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5 Reasons Why Cats Scratch (and How to Stop Unwanted Scratching)

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By Nicole Cosgrove

orange cat scratching on log

One of the banes of a cat owner’s existence can be a cat’s tendency to scratch. Whether it be furniture, carpet, or anything else they can get their paws on, scratching is something cats love to do. Other than the fact that cats are agents of pure chaos, are there actual reasons they love to sink their nails into stuff? It turns out there are perfectly normal and healthy reasons for them to do so!

Scratching is a highly beneficial behavior that cats should engage in (but the good news is there are ways to get them to stop scratching in unwanted areas and move on to more suitable ones).

Why Cats Scratch

1. Scratching is instinctive.

As much as you may want your cat to stop scratching altogether, that’s a pretty impossible task to accomplish and one that would be detrimental to them. Scratching is a biological behavior that’s deeply ingrained in your cat. This instinct comes from the days when cats were wild and needed to use their claws to climb trees, fight, and more.

cat climbing tree
Image Credit: artyangel, Pixabay

2. Scratching maintains their nails.

Cat nails grow differently than ours. Whereas human nails will grow longer, a cat will instead develop a new nail inside the old one. If you’ve ever found one of your furry pal’s nails on the floor, what you were looking at was actually the old nail layer that was shed via scratching (think of it as the equivalent of us cutting our nails). This new nail will also be sharper than the old one. Since cats’ nails act similarly to fingers in that they use them to grab onto things, catch prey or toys, and fight, sharpened nails are essential for them to have.

cratching on wall
Image Credit: xandra71, Pixabay

3. Scratching lets them stretch and flex.

Cats love stretching about as much as they love scratching. Luckily, scratching helps them out with that. You’ve probably noticed that when cats scratch, they don’t just drag their nails down something. No, they’re usually arching their back as well, resulting in a full stretch. Combining these two favorites helps them target muscles along the spine and in the forelimbs for a much more satisfying experience.

You’ve likely also noticed that when your cat places their feet against something to scratch, they then bend their legs and flex their feet; this helps relieve joint pressure in the paws. Overall, the scratch’n’stretch feels pretty great for your feline friend.

cat scratching on scratching post
Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

4. Scratching marks their territory.

Cats are territorial, and what better way to show that a territory is yours than by leaving marks? Not only does scratching leave a visual mark that clearly says, “Hands off, this is mine!”, but it also leaves a scent mark due to the sweat glands in a cat’s paws. Both of these kinds of marks clearly tell any other animals around that this item is one of your kitty’s favorite things.

cat lying on cat tree
Image Credit: Sven Schmidt, Pixabay

5. Scratching is great stress relief.

If you’ve ever seen a cat in distress, you might’ve noticed that it was scratching stuff up more than usual. That’s because scratching (and the stretching that accompanies it) can provide relief for an anxious cat.

cat scratching on tree
Image Credit: Piqsels

How to Stop Unwanted Scratching

As you can see, you don’t want to stop your cat from scratching entirely (and it’s a futile endeavor anyway). But there are ways to get them to stop scratching in unwanted areas such as the sofa or carpet. All it takes is a bit of misdirection and some patience!

1. Cover the areas your cat is currently scratching.

If your cat is fond of scratching on a specific corner of your sofa, try placing a furniture protector scratching post to protect it or a clear scratch shield to deter your furry friend from scratching there entirely. If your cat prefers carpet scratching, try a horizontal scratching pad.

cat sittin on couch with scratching post

2. Try out sprays to discourage scratching.

There are different types of sprays available that are designed to keep your cat from scratching in places they shouldn’t. Some carry a scent that’s unpleasant to cats, while some smell similar to cat pheromones that signify safety or even that the area has already been “marked”.

woman ceaning couch
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

3. Place scratching posts in areas your cat likes to scratch.

Even after utilizing a protective scratching post or pad, it’s a good idea to place a regular scratching post or two in the area your cat has chosen as their territory to help deter them from their usual spots. Using posts with different textures may help in this effort. You can try carpet-like materials along with ones that are coarser and more closely resemble tree bark. Also, get more than just a vertical scratching post; each cat is different and will want to stretch in different ways. Have more than one cat? Get a post for each!

Image Credit: Seven Song, Unsplash

4. Encourage your pets!

Try to direct your cat to a scratching post if you see them headed for the furniture, and when they do use the scratching post, reward them with a tasty treat!

cat is chewing on a treat_Marinka Buronka, Shutterstock
Image Credit: Marinka Buronka, Shutterstock

5. Be patient.

All cats are different. Some may get the hang of a new scratching area quickly, while others may take a couple of months to make the switch. With lots of encouragement and praise, they’ll eventually get the idea.

And Now You Know

The reasons cats scratch are plenty, and a lot of it has to do with intrinsic kitty nature. You don’t want to discourage scratching entirely, but you can work with your cat to prevent scratching in certain places. With the addition of scratching posts and pads, plus lots of cheering on, your cat can be happy continuing its feline ways, and you can be happy knowing your furniture is safe from accidental destruction.

See Also: Why Are Cat Scratches Itchy? 4 Main Reasons

Featured Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay

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