by Barbara George – Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
The main reasons cats scratch are to keep their claws trimmed, to mark territory, or as comfort or learned behaviour.
Claws constantly grow and need to be kept to a reasonable length to prevent them getting caught as the cat walks or growing so long that they make walking difficult and may even cut into the paw pads.
The claw grow in layers; new growth pushes the old outer layer away so that it becomes loose. This layer can be pulled off using the teeth or by scratching on a resistant surface.
Cats can be trained to use a scratching post for keeping their claws in trim. Ideally it needs to have a scratching surface that allows the cat to stretch upwards to full height. It must be sturdy enough not to move, and the surface texture should be easy for claws to grip and pull against. Well-used posts should be re-covered when the surface is worn away. Cats that do not have an acceptable option will look at your furniture as an alternative.
There are scent glands in the paws that leave a trail of information as the cat walks and climbs. These provide information about the cat and are used to mark territory.
Territory marking performs three functions, firstly, to advise other cats that this space is owned by the resident cats and is not available to them. In a multi-cat household, or where outside cats or pets are seen as a threat, marking can be used as a sign of ownership. The third form of marking is for comfort, leaving scent ‘pictures’; much as we decorate our homes with personal items. As the cats walk around the home, they read their scent markings, and feel safe and secure.
The position of the scratch markings can indicate the reason for the territory marking. Scratching items near any possible entry points, doors, windows, etc, is typically when they perceive a threat from outside, and are placing markers to be read as the intruder cat enters.
Scratching on items that are used by us, or areas we frequent, such as clothing, chairs, and beds, can be an ownership label, a message to other cats and pets that the place, and the person using it, are the property of the cat who scratched.
Random scratching for comfort is uncommon; cats prefer rub their faces and bodies on items. However, if they need a more visible signal, or to make a more recognisable mark, or the item is perfect for scratching, they will scratch.
Kittens get away with behaviours that we would not allow in an adult cat. This can be difficult to change when they grow up and develop a full set of claws, so it is a good idea not to play games that require pouncing or catching on your furniture. Cats that become used to using the furniture as a scratching post from kittenhood can be reluctant to change.
Once the reason for scratching is known the process of changing the behaviour can be considered. This process will be different for each situation, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to cat behaviour issues!
To contact Barbara, please email email@example.com