Cats like to scratch – no doubt about it. And if you are lucky, your kitty will enjoy the scratching post you bought instead of the draperies or your mother's favorite chair. Beneath those soft furry paws lie needle sharp claws that can destroy a couch or draw blood in a fraction of a second.
You probably think that your kitty scratches to keep his claws razor-sharp. But there's more to it than that.
All About Claws
Cats' claws are shaped like sickles or crescents and they have very sharp tips. You may already know this if you've been playing with your new pet. Claws are designed to allow the cat to grip and hold onto his prey. The claws grow continuously, and they are kept from growing too long through use. Cats retract their claws into a skin pouch while walking to avoid wearing them down.
Cats' claws grow from within, like an onion, and the outer worn layers are eventually shed. By scratching, your cat loosens the outer layer from the cuticle. The outer layer falls off and remains behind at the scratching post (or the scene of the crime). If you look closely, you'll see them there.
Cats also scratch when they want to mark their territory. In the wild, cats scratch around their environment to signal their presence to other cats and to claim the area. The marking has two forms: visual (sight) and olfactory (smell). The visual mark is in the form of clawing marks and is so obvious that even we humans can recognize it.
The olfactory mark isn't as easy to spot. As your cat scratches, scent glands on the underside of the paws secrete substances called pheromones. These have a smell recognizable to members of the same species. Pheromones are like fingerprints in humans.
Pheromones affect a number of behaviors:
Scratching is Good for Cats
Scratching provides your cat with a form of physical therapy for the muscles and tendons of his paws. While he is scratching, his claws are getting practice extending and retracting. The front legs and shoulders are getting some stretching and strengthening exercise, too.
Teaching Your Kitty
Knowing why your kitty likes to scratch your expensive couch might make it easier to understand. However, you don't have to live with that behavior. By gentle and consistent correction and by providing alternative scratching areas, you can persuade your cat to scratch where you want him to.
The Scratching Post
To persuade your cat to use a scratching post, you have to understand some basics:
Deterrents are things that discourage your cat from scratching where he isn't supposed to scratch. Several deterrents are available and may help:
"Soft Paws"™ (or Soft Claws) are plastic nail caps that can be super-glued to a cat's claws following a preliminary nail trim. The caps have to be replaced every month, or you can replace each one as it falls off. They usually keep the furniture from being damaged.
Keep your cat's nails well trimmed. You or your parents can learn how to do this yourselves. You must use a sharp pair of nail trimmers made specifically for cats (don't use human trimmers). Ask your veterinarian to teach you how and to recommend some good nail clippers.
Many people consider declawing surgery. Many veterinarians believe declawing is a painful and unnecessary surgery and refuse to do it for humane reasons. Instead, they advocate training your cat to use a scratching post. However, some veterinarians still believe declawing is a safe procedure.
This surgery removes the claw, the nail bed and often part or all of the last finger. If an animal is declawed, you have to take care that he doesn't ever get outside because he will not be able to protect himself. He won't be able to climb as well, either.