My Pet is a jerk: Scratching Edition

Every cat owners knows that dreaded sound.

You’ve just settled down in front of the television or opened a great book when you hear it – the sound of your cat scratching the carpet or the furniture.  Problem scratching is one of those most common behaviour helpline calls received at the shelter, so today we are giving you some information about why cats scratch and what you can do to save your sofa!

Why do cats scratch anyway?


First and foremost, cats NEED to scratch.

It is important for both their mental and physical health. Scratching serves many purposes for a cat, four of which are covered below.

Claws are an important method of territory marking.

Cats will mark territory by scratching a surface in order to rub the scent glands located in the cat’s feet onto the surface. Even very large wild cats will engage in this type of scent marking (you can find videos of this on Youtube if you are curious!).

Cats will also scratch to maintain good hygiene!

Scratching helps cats to shed the outer layers of their claws in order to keep their claws in good condition.

Cats will also scratch to keep their muscles in good condition!

Cats are typically long and lean, and to keep their muscles and joints in top shape they must stretch frequently. By anchoring their claws into a surface, they are able to get an even better stretch. If you have ever held on to a bar or railing and leaned in to a stretch to get some extra extension you will know how great this feels!

Now there is one more reasons cats will scratch – boredom.

Cats that do not receive enough stimulation and exercise will scratch to reduce boredom and frustration. Scratching is a great way to work off pent up energy… in fact you may have noticed your cat sometimes starts to scratch immediately after running around the house. This boredom scratching  quickly becomes habit forming if the cat is unable to find other things to do.


How can I prevent problem scratching?


1. Provide an appropriate scratching surface.

Cats need to scratch to stay in good shape but if you provide an appropriate and appealing place for your cat to scratch that is often enough to stop scratching problems. Choose a cat post or cat condo that is taller than your cat when your cat stands on their back feet in a full stretch – if your cat post is too short your cat cannot get the benefits of a full stretch. If your cat prefers horizontal scratching (scratching the floor) a scratching post with a wide base or a floor scratcher can be offered to satisfy your floor-dwelling feline. When choosing a cat post make sure it is stable enough that your cat cannot pull it over, heavy enough that your cat can anchor their claws without the scratcher moving and large enough that the cat can get that full stretch they are looking for.


Another note on scratching surfaces?

Make sure these surfaces are available in the areas that you cat wants to scratch! Placing a cat condo near a window or another area that your cat finds desirable is a great way to encourage them to use it. Making the cat condo or cat post more fun by playing with the cat or giving them treats or catnip while they are near the cat post can also help to increase use of the new scratching surface.


2. Make other surfaces less appealing.

Once you have provided an appropriate scratching surface, you can also make problem scratching locations less appealing. Double sided tape and tin foil are inexpensive temporary deterrents. Cats typically don’t like how tape or foil feel on their feet, so they will usually move their scratching to a more appealing surface (like the cat condo you have placed near by!).


3. Nail caps.

There are several brands of nail caps available for cats. These temporary nail caps still allow a cat to extend and retract their claws, but protect other surfaces from damage. These nail caps are fairly easy to apply and can be done by pet owners at home. The caps come in clear or colours, so you can decide what is the best option for your cat. Clear caps are less visible while coloured caps make it easy to spot if one falls off.


4. Play!

If your cat is a boredom scratcher, provide other opportunities to work off energy. Regular play sessions, exciting toys and food puzzles are all great ways to give your feline friend a physical and mental workout!


What about declawing?


Declawing is the surgical removal of a cat’s claws. What many people don’t know; however, is that declawing removes much more than just the claw. Declawing removes the full first joint from each digit of the cat. If you would like to know what that would mean for a human, look at your hand. “Declawing” a human would involve removing everything above the first joint in each finger.


Aside from being an amputation, declawing creates additional problems for our feline friends. As humans, we walk flat on our feet (plantigrade) but cats walk on their tiptoes (digitigrade). Even for a plantigrade walker (like humans), losing the first joint off every toe would make staying balanced more difficult, but for a digitigrade animal (like cats) that first joint is even more important. If you would like to try this yourself, try walking around on tiptoes, then try to lift the front of your toes off the ground and do the same thing.


Sadly, many cats are declawed each year by owners who are unaware of how the declaw surgery may impact their feline companions. When a cat is declawed they are forced to walk differently to compensate for the missing joint and to prevent pain. Just as with humans, being forced to walk with an unnatural gait for long periods of time can have long-term health consequences, like arthritis, joint problems or muscle pain. At Calgary Humane Society all adopters sign a contract stating they will not declaw their adopted cat.



Calgary Humane Society offers a free behaviour helpline to all pet owners. Call 403-723-6019 to speak with one of our skilled behaviour counselors.