Every cat owner knows the routine – your cat comes into the room, rubs his or her cheek against the door frame, and then proceeds to shred the carpet, hardwood flooring or the arm of the sofa before happily curling into a ball of fluff. You’ve just witnessed the lion-hearted side of the domestic feline, behavior that creates conflict within the human – cat relationship.
Domestic cats scratch for several reasons.First, scratching helps remove old claw material and trim overgrown claws. Homeowners will often find discarded claw sheaths embedded in the fabric of furniture or alongside favorite scratching areas when they sweep or vacuum. Second, scratching allows a cat to define its territory or its comfort zone. Cats secrete scent from glands in their cheeks and on their paw pads. In the wild, lions, tigers and other large cats leave their “signatures” around the perimeter of what they consider their territory. Those signature marks include urine spray, pheromone scent from their cheeks and paw pads and claw marks on tree trunks. Marking in this way signals to other cats that they need to respect the primary cat’s ownership of the area. Third, scratching is part of a cat’s exercise regime. Scratching, especially on a tall vertical object such as a post or door frame, allows a cat to stretch and elongate the spinal column. Many cats even perform the equivalent of the chiropractor’s traction device, scratching and clinging to an area far above the cat’s head while the back feet dangle just above the ground. My cat Robbie loved to play “Tarzan” on the living room draperies when she was a kitten. Finally, cats scratch as a means of venting their anger or upset feelings. When my cat George, who is an extremely gentle, loving animal, is mad at me, he races to the bathroom and shreds an entire roll of toilet paper, generally in my presence.
The homeowner’s challenge is first, to discern whether or not their cat’s scratching has to do with their emotional state and second, to channel the cat’s instinctive need to scratch onto appropriate surfaces.
Emotional causes of scratching can include momentary frustration (in George’s case it involved the word “no” with regard to going outside), or ongoing conflict with another animal. In these instances, the cat’s owner needs to intervene with appropriate behavior modification techniques as well as giving the upset cat additional love and assurance. Eventually, two or more cats can learn to live together peacefully, and this will eliminate scratching behaviors that are spurred by one cat’s sense that his or her space has been invaded.
Instinctive scratching can be channeled toward cat furniture and scratching pads. Cats love fabrics and surfaces with a rough texture, so choose scratching posts or climbing trees that have at least one surface covered with carpeting, sisal, burlap or are constructed of tree limbs that have the bark intact. Scratching posts should also be taller than the cat; this allows the cat to get a good stretch in while scratching. Scratching pads are squares of fabric or sisal tacked to a plywood base. Pads can either be mounted on a wall or door frame or allowed to lie flat on the floor in the cat’s favorite lounging area.
Most cats’ curiosity will lead them toward their new furniture, and they will experiment with perching and scratching. Shy cats can be motivated toward these objects by infusing the furniture with catnip, feline pheromones or a combination. Rub the post or pad with a pinch of dried catnip, or use catnip spray and / or pheromone spray in order to create a kitty lure, and let the cat’s nature take over from there.