SOME cats may tear chair arms with their claws, scratch patches of wallpaper off the wall or shred carpets. Most cats do not cause this type of damage, so why do others feel the need to behave like this in our homes?
Scratching has several functions – one of the most important being to keep a cat’s hunting weapons sharp. Scratching also leaves scent marks in a territory. Secretions of watery sweat from between the cat’s pads leave a scent message in addition to the physical marks.
Cats usually scratch outdoors, choosing trees or posts. Wood is just the right texture to allow claws to dig in and be drawn down, pulling off the old claw sheath to reveal the sharp point of the new one.
If you look at a regular scratching place you will find these pieces of sheath embedded in the surface.
Why do cats scratch in the house?
There could be several reasons why your cat is scratching furniture, carpets or wallpaper.
Exercising the claws
Indoor cats with no access outdoors still need to perform this natural behaviour. If nothing suitable is provided, they find something in the house that has an appropriate surface.
In the wild, a cat’s claws are an excellent climbing aid as well as a hunting tool. Keeping them sharp is obviously essential but this can cause a problem if it is undertaken indoors instead of out.
Habit or enjoyment
Some cats may have developed the habit of sharpening their claws indoors. Others enjoy the texture of carpets or furniture coverings and the shape of furniture may make it inviting as a scratch point. Some cats seem to enjoy the act of scratching and it can sometimes be a precursor to,
or part of, excited play.
Boredom or curiosity
A fascination with wallpaper may occur after a loose piece encourages play, or an accidental grab at the wall results in an exciting game of paper removal with the bonus of chasing all the little pieces that fall off. It may have the additional benefit that the owners suddenly start to take notice and give the cat attention, albeit angry attention.
Communication with other cats
Some cats will scratch more when in the presence of other cats. Exactly what they are trying to convey is not well understood, but this type of scratching may be done as a display and to leave a scent mark to communicate with other cats in the vicinity.
Increasing their feeling of security
When cats feel vulnerable, they will try to rub their own scent on prominent places in a room to feel more secure. While they may not resort to spraying (using urine as a scent mark), they may use the scents produced by scratching to do this instead. If the cat is trying to increase feelings of security, many surfaces may be scratched, particularly those in strategic places such as edges of chairs which are nearest to doorways.