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Understanding scratching behavior in cats

Mengoli M, Mariti C, Cozzi A, et al. Scratching behaviour and its features: a questionnaire-based study in an Italian sample of domestic cats. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 2013;15:886-892

Scratching behavior is considered part of the cat’s normal repertoire of behavior patterns. While scratching allows for the removal of the claw sheaths, it is also an important means for visual and chemical communication. Scratching may be a means of territorial marking, a social messaging system for cats. In behavior consultations, owners often describe scratching as an additional issue to the original problem for which they were seeking care. 

In this report, researchers used a questionnaire-based study with the help of multiple correspondence analysis where they screened the behavior of 128 cats. The data emphasized the importance of having a scratching post as an option. When a scratching post is available in the cat’s environment, the cat is likely to use it. The analysis disclosed scratching does differ between intact and neutered cats, regardless of sex. Intact males tend to scratch other surfaces, while neutered males and females will rarely choose furniture. Kittens cannot retract their claws until 4 weeks after birth, and will scratch correctly at 5 weeks of age. Adult cats appear to prefer a properly placed scratching post or one suitable for them and will avoid unsuitable posts. 

Studies such as this should lead to a better understanding of scratching behavior and may help veterinarians describe to owners why cats need expression of such normal behavior in their environment. It may also help to discern what is normal scratching behavior from problem behavior. [VT]

See also: Herron ME, Buffington CA. Environmental enrichment for indoor cats. Compend Contin Educ Vet 2010;32:E4. [Free, full text]

Ellis SLH, Rodan I, Carney HC, et al. AAFP and ISFM feline environmental needs guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 2013;15:219-230. [Free, full text]

International Cat Care: How to choose and use a scratching post for your cat