Healthy Benefits of Scratching to Cats

April 02, 2018

Healthy Benefits of Scratching to Cats

Scratching is one of the top behaviors that’s responsible for landing thousands of cats in shelters each year. It can be frustrating and expensive to live with a cat that won’t stop scratching the side of a new couch or has gouged chunks out of the leg of your dining room table. The best way to solve a cat’s behavior problem– including inappropriate scratching– is to understand why your cat is doing it and to provide her with a more appropriate way to do it. Scratching is an instinctual habit that provides many benefits to your cat’s health.

 

HEALTHY BENEFITS

 

#1 – Claw health

Scratching helps your cat shed loose layers from her claws. Removing those dead layers is a key part of keeping her claws healthy, sharp, and ready for action. Cat claws are important for self-defense and catching prey -- but even your pampered house cat needs some help in keeping them in good shape.

Cat claws are one of the few holdovers from our domestic friends' wild ancestors. These needle-sharp protrusions help cats catch prey, climb trees and defend themselves. Of course, your average pampered house cat uses his claws for little more than batting at cat toys. Still, the condition of the claws is important to cats' overall well-being, and you need to make sure you're helping your furry friend stay healthy.

Cat claws are similar to both our fingertips and fingernails, says Dr. Brenda Stevens, a clinical assistant professor in the department of clinical sciences at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Like our fingernails, claws have a keratin sheath that needs to be frequently shed, and it covers a nerve commonly called the quick. That keratin sheath is the sharp, curved protrusion we see when cats extend their claws.

However, cats' claws are directly connected to a bone, so in that way they're more similar to our fingertips. Cats also have ligaments that allow them to extend and retract their claws.         

Cats are pretty good at maintaining their own cat claw health, but problems can crop up. "The biggest problem is usually overgrowth," says Dr Stevens. "If the cat doesn't have a substrate to sharpen them and shed them, they can get overgrown and grow into the pad." The paw pad can then get infected, causing a lot of discomfort and possible complications for the cat.

Older cats, like older people, can develop thicker nails that are harder to shed and can overgrow as a result. And polydactyl cats -- those with an extra toe -- have an extra toenail on that "bonus" toe that lacks the ligaments that would allow it to extend, scratch and shed normally, so that extra claw needs to be trimmed to avoid overgrowth.

"The key to keeping cat claws healthy is to encourage their normal cat behavior in scratching and sharpening their claws", Dr. Stevens says. "It's important to keep their claws shedding their keratin sheath as needed, and scratching is how they do that. You want to discover which substrate, or surface, your cat prefers scratching so she'll keep coming back to it (and, hopefully, stay away from your couch)".


Store-bought substrates for scratching usually come in wood, carpeting, rope or corrugated cardboard, and all cats have different preferences -- there is not one that is better than another for cat claw health. Stevens recommend buying a lot of different types and placing them around the house at as many different angles as possible. Some cats prefer a straight post , others like them to lie flat and others prefer an angle somewhere in between (D&C Lifestyle Hepper Hi-Lo Pet Scratcher for Cats - Dual Position, Arc Shape Elegant Construction, Eco-Friendly and Tubular Chrome Frame with Solid Brown Corrugated Cardboard Scratch Zone AMAZON). Visiting online shops like https://activefelinesolutions.com.au/ help you choose the right one at your convenience. 


"You need to see if each post offers the substrate and verticalness (for lack of a better word) cats enjoy," she says. 

Trimming a cat's claws helps keep him healthy. Any owner who has attempted this, however, knows it can be a difficult task for both you and your cat. Dr. Stevens recommends going slowly, only trying to snip one or two claws at a time and using lots of positive reinforcement and treats. With some cats, you may need to take them to the groomer or the vet to get this done, and some even need light sedation.

Dr. Stevens says the most important thing to remember is that cat scratching is normal cat behavior, not a bad habit you need to break them of. "It keeps their nails healthy, and it's the best way to get the keratin sheath shed," she says. Keep lots of scratchable surfaces around, and your cat will have healthy nails for years to come.

 

#2 – Stretch

A tall scratching post will help your cat stretch her whole body as well as the paws. Stretching helps your cat keep her muscles in tip-top shape so she’s ready to bound and pounce at a moment’s notice even after a very long slumber. Cats sleep between 12 and 16 hours a day, about twice as much as people do, according to Rubin Naiman, a clinical psychologist at the University of Arizona, as reported by the Huffington Post.

When humans sleep, the brain paralyzes most of the body's muscles to prevent people from acting out their dreams. The same thing happens to cats during catnaps, which prevents the cat from sleepwalking off the sofa or wherever it's snoozing, Cuff said. [Here, Kitty, Kitty: 10 Facts for Cat Lovers]
Once the cat wakes up, the stretching begins, as Cuff said to Live Science;

“Cats stretch to get their muscles moving again after periods of inactivity, whether they've been sitting still or sleeping, when a cat is sleeping or relaxed, its blood pressure drops. The same is true for people, stretching can help to reverse that. As you stretch, it activates all of your muscles and increases your blood pressure, which increases the amount of blood flowing to the muscles and also to the brain, this helps wake you up and make you more alert.

As the muscles start moving with each stretch, they also flush out the toxins and waste byproducts that build up during periods of inactivity. For instance, carbon dioxide and lactic acid can accumulate in a cat's body, but stretching can increase blood and lymph circulation, which helps to remove the toxins, It's good for them to be ready to go at any instant, whether it's a snake, a feather or something on TV, as the case may be with cats”. he said.

What's more, stretching readies the muscles for activity. If a mouse scurries by — or, let's be honest, a spider if we're talking about house cats — the cat will be prepared to pounce if he or she has already stretched its muscles.

 

#3 – Exercise

For your cat, scratching involves stretching and digging her claws into the fiber of her post. All of that standing on hind legs, stretching, and digging is a great way for your cat to release pent up energy and get a bit of exercise.

Just as in humans, scratching is a form of exercise that helps stretch and build up muscles. This type of exercise is beneficial for their back, shoulders, chest and stomach. It also helps the muscles and tendons in the paw.

Scratching is the most basic and natural form of exercise a cat can do. Finding the right posts for your cat like the one they offer at activefelinesolutions.com.au will help enhance her muscles develop more as well as for their claws.

 

#4 – Reduce stress

 

Digging her claws into the right kind of fiber (like a sisal scratching post)is very satisfying for cats. That, mixed with the stretching and exercise can help keep your cat emotionally healthy and happy.

Scratching is also used as an emotional release or displacement behavior. When your cat is anxious, happy, excited or frustrated, he can release some of that built-up emotion by scratching. Think of the times you’ve seen your cat scratching on an object as you prepare his dinner or when you’ve come home from work. You may even have noticed him scratching after an encounter with a companion cat.

This ability to have an emotional release through scratching is healthy for the cat. Since scratching is so complex, and a vital part of feline life, you’ll need an effective training method to redirect your cat. You can’t just shoo him away from the sofa. You have to provide a scratching post that meets his needs.

The behavior modification technique begins by making sure you have a scratching post that that meets the qualifications: appealing texture, tall enough, stable, and placed in a good location. In general, the most appealing texture for cats is sisal.

The rough texture makes it easy for cats to dig their claws in and get an effective scratch. Carpet-covered posts are too soft and don’t meet the needs of most cats when they’re looking for a place to scratch. Additionally, many cats end up getting their claws caught in the carpet loops.

 

#5 – Communication

In a multi-cat house, the scratching post can become a communication device. Cats have scent glands in their paws (similar to the ones they have in their cheeks). Cats use their scent glands to mark their territory and to determine rank. Cats scratching and kneading is a way of communicating, but what are they telling us? 

Cats scratching and kneading, like kneading bread, can be both annoying and destructive. Many times, it is us – a leg, tummy, or chest – our pillow, blankets, hair, a couch, recliner, favorite plant, or our new woodwork around our windows. If they are an inside-outside cat, they claw at trees, shrubs, and plants.

Instead of sacrificing our valuables, hobbied plants and the rest of our stuff that they can see inside the house, we can help both ourselves and our dear felines by providing them items which are really intended for this such behavior that they have. Scratching pads, posts and toys are best offered here: https://activefelinesolutions.com.au/ and is being recommended by most cat lovers. As we all know, they seem to have an insatiable desire and need to knead, but why?

Cats begin kneading as tiny kittens, before their eyes open. They put their paws around their mommy’s nipples and quickly learn that the pressure stimulates the flow of milk.

It is believed that memory of maternal warmth and security stays with the cat forever. They often purr when kneading. Sometimes the paw moves just slightly. Other times a cat lifts their paws up and down as if parading in place.

When cats knead, they alternately push out and pull in their front paws, often alternating between right and left limbs. Some cats actually appear to “nurse” or suck on clothing or bedding during kneading.

For years, it was assumed they were sharpening their claws. But if that were so, then why would cats that are declawed exhibit the same behavior.

Some believe that kneading is a carry-over from their ancient feline ancestors in the wild, whose kneading was actually a practical way of tramping down grass or foliage to make a bed, and staking a claim on the area.

According to an online article written by Daniel Q. Estep, Ph.D. and Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., Certified Applied Animal behaviorist, Animal Behavior Associates, Inc., of Colorado, published at www.animalbehavior.org/ABSAppliedBehavior/article-applied-behavior/why-cats-scratch-things., claim the reason they knead and scratch is communication. It’s their way of letting other felines know where they are.

 

But does that explain why they seem to go back to the same piece of furniture, literally making it look like it was shredded to pieces, with little if any upholstery or bark left. And why do declawed (this post by no means endorses nor condemns the practice) cats need to let others know where they are?

In the online article, they go on to say that Cats tend to pick a “small number of conspicuous objects in their environments to scratch such as trees, fence posts, the corner of the couch, etc., and return to them repeatedly.” Repeatedly is a key. They find it difficult to leave that particular piece of furniture or windowsill alone

They explain that the “scratched surface leaves a highly visible mark that can be easily seen by other cats.”

Felines also have scent glands in their paws and when they make scratching movements, or kneading, they leave odor cues that other cats smell. This may be the reason that declawed cats continue to scratch – they are leaving scent marks on objects they scratch.

There’s no conclusive research showing exactly why cats knead. It has no boundaries. Both males and females knead. They do it inside and outside. According to animal behavior.org, it could be a territorial warning, or a marker stating that kitty resides here and is alive and well.

Cats scratching and kneading is a way of communicating.

Take note, your kitty isn’t trying to be mean or spite you when they knead. It’s a hard-wired behavior they need to do.

Cats use scent from other parts of their bodies to communicate. They have scent glands at the corners of their mouths, in the thin hair between their eyes and ears. and at the base of their tails.

When they run their heads and tails up against people and things, they leave scents behind. Research doesn’t know exactly why, but claims they rub up against people and pets they are attached to.

A more distasteful way cats mark is by spraying urine on objects. They spray from a standing position, not the squatting position they use when eliminating. According to www.animalbehavior.org, spraying often occurs during territorial disputes. when the cat is highly aroused or frustrated, and is not related to litter box issues.