Sharing your living space with a pet means having the patience and sense of humour to deal with the occasional chewed up shoe, indoor accident, or mischief your pet may get into. For cat owners, this may mean coming home to find your cat has scratched up your new rug or the upholstery of your favourite chair with their claws.
Remember, cats don’t know the difference between what’s OK to scratch and what’s off limits, but with some training they can learn to only scratch appropriate targets.
We address tips on scratch training and your cat in an earlier Ask the Vet post. You can also talk to your vet for helpful tips, like keeping your pet’s nails trim, keeping scratching posts near where your cat naps, and meeting the daily play and exercise needs of your pet.
To better understand the nature of why your cat scratches, it’s important to take a look at the important uses of your cat’s claws:
Hunting: Cats are natural hunters. Their retractable claws provide them with traction while running and help them catch and hold onto their prey. If you watch the way your cat plays with its toys, you can see that while your indoor cat doesn’t need to hunt for its next meal, the practice of hunting and chasing is still an instinctual part of your cat’s behaviour.
Stretching: Being able to grip items, like your carpet, allows your cat to twist and stretch the full length of its body, which is not only a good form of exercise, but it’s also a great source of enjoyment for your cat.
Climbing: A cat’s claws are curved to help climb up trees and other surfaces to get to safety. For indoor cats, their claws allow them to grip items such as cat trees or furniture, so they don’t fall or slip.
Leaving their scent: When cats scratch an item, they leaving behind a special scent produced from glands on their paws. This allows a cat to leave its signature behind as a message to other cats.
Protecting themselves: A cat’s claws act as a method of self-defence when faced with a predator. While indoor cats have little need to defend themselves, their claws still offer the security of knowing they have a form of protection. Cats also use their claws to communicate certain messages, for example swatting to communicate the need for distance.
Scratching is a perfectly natural practice for your cat and serves several healthy functions. While you may have to repair a scratched item or two in your house, just remember that the love and companionship offered by your cat far outweigh the price of any item.
(The Ontario SPCA would like to extend a special thank you to our long-time volunteer blog writer Carol Kim for all her wonderful articles!)