Scratching is to cats what digging is to dogs—an important behavior that’s an essential part of being a cat. Without a scratching outlet, cats can experience a plethora of health and behavior problems that can take a serious toll on their mental health. In addition to boosting your cat’s health and happiness, here are five more reasons why your feline friend needs to scratch.

#1: Scratching is natural and instinctive for cats

Cats are designed to scratch and, if scolded or punished, they can suffer stress, anxiety, and frustration. Without an appropriate scratching outlet, your cat can develop a multitude of behavior issues spurred by poor mental health. You may find your cat starts urinating outside the litter box, displaying aggression, overgrooming, or hiding, if they cannot express natural behaviors. 

Encourage your cat to scratch on acceptable surfaces by placing posts and pads next to furniture, windows, and resting areas—the spots they are most likely to scratch. Choose a variety of textures to see which your cat likes best, keeping in mind that the general cat population mostly prefers the texture of sisal. Entice your cat to scratching surfaces by spritzing a pheromone spray or applying catnip oil, and reward them with petting and praise when they scratch appropriately.

#2: Scratching allows your cat to care for their nails

Cats need regular nail care to prevent overgrowth and to minimize the risk of tearing or breaking nails. While trimming your cat’s nails every six to eight weeks helps prevent them from growing too long, they still need to scratch. Scratching on appropriate surfaces, like sisal, corrugated cardboard, carpet, or wood, removes the rough or damaged outer nail layer, and leaves a smooth surface behind. Without the opportunity to scratch, your cat may develop jagged nails that are painful to retract into their paws.

#3: Scratching allows your cat to stretch and exercise

House cats are much more sedentary than their wild counterparts, which contributes greatly to obesity. Paired with a healthy diet, regular scratching can help manage your feline friend’s weight by providing an excellent way to exercise. By stretching to their full length against a scratching post or pad, your cat can also flex numerous muscles in their legs and spine. The regular physical activity and stretching from scratching helps keep your cat limber and muscular, and prevents orthopedic injuries.

#4: Scratching helps your cat communicate

You may think your cat’s earsplitting meows and yowls at 3 a.m. are to communicate—especially to demand food. But, these vocalizations are primarily to communicate with people, whereas body language and pheromones, or scent chemicals, are used for cat-to-cat communication. 

When your cat scratches, they deposit pheromones released from scent glands on their paw pads. The pheromones are used to communicate a wide range of different messages, that may include:

  • Marking territory
  • Establishing a bond
  • Increasing familiarity
  • Learning about other cats (e.g., age, health status, sex)
  • Communication with their kittens by mother cats
  • Identifying home territory and safety
  • Alerting to tension, anxiety, or fear

You may find your cat scratching in inappropriate areas, such as around doors and windows, if a stray cat is urine-marking around your home. Your cat will scratch to deposit pheromones that reinforce their territory and warn off the intruder.

#5: Scratching improves your cat’s mental health

Although cats may seem to require nothing more than a full food bowl and a warm sleeping spot, they need plenty of environmental enrichment to remain happy and healthy. One of the best ways to offer environmental enrichment is by allowing your cat to choose their favorite scratching surface to exercise their instinctual behaviors. Give your cat plenty of opportunities to scratch, survey their domain, mark their territory, and hide by placing scratching posts attached to climbing towers in a variety of textures. 

Without adequate environmental enrichment, cats can easily become stressed. Stress induced by insufficient enrichment is a common cause of feline idiopathic cystitis, a frustrating condition marked by inappropriate urination.

Inappropriate scratching can be a sign of underlying health or behavior issues in cats. If your feline friend is suddenly clawing up inappropriate items, they could be suffering from a medical problem. Give our Creature Comforts Veterinary Service team a call to schedule your cat’s appointment, and we will get to the bottom of their inappropriate scratching.