It’s an incessant noise, one that can rip right through your sleep and into your sweetest dreams. Why do cats scratch? And more importantly, why do they scratch at absolutely everything? Why do they feel the need to tear up your beautiful suede sofa and scratch mercilessly at the corner of the cabinets? And how do we make them stop?
Most experts believe that cats scratch for a variety of reasons. Just as a dog barks for different reasons at different times, cat scratch for different reasons at different times. A cat will often scratch as part of the territorial marking fest. While scratching is usually preferable to spraying, it does many of the same things, thankfully without the aroma. Cats who have scratched up a group of trees in the wild is telling other cats out there that the territory is already owned. Back off. This is my tree, and so is this one. In fact, these trees all long here, they belong to me. It takes time to get those trees looking that way. It takes work. It takes a commitment to a territory. Most domesticated cats do not feel the need to add their markings to their scratched areas, but wild cats will. There are numerous little scent glands within the cat’s paws that allow the cat to scratch their scent into their territorial scratching. Spraying just adds a little insurance that kitty number 2 won’t mistakenly come upon King Kitty’s territory believing he can take a nap.
Okay, but why do cats scratch when there’s no threat to their territory. In part because it’s instinctive. Cats will need to scratch whether they are the only other living being in the household or whether you run a foster home for kitties, with new feline friends coming and going regularly.
Cats also scratch as a combination of exercise and release. It relieves stress for them the same way a round with a punching bag, a good swim, or a run can do for humans. Scratching works the muscles located in their front quadrant while giving them a good release of tension. A cat that for whatever reason doesn’t scratch can become remarkably stressed and begin to scratch at his own body. While this might seem a little ridiculous considering that our kitties are typically well pampered individuals. We worry about our 8 o’clock meeting, our deadlines, our general worth in the world, and trivial things as such while cats are worried about…keeping in line with the sun as it streams through the window? Granted, some kitties may have had an increase in their stress level the day the Supreme Court ruled that small animal sacrifices were legal, but most were too bust sleeping through the news that it didn’t even blip on their radar.
But cats do have stress. All animals do. Just because we can’t understand their stress doesn’t make it any less real to them. Your cat may look like he’s watching the birds intently while curled up in a comfortable spot on the back of the sofa, but who’s to say that he’s not really practicing some form of self torture. How horrible it must be to stare at something every single day that you desperately want only to know that all your scheming and plotting is for naught. That must be rather stressful.
When we question our cats—why do cats seem so aloof one minute and crawling all over us the next—why do cats scratch—why don’t cats like to swim despite the fact that they are very good at it—we actually bring ourselves closer to understanding not just our kitten friends, but understanding something inherently natural and real. That is part of why own our pets, because we like the stripped down raw material they give us to work with rather than the pampered and sometimes made up truth that humans tend to dish at each other. When was the last time your cat fibbed to you for your own good or made you think things that weren’t true because they weren’t getting enough attention? All of our daily pent up garbage usually ends up coming home with us. When we really want to kick and scream and let it all out, we don’t because we are fearful of consequence. Our cats carry this for us. Sometimes because we ask them to and sometimes because they can and they love us deeply. Other times they just want their dinner on time.
Regardless. They have stress and they are trying to relieve it. One of the best things we can do for our feline friends is to offer them a safe and sacred place for their habitual scratching needs. If we want to save the suede sofa, we are going to need to devise a system that our cat will be happy with. Cat scratching posts, the ones that have rough surfaces and are long enough for Fluffy to stretch out and get some serious scratching going on. Place it out in the open where Fluffy can not only readily find it, but he can feel as though he is still marking the territory he wanted to while relieving his stress. Working with him to find a reasonable solution to his scratching needs will make you both much happier and ultimately healthier. A little effort is all it takes to really make his habit an acceptable on, rather than amputating the tops of his claws. Declawing is really not an appropriate solution, at least in the cat’s opinion. If you take a moment to understand what it is, and to understand why do cats scratch, you may realize that you would be robbing your best friend out of the act of relieving his stress. He certainly isn’t there to take away your vices. Not to mention how much cheaper a good scratching post is compared to surgical declawing.