make them more interesting to the cats.

In the USA, many choose to declaw their cats - over 30 percent of cats in the US are declawed. Before you make that decision, you should know that declawing cats means more than just cutting nails. Declawing amputates the last joint of each toe.

This is a major surgery that's very painful to the cat and can have serious side effects. Declawing cats is illegal in many countries, because it's considered cruelty to animals.

A better idea is to observe where he or she likes to scratch, and on what. Substitute similar objects that are okay for scratching.

Try to find something that's similar to whatever the cat liked to scratch. Examples of things many cats like include corrugated cardboard, carpeted posts, and logs.

Place the "acceptable" object close to the "forbidden" object, and cover the forbidden objects with something unappealing to cats. For instance, aluminum foil, double-sided tape, cotton balls with perfume, or something else kitty doesn't like.

As your cat gets used to using the acceptable object, you can move it about 1 inch every day to a location more suitable for the human inhabitants. The closer you can keep it to the cat's preferred location, the better.

Keep the unappealing coverings until the cat has used the "right" object in its permanent location for at least a month.

Other ideas that can help with the scratching problem includes trimming the tips of your cat's nails. It's important not to cut too far, and you might want to ask your vet to show you how the first time. Your vet can also show you how to put Soft Paws nail caps on your cat's nails. These are plastic cats that you glue to the end of the cat's nails. They last for about a month.

~ Maria Sadowski ~


  1. Mom grew up thinking declawing was like spaying or neutering, something you just did. Now she knows better and is on her second set of cats with claws. All six have been great about using scratching posts and haven't destroyed anything...well a few screens on the windows, but that is not such a big deal.

    1. How are you supposed to know if people around you say it's no big deal? I didn't know people did it - or what it meant - until I saw a post on Facebook. This seemed like a good opportunity to write about it. (A lot of things common here are against the law in Sweden, so it doesn't exist to me. Like declawing cats, or docking tail or ears.)

      I bet your kitties are really good - you probably keep a watchful eye on them ;-)