Cats like to scratch – no doubt about that. And if you are a lucky cat owner, your kitty enjoys the scratching post you bought, as opposed to your draperies or the door frame. Beneath cats' 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 scratching is far more complex than that.
Your cat's claws are just one more fascinating aspect of his anatomy. The shape of the claw is sickle-like, with a sharp tip. This allows the cat to grip his prey and hold onto it. Unique in design, cats' claws grow continuously. While dogs' claws are kept short by friction on the ground, cats maintain sharp tips on their claws by retracting them into a skin pouch while walking.
Cats' claws grow from within, much like an onion, and the outer worn layers are eventually shed. Your cat's scratching behavior helps the outer layer to loosen from the cuticle and fall off. You will find many nails husks at the base of a well used scratching post.
Scratching is also an instinctive method of marking territory. In the wild, cats scratch around their immediate environment to signal other cats of their presence and to claim the area. The marking is in two forms: visual and olfactory. The visual mark is in the form of claw marks, and is so obvious that even we humans can recognize it.
The olfactory mark is subtler. As your cat scratches, scent glands on the underside of the paws secrete pheromones, substances secreted from the body that serve as an olfactory signal to members of the same species. Pheromones affect a number of behaviors. They assist in attracting a mate and providing information about reproductive status and receptivity. They also are used to mark objects and territory and some promote a sense of well being and familiarity. Pheromone combinations are unique, like human fingerprints, and their deposition serves as a calling card of sorts.
Scratching has additional functions, too. It provides your cat with a form of physical therapy for the muscles and tendons of his paws. While he is scratching, his claws are being extended and retracted. The muscles of his forelegs and shoulders get some stretching and strengthening exercise, too.
Knowing why your loveable kitty views your expensive couch as a scratching post might make it easier to for you to understand his seemingly destructive ways. However, you don't have to tolerate unwanted damage to your furniture or household fixtures. By gentle and consistent correction and by providing alternative scratching areas for him to sctratch, you can often persuade a cat to scratch in a more acceptable location.