By Julia Williams
Many people think cats scratch to sharpen their claws, which is only partially true. Scratching actually removes the outer portion of the claw called the sheath, which exposes a new, sharp tip. If you’re like me, you may have found a sheath once upon a time in your carpet and become alarmed. Me: “Oh no! My poor cat’s claw fell off!” (Runs to check on cat, and then to Google). “Whew, that’s not my cat’s claw, only the sheath.” Once you understand this natural feline process of “shedding” the sheath, it’s rather fascinating and no cause for concern.
Another reason cats scratch is as a form of communication….they scratch to mark their turf, if you will. Cats have scent glands on their paws, and scratching leaves a scent as well as visible claw marks that send a message to other cats. The message is something akin to “This is mine! Intruder beware.” Cats also scratch for exercise, to stretch their bodies, and to relieve stress. It’s a perfectly natural behavior that feels good to them. And as you probably already know, all cats subscribe to the motto “If it feels good, do it.”
Establishing Good Scratching Habits
Having scratching posts available in different rooms of your home will ensure that when the urge to scratch strikes, your cat won’t get in trouble for going to town on your carpet or furniture. No one wants that. The cat just needs to scratch, and encouraging good scratching habits will go a long way toward saving your belongings from razor sharp kitty claws. Keep in mind that it’s much easier to train your cat to scratch on his post than to re-train him after he’s developed a habit of scratching up your favorite chair.
Encouraging Your Cat to Scratch
Admittedly, even with multiple scratching posts around the home, some naughty cats will still try out their scratching moves on your carpet or furniture. They may do it stealthily or openly. When you catch them in the act, it’s important not to punish them for scratching. Cats simply don’t understand punishment, and all it does is create a negative association with the act of scratching.
Remember, scratching is a natural behavior. So if you see them working over your carpet, redirect them to their scratching post, and praise and pet them if they start scratching it. Cats don’t respond quite as happily to praise like dogs do, but you probably won’t have any CANIDAE treats handy (because really, who carries cat treats in their pocket?). So when redirecting them, copious praise and petting will have to do.
You can, however, use the cat treats at other times to lure them to the scratching post, and as a reward for using it. Shake the treat bag to get their attention, and when you see that they’ve noticed, place a few treats on the post. This will get your message across – “scratch here, kitty” – and create a positive association with the scratching post.
You can also use toys to draw your cat over to the scratching post. Get them interested in playing with the toy as you slowly move towards the post. Once there, move the toy around on top of the post, so that when your cat chases the toy their paws come in contact with the post. A word of caution: it’s best to use the fishing-pole type of toys for this, to avoid your cat accidentally clawing your hand.
Many cats love catnip, and sprinkling it liberally – and often – on the scratching post will attract them to it.
Location, Location, Location!
Yes, just like with real estate, the location of your scratching post matters. Put posts in the rooms used most by your cat, so they don’t have to go out of their way to find one when they feel like scratching. Don’t put the scratching post in the back bedroom, the closet or another out of the way place, because it’s highly unlikely your cat will use it there. Out of sight, out of mind.
Training your cat to use a scratching post takes time, patience, and a nice supply of the aforementioned cat treats, a.k.a. the “lures.” In time, you should be able to establish good scratching habits even if your cat has a bit of a naughty streak (like my cat, Rocky).
In tomorrow’s post, I’ll offer some tips on How to Choose the Right Cat Scratching Post. It may seem elementary, but there are some important things to consider. We all know that getting cats to do what we want usually requires an incentive. With regard to scratching, this means getting your cat an acceptable post so they’ll use it instead of your furniture. Stay tuned!
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