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December 16, 2017
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community living

Why do cats scratch?

By Joseph A. D’Abbraccio, D.V.M.

There is no question that when cats scratch objects or even people it is not pleasant. But scratching is a normal behavior for cats and serves many purposes. Scratching serves to shorten and condition the claws, and more importantly, cats scratch to mark their territory. That mark is not only visible, but also conveys the scent of the foot pads. Some cats that are in situations of anxiety or conflict may exhibit increased territorial marking such as scratching and urinating. For cats that live primarily outdoors, scratching is rarely an issue for their owners. It is usually directed toward prominent objects in the cat’s territory such as tree trunks or fence posts. But cats that live primarily or exclusively indoors may run into trouble with their owners when they begin to scratch furniture, walls, or doors.

It is unreaslitic and unfair to expect cats to stop scratching entirely. Cats that go outside may be content to do all of their scratching outdoors, but the urge may still carry over when they come indoors. You must give a cat the proper outlet for them to scratch. If one is not provided, do not be surprised when you come home to find objects strewn all over the floor, scratches on your furniture, or your cat dangling from your drapes. We cannot stop a cat from scratching; we can only be sure to provide them with proper scratching alternatives. Building or designing a user-friendly scratching post, providing a regular daily routine of social play, object play and exercise, and keeping the cat away from potential problem areas will usually be adequate to deal with most scratching problems.

You might wonder how to design a scratching area for your cat. Because cats use their scratching post for marking and stretching as well as sharpening their claws, posts should be set up in easily accessible areas, with at least one close to the cat’s sleeping area. Cats often prefer a scratching post with a corner so that two sides can be scratched at once. Other cats prefer horizontal scratching posts, and some prefer vertical posts. When selecting a good material for the scratching post, it is important to consider the different textures among your choices, and the material you choose should be compliant for being marked. Remember, cats like to leave visual marks when scratching.

Because scratching is a marking behavior, placing the scratching post in a prominent area in your home is important. In fact, the best location to place the post, although not necessarily the most practical, is where the cat has already chosen to scratch. Therefore, it may be necessary to place the post in the center of a room or near furniture that the cat has been trying to scratch.

In addition to appropriate scratching posts, proper grooming care is also very important. Regular nail trimming is a very easy way to ensure that your cat’s nails are kept at appropriate lengths and would avoid any unnecessary painful surgeries such as declawing.

Providing various types of scratching posts helps to enrich your cats’ environment and keep them happy and healthy. If you are having issues with inappropriate scratching, it is important to talk with your family veterinarian about ways to better manage your cat’s behavior. Some cats suffer from severe behavioral disorders such as anxiety and fear. Seeking proper medical advice from a pet health professional is always the right thing to do.

[Contact Dr. D’Abbraccio at www.facebook.com/CatskillVeterinaryServices, www.catskillvetservices.com, or jdabbracciodvm@icloud.com.]