Cats and Scratching: Why it's Necessary and What You Can Do About it

If it exists, a cat has scratched it. If you live with a cat, you probably know this well. From laundry baskets to toilet paper, yoga mats to shoes, canvas bins to mattresses, rugs to carpeted stairs, wooden furniture to curtains; cats love sinking their claws into humans' stuff. But, it's actually healthy!



Runa adores the texture of yoga mats. It's just *scratch* so *scrape* satisfying! But a yoga mat is a little harder to use when there's a cat lying on it, pulling little chunks off.

Why Cats Scratch

Scratching is healthy and natural for cats to do--they don't do it to be destructive. Cats have scent glands on their paws, so they sometimes scratch to leave a visual mark as well as a scent. This is used for communication among cats, especially for territory-marking. Scratching also helps cats to keep their claws healthy by removing the dead outer layer. It's also a great way for cats to stretch and flex their feet and claws, and it's normal, instinctive behavior. It's exercise for cats, too, and can even relieve anxiety as they stretch and strengthen their muscles.

Cats also like to scratch when they wake up from a nap, when they want to mark territory, or when they're excited about something. If Cleocatra starts excitedly scratching at stuff when you get home, she might just be happy to see you!

Your beautiful stretch only distracts so much from your canvas bin destruction, Runa.

Cats especially like scratching things with a coarse texture that feels good to sink their claws into. That might be your couch, carpeted stairs, a cardboard box, or your favorite pair of red pleather boots (Runa, I'm looking at you). Some prefer vertical surfaces, some prefer horizontal, and some prefer a mix! Having both kinds available for your cat can help you figure out what they like to scratch. Lots of cats like corrugated cardboard, for example, but all cats have different preferences. In the wild, cats especially like to scratch logs. Runa likes scratching the underside of bathroom rugs (and many, many other things). It's also a good idea to figure out at what height your cat seems to prefer to scratch so you can provide them with an alternative object that is similar.

This chair is a more mild victim of Runa's front claws.


What to do About it

Texture is very important to cats for scratching purposes, so if you put something like double-sided sticky tape or aluminum foil on a problem spot, Catrick Swayze might not be so keen on shredding your table leg.

Certain odors can be unpleasant to cats, so if Feline Dion is a little too keen on your canvas storage bins, spraying some citrus or menthol-scented spray (or even a cologne or muscle-rub-soaked cotton ball) can help deter her from shredding them.

You'll want to keep the sticky tape or smelly stuff on there for weeks or months or until your cat is consistently using the scratching posts, and then you can gradually test removing the objects/smells one at a time to see if the aptly-named Edward Scissorpaws is going to go back to terrorizing your couch.

This scratching post? Oh, I mostly just sit on it.

Another route to encourage Furcules to use his scratching post for once is to praise and reward him on the rare occasion that he does use it. You can reward with scratches or treats or whatever your cat responds to best. This can be combined with clicker training to be especially effective and is applicable to situations other than scratching.

Catnip spray (or catnip rubbed on the post) can also encourage Shakespurr to scratch her post, or even attaching a toy to the top of the post. General praise doesn't hurt, either, especially when combined with reward.

The location of the scratching posts is also important. Since cats are marking their territory, if the scratching post is tucked away in a corner of the basement, Cat Stevens might be less likely to use it than the couch, which is front and center in a high-traffic room where more people can see that he's marked his territory. It's also useful to put something acceptable for your kitty to scratch right next to something that you don't want them to scratch (it helps if they're a similar texture), because they clearly like that location.

Piper using her scratching post like a boss.

Having multiple scratching posts can also be helpful for extra-keen scratchers. Placing one near Alexander Hameowlton's favorite nap spot is a good idea, and another in a prominent room of the house, maybe near the door. You can always slowly shift the scratching post from a prominent place inch by inch to a more convenient-for-humans (and aesthetics) place, so long as you move it slowly and it's still relatively centralized.

If you catch Pawdre Lorde in the act of scratching your favorite corduroy pillow, you can also redirect her attention with toys or bring her attention to an acceptable scratching item.

Punishment is not an effective strategy, because cats can't necessarily associate their actions with the punishment being delivered, especially if it's after the fact (even by a few seconds). And this doesn't teach them what to do instead, it just teaches them that their human is angry at them sometimes and they're not sure why.

Runa has the audacity to claw shoes while you're wearing them. This took her mere seconds.

Claw-trimming can be important to a more sedentary cat's life, so make sure to check your cat's claws every couple of weeks to make sure they aren't growing into Mewlius Caesar's paws, because that can lead to a decrease in the quality of your cat's life (difficulty walking, using the litter box, pain, infection). If you're doing it properly, it shouldn't hurt your cat. They usually squirm because they don't like being restrained or having their sensitive paws held in place. You can teach cats to be more okay with paw-touching by rewarding them with treats whenever they allow you to touch their paws. Then you can gradually move to trimming a nail or two and then offering the treat to acclimate Purrseidon to the experience.

Now, if you're the one getting scratched, there could be a few reasons why. This is usually either because you're doing something that Purrsephone doesn't like, in which case you should stop because she feels threatened, or it's because she thinks you're playing. If you stop moving your hand, Puma Thurman might realize that you're not trying to play and release your hand.

It's good to beware of David Meowie's tummy. It looks amazingly soft (and it is), but lots of cats will attack your hand/arm if you go for their tummies, either playfully (and painfully) or out of defense. There are certified cat behaviorists who can help you and your cat if your cat is scratching you aggressively.

The destruction is both magnificent and fear-inducing.

A Note on Declawing:

Maya Angelou said "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." She might not have been talking about declawing your cat, but the advice applies here. If you have declawed a cat in the past, this post is not meant to be an attack against you. This is purely informational and factual, because to paraphrase Maya Angelou, when we know better, we do better.

Declawing cats is a actually misnomer. It is closer to "deknuckling", and in over 40 countries, this is illegal to do. It is the amputation of the last bone in a cat's paws--like if one were to cut a human finger off to the first knuckle. This leads to problems walking, jumping, using the litter box, pain, a chance for infection, and a resort to biting as their primary defense, to start with. It also makes your cat less safe if they ever escape because it's harder for them to fend for themselves. It isn't good for your cats, and when you adopt an animal, you are responsible for the wellbeing of that animal. Please reconsider declawing your cats if that is something you are currently considering, and do research on your own time to learn more about it.

And despite my jokes about how much of my stuff Runa has clawed up, I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. I love her deeply and have learned to not take it personally, and to be more careful with my belongings. I feel secure knowing that if she ever escaped, she would still have a means to defend herself and provide food for herself.

Remember, it's worth it for you and your cat to find a solution that works for both of you. Don't give up on your furry friend! A cat needs to scratch, like a dog needs to chew (we actually have an article on that here). Patience and consistency are the key. It can be hard not to take the destruction of your property personally, but remember--it's a need that your cat has, just like humans and other animals have needs. Keep trying! Catsup is worth it. 💛

Piper loves getting in a good scratch n' stretch.




Sources
  • Alvarez, Chelsea. “140+ Pun Cat Names.” The Dog People by Rover.com, 17 Sept. 2019, www.rover.com/blog/pun-cat-names/.

  • “Cats: Destructive Scratching.” The Humane Society of the United States, www.humanesociety.org/resources/cats-destructive-scratching.

  • Naser, Nikki. “Cat Behavior and Cat Psychology: Why Do Cats Scratch?” Pet Central by Chewy, 28 June 2017, petcentral.chewy.com/why-do-cats-scratch/.

  • Paws. “Destructive Scratching – Prevention and Solutions.” PAWS, Humane Society of the United States, www.paws.org/resources/destructive-scratching/.


Congrats on reading this far! Thank you! Your reward is an interesting cat fact: Most cats have 18 toes--10 in front, 8 in back.


Piper clearly loves her scratching cardboard--look at that satisfied face!





Photo credit: Skye Isabella Rose Iwanski (Runa and destructive scratching) and Erik Streck (Piper and human-approved scratching)
Written by: Skye Isabella Rose Iwanski

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