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Scratching Behavior in Cats

Scratching is a natural behavior in cats. Many people make the wrong assumption that scratching is a destructive behavior on the part of the cat but that couldn't be further from the truth. Scratching is a necessary part of your cat's physical and emotional health. Even cats who have been declawed have been known to continue to exhibit scratching-like behavior. As a cat owner, it's important for you to understand why your cat scratches. Surprisingly, scratching is more than just sharpening the nails. It takes into account so many of your cat's amazing senses.

Nail Health

Scratching serves many vital functions. When your cat digs her claws into an object, she is removing the outer dead nail sheath and that exposes new nail growth underneath. That's an important part of nail health.

Marking Behavior

Scratching also serves as a marking behavior. Cats visually mark by raking their claws down an object. When doing so they also leave a scent mark through scent glands in their paw pads. As usual, cats are truly efficient in their actions because the ability to leave both a visual mark as well as a scent mark, works for identification both near and far. With the visual scratching, approaching cats can see the mark at a distance. This may help prevent potential conflicts. For cats who come up close, they will be able to interpret the scent communication.

Scratching is Emotional

Scratching serves a function emotionally as a displacement behavior. If a cat is anxious or excited she will often use scratching to displace some of the pent-up emotion. You've probably noticed that with your own cat. She may run to scratch on something as she anticipates her dinner being served or maybe after a tense encounter with a companion cat.

Scratch and Stretch

The ability to scratch effectively on an object is also a great way for a cat to fully stretch her body. She can sink her claws into an object and then stretch her back and shoulders. I don't know about your cat, but that fact that my cat, Pearl, will often sleep curled up in a shoebox must result in the need for a good stretch afterward.

Scratching is important

As you can see from the above, scratching is a vital part of being a cat and has nothing to do with willful destruction or disobedience. It all has to do with natural behavior that is beneficial to your cat's everyday life.

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Watch & Play

About Pam Johnson-Bennett

Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and best-selling author of seven books on cat behavior and training. Pam is one of the most well-known experts on cats and a pioneer in the field of behavior consulting. Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, LLC, a veterinarian-referred behavior practice in Nashville, TN. Her website is

More about Pam

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