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Cat scratching maintains feline health

Scratching behavior in cats is described as a normal expression of the feline ethogram, having different possible purposes related to visual and chemical communication. During behavioral consultations owners often mention scratching as an additional problem. This preliminary study aimed to understand the characteristics of this complex behavior by examining the variables displayed by a sample of the Italian feline population using multiple correspondence analyses.

Scratching is a sign of territorial ownership.

One hundred and twenty-eight cats were screened by means of a questionnaire to identify features of their scratching behavior. Data showed the importance of both the presence/absence of a scratching post in the cat's living area and its relationship to marking. When a scratching post is present in a cat's living area, the cat appears to use it. Some aspects related to sex, neutering, age and environmental characteristics may modify the expression of scratching as a marking behavior. Research has led to increased knowledge of this behavior and may help veterinarians in describing to owners why it is important for cats to express scratching behavior in their environment. Such information could help veterinarians and owners to recognize normal and problematic scratching behaviors.

Cats scratch with their front claws by dragging them downward, either on a horizontal or vertical surface - this action, referred to as stropping, loosens and removes the outer husk of the claw revealing a sharp new surface underneath.
It also exercises the muscles of the forelimbs and spine to keep the cat in tip top condition for hunting. Some cats will scratch by lying down and pulling their bodyweight along the floor. The surfaces chosen are usually fixed and non-yielding to resist the force exerted by the cat.

Scratching is also used as a form of territorial communication or marking behavior. Scent and sweat glands in between the pads of the feet mix to produce a unique smell. When claws are scraped down a surface the scent is deposited and the combination of the mark, discarded claw husks and the smell provides a strong visual and scent message to other cats.

Evidence of scratching outdoors can often be found on trees, fence posts, sheds and wooden gates, for example, all strategically important locations in a cat populated area. Similar surfaces outside will also be utilized for claw maintenance. Unvarnished woods and tree bark are the most natural surfaces to scratch as they provide a perfect level of resistance to the action and show a strong visual cue when used regularly.

Indoor cats have limited or no access to outdoors. There are also those that choose to spend more time in the comfort and safety of the home and just feel more relaxed about maintaining their claws in a secure environment.

Scratching can also be used as a precursor for play or even as an attention seeking tool by the more manipulative and social individuals. Popular substrates indoors include soft woods (e.g. pine), fabrics, textured wallpaper and carpet. Popular locations include doorframes, furniture and stairs.

Cats will often scratch vigorously in the presence of their owners or other cats as a sign of territorial confidence. They are telling owners that they know they are home.

Cats that scratch in many places throughout the house are feeling insecure about territory. Preventing indiscriminate scratching can be achieved by giving the cat a great scratching post, multilevel climber or designated scratching area. Attract the cat to it with cat nip, or physical placement when they scratch elsewhere. Double sided tape or aluminum foil on furniture usually detracts cats from scratching. Commercial sprays have limited results.

Trim claws regularly. A kitten accustomed to trimming from youth is easiest but older cats will tolerate trimming if done quickly and a claw at a time. Sometimes, professional trimming is appropriate.

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