Scratching behaviour is normal for cats and they perform this behaviour for a few different reasons. Cats will scratch on both vertical and horizontal surfaces but often develop a preference for one or the other. Similarly, they can develop a preference for the type of material they like to scratch.
One of the functions of scratching is to sharpen the tips of their claws and keep them in good condition. Scratching allows cats to remove this outer sheath which keeps the claws sharp and ready for use when climbing, hunting or in self-defence if needed.
Perhaps the most surprising reason for scratching is its use in communication between cats. Cats deposit scents produced by specialised glands between their toes and on the main pad of their foot when they scratch. These scents can be detected by other cats and we believe that they use this as a way of marking out their territory. The visual marks left by scratching are thought to enable other cats to easily locate the scent mark, which provides them with information about the cat who originally left the scent. Whilst we may take more notice of cats scratching inside, cats also perform this behaviour outside and you may notice scratch marks on fence posts or other prominent areas within the garden.
If we understand why cats scratch, we can more clearly appreciate their need to express this normal behaviour. Instead of trying to prevent scratching behaviour, the focus should be on providing our cats with appropriate opportunities to perform this behaviour. We can do this by providing scratching facilities in the form of scratch posts, scratching mats or boards or more elaborate cat ‘trees’ that also incorporate platforms or enclosed sleeping areas.
- The post or board needs to be tall enough that the cat can fully stretch out and extend their legs whilst scratching.
- A minimum height of 60cm is advised for an adult cat.
- The location is another really important factor to consider when encouraging the use of scratching facilities provided. We often place scratch posts in visually pleasing locations for us, usually out of the way or in corners of the room. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always match up with what our cats need.
- Cats often scratch after waking up, so scratching facilities should be provided near sleeping areas. Scratch posts, or boards attached to the wall, are best in these locations as cats usually stretch up when scratching after waking.
- As cats scratch during territorial marking, having scratching facilities at the boundaries of their territory, for example, near entrances and exits to the home, can help prevent inappropriate scratching here.If your cat has already started using the furniture or other undesirable locations then scratching facilities should also be placed near or in front of these areas. This will encourage the cat to use the scratching resource and not the inappropriate object. If this is not a suitable location for the post or board to remain permanently, then the scratching facility can be moved very gradually (i.e., a couple of centimetres at a time) to a more desirable location.
Sourced from ISFM newsletter.