How to cope with cat scratching needs | SierraSun.com

How to cope with cat scratching needs

Dawn ArmstrongSpecial to the Sun

Thinkstockphotos.comCat scratching is natural stress reliever, stretching motion and a great way to freshen up the claws.

TAHOE, Calif. andamp;#8212;Cats scratch. Itandamp;#8217;s a natural behavior required for mental and physical health and for communication. If you have been curious or frustrated andamp;#8212; or both andamp;#8212; by this feline trait, read on.The mental benefits of scratching include dealing with both stress and pleasure. As the catandamp;#8217;s purr can signal contentment or pain, so scratching can relieve anxiety and express pleasure, like greeting you or kneading your lap. The physical benefits for the cat include the scratching stretch which loosens muscles. In addition, as nails grow and die, the old dead claw sheath needs to be removed. Scratching accomplishes this. Scratch marks and paw scent telegraph to other cats that the territory is taken.From these facts it is easy to understand how declawing, in addition to the acute pain as if a human finger joint was removed, creates psychological problems for the cat. After the pain of the surgery is gone, a declawed cat is likely to resort to biting because he or she has no natural claw defense. Declawed cats commonly become fearful, cannot tolerate having their paws touched, and chew on their truncated feet. Living with scratching is straightforward. Cats can be trained. Cats can be directed to scratch in the acceptable places, avoiding the furniture.First, select a post and a covering which satisfies the cat. Carpet is problematic because not only can claws get caught in carpet, but also a carpet cover indicates that anything with carpet is OK to pull on. Most cats prefer rough surfaces like sisal rope or corrugated cardboard fitted trays which can be mounted on a wall or simply placed on the floor. A good way to judge how high a scratching post should be or where a device should be mounted is to observe the height your cat reaches out to stretch. Then, make sure a scratching post is sturdy, with a wide enough base to support the height and handle your catandamp;#8217;s weight against it. Once the right type of device and material are chosen, find a good location. It should be safely out of high traffic areas as well as accessible. Acquire multiple scratching posts or pad devices for multiple cats. The cardboard tray types are inexpensive and can be placed anywhere your cat needs a scratching substitute for an undesirable surface.If the cat does not naturally use the post or cardboard tray, try these training tips. Remember that food rewards are magic when you want your cat to do what your cat wants to do where you want the cat to do it. Avoid forcing the cat to place his or her paws on the material. Instead, scratch it yourself to make a sound that attracts cats. Reward for imitating you. Use a cat dancer or like toy to lead the cat to and over the scratching surface. You can put the post on its side for this. Put it upright once kitty realizes what a cool thing the post is. The idea is to get the cat to discover on his or her own that this is a great scratching surface. Of course, the all time number one feline attraction is fresh catnip rubbed anywhere, including a scratching post. If an existing post has lost itandamp;#8217;s appeal, try this as well. Cat specialist Pam Johnson, certified animal behavior consultant and author, offers additional insights at http://www.catbehaviorassociates.com.Cats are amazing, limber creatures. Watching yours stretch and exercise is fascinating and suggests good practice for maintaining human agility. Understand your catandamp;#8217;s needs and provide for them with just a little time, kindness and compassion. The benefits are mutual.andamp;#8212; Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals to help andamp;#8220;Keep Tahoe Kind.andamp;#8221; Dawn Armstrong is the executive director of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA.