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Why Cats Scratch (and what you can do about it)

Scratching. When you share your life with a cat, it’s just part of the deal. But although scratching is one of the most natural feline behaviors, it is often met with frustration or fear by humans. It’s no secret that the Cat Connection is emphatically against declawing cats (for more info, see here, here and here), so whenever someone is willing to listen, we educate our friends about why cats scratch and how people can live in harmony with a cat AND her claws.

Why Cats Scratch

Cats scratch surfaces for so many reasons, all of which are essential to a feline’s health and well being. At its core, scratching is a way of marking territory. Not only do the physical scratch marks broadcast to the world (specifically other cats) “I was here,” but pheromones are also deposited onto the surface via glands on the cat’s paws. These pheromones communicate important information to other cats and serve as a non-confrontational way of establishing and maintaining territory. This is why it’s not uncommon to see a cat vigorously scratching after an upsetting moment with another cat, and of all the ways a cat can mark its territory (like, ahem, urine spraying, for instance), scratching is relatively harmless.

Otherwise, scratching feels good, relieves stress and excess energy, and is an essential part of feline nail care. The scratching motion allows a cat to stretch their whole spine, as well as the tendons and muscles in their paws. Regular scratching also helps remove old nail sheaths, keeping a cat’s claws conditioned and healthy.

All cats scratch – from Siberian Tigers to your little house cat, and this is completely normal feline behavior.

What Scratching is Not

Scratching is NOT a show of aggression, spite or malice. It is NOT uncorrectable, unnatural or dangerous to humans. It is NOT a sign that your cat hates your taste in furniture.

ugly couch cat

Why Cats Scratch Your Stuff

In general, cats scratch furniture because it is heavily marked by their human’s scent. By mingling their own scent with yours via scratching, they feel more secure in their territory and connected to their person. It’s love!

Cats will also scratch to get their person’s attention. The Cat Connection regularly hears from customers whose cats scratch their bed every morning, but otherwise have no other moments of inappropriate scratching. In these cases, the cat is likely trying to rouse their person because it’s time to get up (according to the cat, at least). Unfortunately, by getting up and shooing the cat and/or feeding her, humans are inadvertently reinforcing this behavior. In effect, the cat has trained the person to jump up and pay attention as soon as the scratching starts. And most of us are very well trained.

And finally… cats scratch human stuff because this is a normal behavior, but no one has provided the cat with an appropriate outlet for expressing it.

What You Can Do

Don’t panic, and remember that this is all completely normal. Your cat does not hate you or your ugly sofa. She’s a cat.

Provide appropriate scratching surfaces for your cat. Purchase both a vertical and horizontal scratching post to determine which your cat prefers. Place the scratchers throughout your home, but particularly where your cat regularly scratches.

Minimize the damage caused by your cat’s scratching by either regularly trimming her nails or applying Soft Claws, plastic nail caps that adhere to the cat’s claws. DO NOT DECLAW YOUR CAT. This is an amputation of your cat’s toe bones and, not to be overly dramatic, will ruin your cat’s life. Just don’t do it.

Love the Cat, Love the Claws

Your cat’s claws are an essential part of the feline you love. With patience, care and understanding, all humans can learn to love the claws, too.

Feature image credit: Priscilla Forehand