Cat Claws 101: Why Cats Use Their Front Claws
Ever stop to wonder why your cat scratches? There is actually a pretty simple explanation: using front claws for scratching is a natural part of a cat’s health—both physical and emotional. Here are a few reasons why cats scratch to keep in mind next time you’re distressed over your cat scratching your furniture, and a few tips for channeling your cat’s scratching instincts into a less destructive outlet:
One reason cats need to scratch is to keep their claws in good condition. This is both a defense mechanism and an aspect of grooming. While no one wants to think about a beloved housecat being on it’s own outside of the home, accidents and escapes do happen. If a cat gets lost, it needs its claws as a survival tool—for defense, climbing, etc.
Scratching also helps with cat claw shedding, which is a natural part of grooming for cats. Regular opportunities to scratch can remove the old nail sheaths and make way for the new, healthy ones. However, because cat claws retract, walking, scratching and shedding alone are not enough to maintain healthy claws, so they still need to be trimmed regularly. A combination of careful trimming and regular scratching can help avoid health problems, such as overgrown nails piercing the pad of the paw.
Scratching can also be a great form of exercise for cats, especially for indoor cats, who do not have a lot of opportunity to exercise. Different cats prefer to stretch in different ways, so one way to help satisfy the stretching needs of your cat is to experiment with horizontal, vertical, and even semi horizontal cat scratchers to see what angle your kitty enjoys most.
Yet another reason why cats scratch is for emotional release. Have you noticed that your cat will start scratching when he or she is particularly excited? This is a natural form of expression for a cat. It’s also their way of marking their presence with either visible scratches or scents that only they can detect. These marks serve as a form of territory marking and emotional communication for the cat. This happens with Charlie when I come home from somewhere. I have a scratching bed in the kitchen for them. When I come home, my cats are always waiting at the door. I always verbally greet them, but I don't touch them until I have washed my hands (god knows what's on my hands when I come home from somewhere, and I don't want them to have to lick it off of themselves later). Charlie gets so excited that I am home that he runs to the Petstages Scratch, Snuggle and Rest and scratches away.
Cats need this kind of emotional outlet to be psychologically healthy, and cats who don’t have an opportunity to release emotions through a constructive exercise like scratching can resort to other forms of release, such as biting, refusal to use the litter box, and general symptoms of anxiety or aggression. A good place to scratch can be a healthy outlet for their emotional energy.
Some Cat Scratching Tips
If you’re totally on board with your cat’s need to scratch, but you want them to stop ruining your sofa, here are a few things to keep in mind as you look for a good scratching post:
- Location – Sometimes it can take a cat a while to get used to using a scratching post, and one way to help them along is by carefully choosing the location of the post. Try to put it in a location that will appeal to your cat, for example, near other cat climbing toys, in a sunny spot where they like to relax or in a place where your family gathers.
- Rewards – You can also entice your cat to try the post by giving them some incentive, such as hanging a toy from the top of the post or giving them a treat after they use it.
- Discourage Furniture Scratching – Another way to encourage a cat to use the post is to reduce the temptation to scratch furniture, either by removing the furniture from the room, covering it with a less appealing fabric like a shower curtain, or even just rearranging the furniture.
A scratching post, along with regular nail trimming, can be a great way to make sure that your cat is getting the necessary exercise, grooming and emotional release that it needs. However, the most important thing to remember is to be patient with your cat and his or her scratching habits. It might take some time for them to get used to an alternative to scratching furniture, but the long-term benefits are worth the training period.
What are your cat’s scratching habits? Do you have any tips for getting your kitty to condition their claws on a scratching post? Share your cat claws story here!