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Why Do Cats Need a Scratching Post? 4 Reasons

Scottish little cat playing on scratching posts

If you’ve ever owned a cat, you probably know that they like to scratch a lot. In fact, scratching is a need for cats, not just their favorite pastime. Therefore, if you have a cat, you must provide them with a way to fulfill this need. If you don’t, they’ll scratch your furniture, carpet, and walls.

But why do cats need to scratch? You’ve probably heard things about cats sharpening their nails by scratching, but this isn’t entirely accurate. There are several reasons why your cat may need to scratch, and these can differ based on the time of day, your cat’s age, and other factors.

Sometimes, a cat’s reason for scratching is unknown. After all, we cannot ask your feline why they are scratching. However, we can make a few accurate guesses based on what else we know about cats.

Let’s take a look at each potential reason below.

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The Top 4 Reasons Cats Needs A Scratching Post

1. Nail Maintenance

It is true that cats use scratching as a way to take care of their nails. However, they aren’t exactly sharpening their nails. In fact, they are doing the opposite—your cat is wearing down their nails. Just like most animals, cats have nails that continuously grow. However, in captivity, cats do not wear down their nails regularly. They aren’t out hunting and climbing, after all.

Therefore, they have to wear them down in a different way, which typically means scratching. This prevents them from getting too long, which can actually be a bit painful for your feline.

You can trim your cat’s nails to help them with this upkeep. However, most cats will instinctually scratch anyway to keep their nails in tip-top shape. The scratching motion helps cats shed the outermost layer of their claw as well, which naturally needs to come off as the nail grows. Sometimes, this outer layer will become damaged, which may mean that it needs to be shed even sooner than normal.

Either way, scratching is vital for your cat’s nail health.

cat paws resting on human feet in bed
Image credit: Valeriia Miller, Unsplash

2. Marking

Cats have scent glands spread throughout their body. Not surprisingly, many of the places cats usually use to touch other objects have scent glands in them. For instance, a cat’s forehead and cheeks are covered in scent glands, which is exactly why cats rub up against things.

Cats use these glands to talk to each other from a distance and over time. Your feline can let other cats know their gender, mood, and mating status by simply leaving their scent behind. They can also claim territory and leave behind warnings, which is vital for avoiding fights and misunderstandings.

While we don’t communicate through scent, it is a vital part of our cat’s communication.

Strangely enough, cats also have scent glands between their toes. Therefore, when they scratch on something, they are leaving their scent behind. You may notice that your cat wants to scratch along boundaries, which may be their way of claiming territory.

While cats don’t have to worry about this so much in their domestic life, many still use their scent glands to communicate.


3. Exercise

Cats will often climb for exercise. However, they may also simply scratch an object instead of actually climbing it. You may notice that your cat actively scratches something for a minute while they are playing and running around. This is more common in kittens, as they are more active than adults. However, adult cats sometimes do it too – just not as often.

If your cat is on the more active side, you may notice them climbing and scratching more. Some breeds that are very laidback may never exhibit this behavior at all. It all depends on their personality and disposition.

Furthermore, if your feline needs to climb to get to high places, they may scratch more. For instance, cat condos encourage scratching in this way.  However, if you have ramps or few climbing structures, your cat may scratch less in general.

white cat playing on a scratching post
Image Credit: Daga_Roszkowska, Pixabay

4. Attention

Sometimes, cats may scratch simply because they know it gets your attention. For instance, if you always shoo your cat away when they scratch the couch, they may use that to get your attention. If your cat scratches the couch and then suddenly switches gears when you tell them not to, this may be the reason behind the behavior. It may not be that they are listening well to you—they may just not have really been scratching just to scratch to being with.

Cats are very smart and will figure out what gets them the proper attention and what does not.

Therefore, if your cat is scratching for attention, the best option is to praise them for using the scratching post, and ignore them when they scratch the couch. This may be hard at first, but your cat will soon pick up on the different behavior and shift gears.

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Are Scratching Posts Good for Cats?

There are several reasons why cats scratch. Even if your cat doesn’t scratch for all of these reasons, they will at least scratch to help wear down their nails. If you do not provide them with a proper place to scratch, then they will use something else.

In other words, your cat is going to scratch. It just depends on what they are going to scratch. Therefore, we highly recommend that all cat owners invest in a variety of scratching posts. We do recommend that you purchase more than one.

Cats will not just want to scratch in one part of your home. Instead, they’ll likely want to scratch in the most populated areas. Therefore, you’ll need to invest in a few different scratching posts for this reason. There are all sorts of different designs, so you do have many options to choose from.

If you have multiple cats, you don’t necessarily need to increase the number of scratching posts.

british shorthair cat scratching the post
Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

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Conclusion

Primarily, cats scratch to keep their nails healthy and to communicate with others. Even if you only have one cat, they will still want to instinctually leave their scent behind using the scent glands in their paws.

However, some other cats may scratch as a way of exercising and burning off excessive energy. Usually, this only involves more active cats, though even more laidback cats may do this from time to time.

Along the same vein, some cats realize that they get attention when they scratch, so they may continue to scratch for attention. This reason is the only troublesome one that lies behind scratching, as cats may scratch on inappropriate objects on purpose just to get your attention.

However, for the most part, cats scratch for completely natural reasons. It is simply one of the needs a cat has, which is why you should supply them with plenty of scratching posts.


Featured Image Credit: Anatoliy Cherkas, Shutterstock

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