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 territory and communicate with other cats.
- Work off stress.
- Above all, scratching just feels good.
Cats love to scratch, and they love to scratch a variety of surfaces in a variety of positions. This one simple activity provides numerous physical and psychological benefits to cats.
Many times, people think their cat won't use a scratching post. The truth is, virtually all cats will use scratching posts, but it takes some knowledge of how to choose one that cats will love, and having multiples ensures that there's always one around that fits the needs of the moment.
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).
Vertical Structures for Cat Scratching
Vertical cat scratching structures mimic tree trunks, and they allow cats to:
- Stretch, pull, and exercise their back and shoulder muscles.
- Work their hindquarter muscles as they squat or stretch against the vertical surface.
- Maintain their nail health. The downward pull on the claws helps shear off the old outer layer of nail, revealing healthy new nail underneath. This also helps keep the nails from growing too long and potentially growing into the paw pad.
- Mark their territory like they do in nature. The vertical scratch marks left on a tree tell a kitty's neighbors—this is my territory. This marking behavior is important for feline mental well-being.
A tall, stable vertical scratching post or condo covered in rough material mimics a tree trunk. You can find tall, sturdy posts at purrfectpost.com.
Horizontal Structures for Cat Scratching
Horizontal cat scratching structures, such as tree branches and roots, allow a cat 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 for muscle health.
- Mark their territory in another physical form.
- Maintain nail health by providing another surface to scratch.
Flat and Angle Structures for Cat Scratching
Flat and angle scratchers made out of corrugated cardboard provide excellent horizontal scratching surfaces. Cats will sometimes use angle scratchers upside down to get a different workout, as well.
Multiple Textures Provide Different Cat Scratching Experiences and Benefits
Along with scratchers in varying positions, it's good to use different surface textures, as well.
Rough surfaces such as dense bark and wood can be mimicked with a sisal weave fabric. Sisal fabric (not sisal rope) mimics the rough surface of a tree trunk and is the preferred scratching material for cats. Sisal fabric appeals to multiple cat senses and allows them to:
- Obtain good resistance while scratching, for good vertical muscle exercises.
- Clean off the outer layers of the nails and maintain nail health.
- Mark territory with characteristic shred marks.
- Take out aggressions and have some fun with a rougher material.
You can learn more here: "Sisal Fabric: The Best Material for Cat Scratching Posts."
Soft surfaces such as corrugated cardboard mimic softer bark and roots found outside.
This different texture appeals to cats' need for variety and allows them to:
- Clean deeper in between their nails.
- Shred to their heart's content because corrugated cardboard is soft. Cats love to shred, and cardboard is immensely satisfying to them.
Thinking About a Cat Tree or Condo?
Your kitty would say yes to a tree or condo. The right one imitates nature by:
- Providing vertical and horizontal surfaces to scratch.
- Creating a safe haven to rest and view the 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?
Cats have scent glands in their paw pads. 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 do so with both physical and olfactory marks.
A cat condo placed by a window parallels this tree-sitting experience. Be sure it's stable—this is very important for safety—has a great sleeping space, and if you want it to serve as a scratching surface, it should preferably be covered with 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 their kitty's entertainment.
One Post Does Not a Scratching Environment Make
Many articles on cat care talk about "a scratching post" for cats. It may be better to think in terms of a scratching environment that allows your cat to engage in a full range of scratching styles and choose among various scratching options to suit different moods and needs.
Here are some keys to creating a good scratching environment:
- Remember the requirements of tall, sturdy, and covered in a good scratching material as discussed above.
- Provide multiple posts in your kitty's favorite areas. Remember that cats scratch to mark their territory. It's important to place a scratcher in several of the cat's most occupied rooms, such as the living room and bedroom. Also, cats like to scratch after napping or eating, so have scratching posts near those areas.
- 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 home levels that your kitty visits, put a scratching post on each of the floors. Your cat is not likely to walk upstairs and down the hall in search of a scratching post.
As we learned above, your cat thinks it's great to have scratching posts with different structures and textures. Consider a sisal fabric 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 Need Multiple Posts
Having multiple cats can create some unique challenges. Distributing many scratching posts, pads, and trees around your home can help manage some of these issues by:
- 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 by scratching during periods of heightened stress may prevent them from taking out their frustrations on each other.
- Satisfying different 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 they are 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 because the familiar ritual of scratching will help him 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.
A Scratching Cat Is a Happy Cat
Cats derive multiple health and emotional benefits from a few simple scratching posts. At a minimum, provide a tall sisal fabric post and a corrugated cardboard scratcher. This will not only help save your furniture, but it will also make your cat very happy.
The more you can inspire your cat to scratch in designated places, the happier everyone will be. Your kitty will be thrilled to have his own scratching forest filled with indoor versions of tree trunks, roots, and branches. He 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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