Scratching is an essential part of being a cat. Cats need to scratch to:
- Keep their claws healthy
- Stretch, flex and tone a variety of muscles
- Mark their territory
- Work off stress
- And above all... scratching just feels good.
Cats love to scratch
And they love to scratch a variety of surfaces and in a variety of positions. This one simple activity provides numerous physical and psychological benefits.
To help your cat get the maximum benefit from scratching, offer several different scratching surfaces and structures. Try to mimic nature.
In nature, cats scratch a variety of surfaces and angles such as tree trunks, tree roots and tree branches (on the tree or fallen).
Variety in surface and structure provides multiple benefits.
Vertical structures, such as a tree trunk, allow cats to:
- Stretch, pull and exercise back and shoulder muscles.
- Work hindquarters as they squat or stretch against the vertical surface.
- Maintain nail health. The downward pull helps shear off the old outer layer of nail, revealing healthy new nail underneath. This also helps keep the nails from growing too long.
- Mark their territory like they do in nature. The vertical scratch marks on a tree tell kitty's neighbors — this is my territory! This is important for feline mental well-being.
A tall, stable, scratching post or condo covered in rough material mimics a tree trunk.
Horizontal structures, such as tree branches and roots, allow kitty to:
- Stretch and exercise back and shoulder muscles in a different manner than when they scratch vertically. The change of angle and weight-bearing load provides a complementary exercise. Multiple exercises work synergistically.
- Mark their territory in another physical form.
- Maintain nail health by providing another surface to scratch.
Flat and angle scratchers of corrugated cardboard provide excellent horizontal scratching surfaces.
Multiple textures provide different scratching experiences and benefits
Rougher surfaces such as dense bark and wood can be mimicked with a sisal weave fabric.
Sisal fabric (not sisal rope) mimics the rougher surface of a tree trunk and is the preferred scratching material for cats. The dense weave allows cats to pull down in a shredding motion, letting them:
- Obtain good resistance while scratching, for good vertical muscle exercises.
- Clean outer layers of nails and maintain nail health.
- Mark territory with characteristic shred marks.
- Take out aggressions and have some fun with a rougher material.
Sisal fabric appeals to a variety of cat senses.
Softer surfaces such as corrugated cardboard mimic the softer bark and roots.
The different texture appeals to cats' need for variety and allows them to:
- Clean deeper in between their nails
- Shred to their hearts content because corrugate is softer. Cats love to shred, and cardboard is immensely satisfying.
Thinking about a cat tree or condo?
Kitty says YES! The right cat tree or condo imitates nature
- Provides vertical and horizontal surfaces to scratch.
- Creates a safe haven to rest and view kitty's domain.
Picture a cat in the wild resting in a tree that he has marked as his territory. The tree provides a purview of his domain and a safe place to snooze.
Did you know?
That cats have scent glands in their paw pads? And when they scratch a surface they deposit a scent, discernable only to cats, to help mark their territory. So when cats scratch to mark territory, they mark it with both physical and olfactory marks.
A cat condo placed by a window parallels this experience. Be sure it's stable — very important for safety — has a great sleeping space, and if you want it to serve as a scratching surface, should preferably be of sisal fabric. Carpeted condos are fine for perching and resting, but most cats don't like to scratch carpet. Some people add bird feeders outside the window to increase kitty's entertainment.
One Post Does Not a Scratching Environment Make
Articles on cat care talk about "a scratching post" for cats. It may be better to think in terms of a scratching environment — as opposed to a single post — that allows your cat to engage in a full range of scratching styles and choose among various scratching options to suit kitty's moods and needs.
Keys to creating a great scratching environment
Three things you need in a scratching post:
- 1. Must be tall enough for your cat to fully stretch and scratch.
- 2. Must be stable — if it wobbles or tips, kitty won't use it.
- 3. Must be the right material. Sisal material for vertical posts and dense corrugated cardboard for horizontal scratchers are the preferred materials.
Multiple posts placed in kitty's favorite areas. Remember that cats scratch to mark their territory. It's important to place a scratcher in several of kitty's most occupied rooms. Usually a post in the living room, and if kitty sleeps with you, one in the bedroom will suffice.
Convenience is a big factor in whether or not a cat will use the scratching post. Cats typically look for something to scratch that's close to where they currently are. If you have multiple floors that kitty visits, put a scratching post on each of the floors. They're not likely to walk upstairs and down the hall in search of a scratching post.
Note: Keep in mind that cats like to scratch after eating and/or napping.
Use different structures and textures. Consider a sisal post in one room and a horizontal cardboard scratcher in another. If space permits, a large perch or condo in a favorite room will be greatly appreciated by your cat.
Multiple cats, multiple posts
Scratching posts, scratching pads and/or trees distributed around the house may offer special advantages in a multi-cat household:
- Reducing inter-cat squabbles. Cats may feel an extra need to assert territory ownership when they share living space with other cats. Even if all the cats get along fine, being able to let off steam via scratching during periods of heightened stress may prevent them from taking out their frustrations on each other.
- Catering to cats whims. Buster may prefer the vertical post and perch combo by the bedroom window. Maxine may be more of a horizontal scratcher. Claude likes cardboard, but Claudette is strictly a sisal gal. By offering a suite of scratching options to your feline federation, you're more likely to satisfy their diverse tastes.
- Easing the introduction of a new cat. Often the resident cat sees the new cat as an invader, at least when first introduced. Scratching can help the already-established feline feel more secure about the new arrangement. The newcomer will also benefit from easily accessible scratching outlets as the familiar ritual of scratching helps him or her acclimate to unfamiliar surroundings.
One or more new scratching posts may be particularly useful when bringing an additional cat into the home. Resident Cat will be pleasantly distracted by a pristine post just waiting to be broken in. New Cat will appreciate a post that doesn't have Resident Cat's scent on it. The two cats may get to know one another in part by leaving their scents on a new post to which each has equal access. In these and other ways, providing ample scratching opportunities may significantly help new cat assimilations go more smoothly.
Summary — A scratching cat is a happy cat.
Cats derive multiple health and emotional benefits from a few simple scratching posts. At minimum, provide a tall sisal fabric post and a cardboard corrugate scratcher. This will not only help save your furniture, it will make your cat very happy.
The more you can inspire your cat to scratch in designated places, the happier everyone will be. Kitty will be thrilled to have his or her own scratching forest filled with indoor versions of tree trunks, roots and branches. Kitty will also be less inclined to scratch on your furniture, since every scratching need will be easily satisfied with enticing, nearby, made-for-cats scratching furniture.
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