Four Reasons Your Cat Needs to Scratch
You just bought a new couch and you're really excited. And so is your cat. You can almost hear your furry friend cracking their little cat knuckles in anticipation. That couch will be theirs (along with everything else in the house) and it will begin with ... scratching.
You attempt a preemptive prohibition against the defacing of your new furniture with a few gentle repeats of the word "no" as your cat eyes the arm of your temporarily pristine couch. It's worth a shot, you think. Your cat might even pay attention to your directive, particularly if you have given them other options. But if they give it a go anyway, you don't have to take it personally. Cats simply need to scratch. It's important for their physical and mental health.
But why? You feed them, you love them and they no longer need to defend themselves, except against their catnip-infused cloth banana toy. So why the scratching?
Here are four reasons why.
Scratching is Exercise
We all know how great it feels to have a good stretch. We do it when we get up in the morning. We do it before exercise. We even do it if we've been sitting on our new couch for hours watching Netflix. It revitalizes. The same is true for your cat. They might even love it more than we do.
Stretching makes cats feel good and helps them stay in shape. And scratching? For cats, scratching is a way to stretch. Reaching out to scratch and the resistance it provides helps them stretch not only their paws, but also their back and legs. These are the same muscles involved in running and climbing. And while your cat may have nothing more to fear in life than a late breakfast, they don't know that. So they instinctively want to stay in shape and feel confident in their ability to navigate their environment. Scratching is part of that. Even if their only after-scratch activity is another nap.
Stretching also helps cats get going after a nap. Cats’ muscles are largely paralyzed during sleep in order to keep them from reacting to dreams. While there is the occasional ear twitch or paw movement, but are largely still. So their blood pressure drops during sleep and the muscles become stiff. So after waking up from a nap, stretching is one way to get the blood flowing again, which means they are once again ready in an instant to pounce on pray or flee from predators. Keeping their muscles limber also helps cats avoid injury.
All of that napping and lack of movement also allows carbon dioxide and lactic acid to build up in a cats body. So an after nap stretch not only prepares your cat to react to its environment, it also acts as a natural detox to increase lymph circulation to and help remove toxins from their bodies.
Cats Scratch to Mark their Territory
Cats are territorial. They like their own space. After all, who doesn't? And while we mark our spaces with matching Bed, Bath and Beyond towel sets, they mark their territory with their own unique scent. Cats' scent glands are dispersed around their bodies, including the areas of their cheeks, chins, foreheads and mouths. They also have scent glands in their paws. Specifically, the glands are located between their paw pads. Scratching helps stretch the paws and activate the glands, leaving your cat's scent behind. This not only makes them feel comfortable and their space familiar, but in the wild, the scent leaves a clear signal to any other cats who have entered what your cat considers their territory.
Fair enough. But why your couch, you ask? Take it as a compliment. They are also marking you and your shared territory. You’re leaving your scent on the couch and they want to mark you as their own.
Scratching is a Form of Grooming
Woman, man or cat. We all have our grooming rituals. Some of us take longer to complete our rituals than others. But that's best left for a different blog. Point is, scratching is part of your cat's grooming and it is vital for a cats physical and mental well being to keep them in good shape.
Cats use their claws to groom other parts of their bodies, stretch, balance, adequately fend off catnip-infused stuffed mice, grip objects and explore their environment. Healthy clause also help a cat grip the ground when they run. Plus, they wouldn’t be able to climb that fancy cat tree without their claws. Healthy claws give cats the sense that they are ready to face the world.
Scratching helps your cat keep their claws ready for the world by helping to remove the dead outer layer of their claws. Removing the dead outer layer is important because it exposes the new, emerging nails underneath. Gross, you say. Well, without opposable thumbs it's a little hard for your cat to work a nail clipper. And if your cat were in the wild, they would have lots of trees to scratch on.
Your cat really needs a rough surface they can dig into and to which their nails can adhere while they pull and scratch. If you give your furry friend something specifically designed for cat scratching, such as one of our awesome play boxes with a built-in scratching pad, they might just be less likely to test out your new couch.
Scratching Helps Relieve Stress
Another reason cats scratch is that doing so relieves anxiety. Anxiety? Your cat sleeps all day, occasionally yawns and then baps you on the nose in the middle of the night for fun. What is there to be anxious about? Well, let us not judge until we have walked a mile in someone else's paws. Maybe you have just moved to a new apartment, maybe you have introduced a new cat to your family, maybe the conflict with that squirrel on the other side of the window has grown personal. We just don't know. Either way, some nice scratching is going to make them feel better.
And if they’re scratching a lot? They might have a lot of anxiety you are unaware of. This can be particularly true if you notice a sudden increase in scratching on furniture or walls. If the increase in scratching accompanies other behavioral changes, such as decreased appetite or aggression, these can also be signs of stress.
Scratching helps relieve that stress. When a cat scratches, endorphins are released in their brains. Endorphins are chemicals that help cats, and humans, deal with pain and stress. Helping them expend energy with play can also relieve stress and anxiety. After that, you could take a nap together. And then play some more. Your cat will love it. And so will you.
So now you know why cats need to scratch and that it is actually healthy for them to do so. So if you give them something specific to scratch, such as one of our play, scratch and sleep boxes, they just might leave your new couch alone.
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