Cat Stress and Scratching

by Michael

A stressed cat is more likely to scratch. I don’t think we discuss this topic much. The commercially available product, Feliway, tackles this cause of scratching.

Feliway artificially replicates the cat’s facial pheromone, the scent produced by glands on the side the cat’s head. You see cats rubbing their cheeks against objects and ourselves. They also head butt us to transfer their scent to us. This makes the place feel more theirs and when directed at us it is a merging of scents (ours and theirs) – a friendly gesture.

The concept by Feliway is that it helps make a cat feel more at home and therefore relaxed if he or she can smell his scent (in effect himself). It replicates what cats do anyway – scent mark.

I have not given much thought to Feliway but my initial reaction is that it can’t work very effectively because I understand cat scent to be personal to each individual cat. That is how scent marking works. It leaves a message on objects that an individual cat is there and that this is his territory. If the scent was the same as any other cat’s scent it would not send out a message. I can’t therefore understand how Feliway works. I think it must be a compromise. I’d like to hear people’s views on Feliway as I may have this wrong.

That said it seems to work at least with moderate efficiency. Cat stress can increase cat scratching because a stressed cat will be more likely to mark his or her territory to help feel more secure. In feeling more secure that cat will feel more calm. We are all like that, human and cat.

This is particularly the case where stress is caused by the presence of other cats in multi-cat households. Stress is caused in multi-cat households because of territorial claims. Although the domestic cat is adaptable there is an underlying desire for his or her own space (a “home range” in wildcat terms). If that space is constantly infringed without any way to stop it (loss of control) stress might ensue.

It might be fair to say that people don’t do enough to reduce cat stress. One obvious reason for that is that we don’t know how stressed a cat is. There are often no clear visible signs or indeed any signs at all. One sign of territorial stress is a cat sleeping or resting in an around his litter tray. A medical condition that I think is caused by stress is immune system deficiencies causing skin complaints.

Because one function of cat scratching is a form of marking territory (the other is scent marking) the positioning of a cat scratching post should replicate what happens in the wild.

snow leopard marking a trail with scentWildcats leave markers on prominent places such as large boulders on a trail or other objects at cross-roads or trails etc. The picture is of a snow leopard scent marking a boulder on a trail. Wild cats also scratch the ground.

On this basis my personal preference for the positioning of a scratching post would be near the entrance and exit of the house particularly if that is not too far from where the cat spends time. I am thinking more of houses where there is a back yard (garden) and access to that through, for example, sliding glass doors.

These areas are boundaries between the outside and inside and the edge of the cat’s territory for a full-time inside cat. These are more likely to the places where a wild cat marks territory.

One other important aspect of cat scratching posts is its size and weight. The post should be sufficiently tall for the cat to stretch up and grab. This allows the cat to stretch the back and spine. A heavy cat scratching post will replicate what happens outside in the wild. Wild cats will scratch trees and the ground (
for territory marking). Flat, horizontal scratching devices will allow a cat to express that aspect of his natural behavior

The behavior of wildcats guides us.


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Cat Stress and Scratching

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Feb 18, 2012
Very interesting article NEW
by: Ruth

Some cat people I know swear by Feliway but we’ve never found it to be very effective.
At one time through unforseen circumstances of bereavement we had 4 cats and a neighbour’s cat who almost lived with us too. It did get a bit fraught with what we call ‘cats politics’ as our house isn’t very big and really 5 cats is too many to expect them all to get along. Feliway didn’t help at all.
Cats are so very territorial, male cats especially I think as the 2 we have now each have their own special places in our home and garden although both have free range of the entire house and outside.
They chose a bedroom each and have their own day beds and scratching pads in them and downstairs they have a ‘fat boy’ scratching post which Jozef loves but Walter prefers the flat scratching pad beside it.
I think we tend to forget sometimes that cats really are still wild at heart with deep instincts of the way that wild cats live, but they are forced to conform to our way of life because they have no choice.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

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