Why do cats scratch things?

Cat owners need to accept cat scratching
Cat owners need to accept cat scratching. Illustration: Ruth aka Kattaddorra.
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It is useful to remind ourselves why domestic cats scratch things. A lot of people see it as an irritating characteristic of the domestic cat and simply try to stop it or even in the worst case scenario punished the cat for it. But scratching is a feline behaviour which is very important to them. It is integral to their natural behaviour and it must be accommodated. Facilities must be provided. Scratching is a complex feline behaviour pattern. It is both functional and as a act of communication.

Marvin at scratching post
Marvin at scratching post. Marvin lives with DW, a regular contributor. The photo is by her.

The above post is this one:

Pioneer Pet Smart Cat The Ultimate Scratching Post. A large post.
Pioneer Pet Smart Cat The Ultimate Scratching Post. A large post.


Cat claw sheath
Cat claw sheath. Photo: Michael
Simon, Rey and the claw sheath removed from her eye
Simon, Rey and the claw sheath removed from her eye. Collage: PoC. Photos (cleaned up) unattributed. Probably Coventry Live online newspaper.

Cats scratch to remove the blunted outer claw sheath made of keratin from their front claws. I’m sure you know this. You may well have seen the discarded outer parts of the claw on your kitchen floor. You may have thought that your cat is losing her claws but no. It is perfectly normal and healthy. In addition when a cat scratches they are exercising that part of their anatomy which is used to protract (extend) their claws during a hunting sequence and when climbing and running.

Scent marking

As mentioned, scratching is an important form of communication. There are scent glands in between the toes (interdigital glands). They deposit scent on the objects which are being scratched. In addition to scent, the visual signal that scratching provides (striations on the surface) is also a form of communication. In the wild, the mountain lion, uses visual markers through scratching the ground as their primary form of communication to other cats. The domestic cat normally uses scent marking through urine deposits (spraying) but also will scratch as a marking process.

Cat scratched leather armchair
Cat scratched leather armchair. This is mine. I accept it. Photo: PoC.

If a domestic cat is scratching surfaces as a marking behaviour within the home which is their core territory and therefore secure, there may be a problem with anxiety in the cat. It is difficult to tell the difference between standard scratching and if it’s done out of stress and anxiety perhaps because another stranger cat is outside. It may be possible to diagnose this if the cat is also spraying pee in the home or even defecating in the home as a symptom of anxiety.

Josef and cat scratcher
Josef and cat scratcher. Collage by Ruth aka Kattaddorra.

Scratching posts

It is said that a scratching post should be large and high earnugh for a domestic cat to stretch fully. This allows them to stretch their back as well which is another reason why cats scratch. However, cats also scratch horizontally on the ground and there are some really useful and very cheap cardboard scratching boards that you can place around the home.

Cat scratching board
Cat scratching board. This is my home. Photo: PoC.
How do I get my cat to use the scratching post?
Gabriel on a scratching board. Photo: PoC.

These really do help to prevent cats scratching furniture. The trouble with furniture is that it is of a perfect height and solidity for a cat to use as a scratching post. You can gauge what an ideal scratching post should be by comparing it to the trunk of a small tree. These are the ideal scratching posts.

Cat scratching a log
Cat scratching a log. Photo: PoC.

Indoor-outdoor cat

Without promoting the idea that cats should be allowed outside, when they are indeed allowed outside they have far more opportunities to scratch on surfaces such as trees and fences. My cat regularly climbs a tall fence surrounding my garden and scratches at the top of it. He does occasionally scratch furniture but it is rare. I don’t believe that cat owners should prevent their cat entering certain part of the home to protect furniture. I believe that you have to share the home with your cat in its entirety. When you adopt a cat I believe that you have to find a way around perceived feline behaviour problems. It’s an ideal which we should strive for.

Manufacturers should make furniture that is modular which allows segments to be replaced:

Sofa designed for cat scratching - Front
Sofa designed for cat scratching – Front

Puma scratching horizontally:

Florida cougar using tree as scratching post
Florida cougar using tree as scratching post. Photo: PoC.

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