As a cat owner, you know that you receive many benefits from your feline friend’s affection and companionship. Simply having a cat in your life means you are less likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases, such as a stroke or heart attack, and your blood pressure is better regulated. Cuddling with your cat also releases oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone, which boosts your happiness and emotional wellbeing. 

Since your cat does so much for your mental and physical health, you can return the favor by catering to their needs, especially scratching, which is one of the most important behaviors that contributes to your cat’s mental and physical health. You may not approve of the scratching location your pet has chosen, but you can encourage them to scratch in acceptable spots to satisfy their itch.

Why do cats scratch?

You know your cat loves to scratch, but why do they want to claw and scratch—particularly your favorite furniture? Here are several reasons your feline friend feels the need to sharpen their claws:

  • Nail health — Scratching is your cat’s version of a mani-pedi and helps care for their nails by removing dead nail pieces, which leaves the claws smooth, sharp, and comfortable when retracted.
  • Muscle strength and flexibility — An appropriate scratching surface allows your cat to stretch and extend to their full length, which flexes muscles in the legs, back, and paws as they sink their claws into the object.
  • Territory marking — Scratching allows your cat to mark their territory in two key ways—through scent marking and visual marking. Cats have scent glands in their paw pads that deposit pheromones when they scratch, and they leave messages for other cats to stay away from their home. Since these pheromones indicate “home,” when your cat smells them, they feel more comfortable, relaxed, and secure in their private territory. Claw marks also warn away intruders, and paired with scent markers, help your cat feel safe in their home. 

Understanding why your cat is scratching

To help your cat scratch in an appropriate manner in your home, you must first understand why they are scratching. Cats scratch because:

  • They need exercise and play outlets — Although cats spend a good portion of their day sleeping, they still need plenty of exercise to be happy and healthy. They may turn to clawing on your curtains or couch if they have no other ways to play and stretch.
  • They are stressed or conflicted — Changes in your cat’s schedule, environment, or family structure can be unsettling, causing them stress and anxiety. A new pet, home improvements, or work schedule changes can stress your cat, leading to inappropriate scratching in new areas.
  • They are reinforcing their territory boundaries — New pets in the home—or stray animals outside the home—can trigger your cat’s territorial behavior, causing increased scratching or urine marking, especially in previously marked spots. New furniture can also bear the brunt of your cat’s scratching, as they mark the new items to claim their territory.

How to fulfill your cat’s need to scratch

Once you’ve determined why your cat is scratching in unacceptable locations, you can set up areas to encourage proper scratching. Try the following methods:

  • Provide plenty of scratching options — One measly scratching post is not enough for the average cat, especially if the post is shorter than your pet, who needs a variety of scratching surfaces to satisfy their instinctual behavior. Choose posts and pads covered in sisal, carpet, or long, tall wood that your cat can stretch out on fully, and scratch. Over time, you will learn your cat’s preferred scratching object and surface.
  • Place scratching surfaces near your cat’s resting spots — When your cat wakes up, the first thing they do is stretch to the max. Hooking their claws into a soft surface helps extend their body and work out their muscle kinks, so place scratching posts or pads near their favorite resting areas to encourage appropriate scratching. 
  • Install scratching posts next to windows — If your cat loves watching the world go by, or spying on birds in the bath, install a scratching post with a lookout tower next to the window. Your cat can scamper up the post and survey their territory, while leaving behind visual and scent markers.
  • Draw your cat to an acceptable scratching spot — While your cat may think the arm of your leather couch is the perfect scratching spot, convince them that their sisal-covered post is more ideal. Use catnip or a pheromone spray to encourage appropriate scratching. 
  • Promote a soothing atmosphere — Cats are highly sensitive creatures and can be upset by changes in their day-to-day routine, leading to inappropriate scratching. Help your cat conquer stress by diffusing calming pheromones, sticking to a regular schedule, and minimizing changes as much as possible.

Is your cat clawing up your curtains or ruining your rugs? Inappropriate scratching can signal an underlying physical or behavior issue that requires treatment. Contact our LaGrange Veterinary Hospital team to schedule an exam to determine the cause and create a treatment plan—and to save your furniture.