Scratch This, Not That!

By Suzanne Denk, Dip.FBST, Animal Enrichment Specialist

Scratching is a natural and normal behavior for cats, but it is also a behavior we may not always find desirable. Understanding why cats scratch and how to encourage appropriate scratching can help us live more comfortably with this natural need of our feline companion.

Scratching is not done with the intent to destroy furniture or to sharpen claws. Cats scratch to keep their claws healthy and to remove the dead nail sheath. A scratch also leaves a scent from glands in the paws and a visual marker to indicate “I’m here” and “this is my home.” Scratching to indicate territory is comforting to your cat. And, a scratching post allows them to have a full body stretch of all their muscles. When a cat is excited or anxious, scratching releases this energy and benefits their emotional wellbeing.

Make note of where and when your cat likes to scratch and set them up for success! This will determine where you should place scratchers and what kind will be most suitable. Th e location will usually be somewhere that your cat likes to spend time: an area that is their space, a high traffic area, or an easily accessible spot. For example, if they scratch anxiously when guests arrive, scratchers should be near the entry to your home.  If they scratch excitedly when waiting for meals, then a scratcher should be near the feeding area. 

Preferences for horizontal scratching on the carpet or vertical scratching on the side of the sofa should also be noted and the appropriate style scratcher provided. Post scratchers should not be wobbly and must be stable enough to support the full body stretch. Otherwise your cat will not use it and prefer the stability of the couch leg instead! Does your cat prefer sisal rope, carpet or cardboard? Try out different materials to find your cat’s favorite.

Introduce your cat to a new scratcher by rubbing it with some catnip, spraying it with a pheromone spray, pulling a toy up and down the post or rubbing it with your own nails. Treat and praise your cat when they scratch appropriately! By paying attention to your cat’s habits, you can provide them with the best scratcher to fulfill their needs. They will learn to scratch this and not that!

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