Having the right cat scratching “implements” is critical in preventing claw damage to carpets and furniture. Now, scientific research provides insight into where and why cats scratch.
Scratching is a deeply embedded instinct in cats. It is used as a visual and scent marking technique; to stretch tight shoulder and back muscles; to condition the claws by removing the damaged outer layers; and to relieve stress.
If you have a cat, you need to provide an acceptable outlet for this normal and necessary behavior. Unfortunately, many cat guardians don’t even know they’re supposed to have a scratching post, mat, or cardboard scratcher! Veterinarians don’t do a very good job of informing new cat guardians; and sadly, many simply recommend declawing rather than advocating proper tools and training (as they should under ethical guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association). But 10 separate toe amputations are never necessary to solve a behavior problem; it’s just a matter of taking the time and making the effort to get your cat to refocus her scratching activities to a better-suited place. (Click here to get the facts about declawing!)
But how do you know what kind of scratcher to get? Researchers at Texas Tech University decided to investigate cats’ and kittens’ scratching preferences. They discovered that catnip isn’t all that effective for redirecting cat scratching, but pheromones seem to have a more powerful effect. Indeed, cats tend to prefer a “used” scratcher. Prior marking seems to drive the instinct to scratch that item. Even cat hair was effective when applied to the scratcher, lending credence to the idea that it’s the pheromones that are attractive.
In this study, kittens preferred cardboard S-shaped scratchers above all others; although in my experience, larger adult cats may not be as enthusiastic about them.
Cardboard scratchers are inexpensive, and most cats like them. You can put several around the house. Some are flat (adult cats seem prefer the wider ones) some are ramped or angled, and one is surrounded by a short “wall” that not only keeps the shredded cardboard contained, but doubles as a cat-friendly box for naps.
It’s nice that someone finally took this issue seriously enough to study it. After all, if more people provided appropriate scratchers for their cats, cats would be satisfied and cat parents would be much less stressed!