How to choose a scratcher

What do a Maine Coon and a British Shorthair, a Ragdoll and a Chartreux, a Siberian and a Persian, a Siamese and a cute mixed-breed have in common? Differences between breeds – long hair or short, blue eyes or green or amber – are legion, but the fact remains that cats are domestic animals that adapted perfectly to life in apartment but need a scratcher in order to satisfy their natural felinity.

Why do cats need a scratcher?

Unlike other kinds of animals, such as dogs, cats have retractable claws, which are not consumed while walking. When cats sharpen their claws on your furniture, they do so instinctively: so it is useless to get angry and scold them. In fact, it is counterproductive, because chances are you will stress them – which will probably make them want to scratch even more. For cats, to scratch is to mark their territory, both visually and through olfaction (toe pads release feromons that make information, such as sex and age, available to other cats). While an important and pleasing experience for our pets – it gives them confidence and a sense of tranquillity – scratching is bad for our furniture: sofas, armchairs, chairs and carpets are all potential targets and risk susbtantial damage. The function of scratchers is to offer our pets an alternative place to vent their natural instinct and find moments of pleasure and relaxation. The scratcher is a home within home, a place a cat perceives as safe and comfortable. The scratcher is also a useful way of keeping our pet’s muscles toned and tendons healthy. It therefore contributes to our cat’s overall well-being.

How to choose a scratcher

There is a huge variety of scratchers on the market: for small cats and big, for kittens, with or without kennel, of different heights and widths, cheap and higher-quality, tubular or structured as towers – and so forth. You might also decide to build one. A scratcher, however, must be chosen very carefully: apart from such factors as appearance, cost and volume, we must make sure it has certain indispensible features.

First of all, a scratcher must be sufficiently tall as to allow your cat to stretch comfortably and fully by arching its back. The best scratching posts have several planes and platforms, allowing movement between different positions. Stability is a fundamental requirement: while climbing or sharpening its claws, your cat must feel safe. A wobbly scratching post – one that the cat feels might tip over – will make your pet lose interest for it permanently. A good scratcher must be realised with materials allowing claws to bite into – soft but sufficiently resistant as not to force you to buy a new scratcher every year.

How to make your cat use a scratcher

Are you aware of the fact that a cat scratcher is not superfluous, but a genuine necessity, and yet you are not sure your pet will use it? Here are some simple tricks to make sure an affectional bond come into existence between your pet and its scratcher – one stronger than that between your pet and your furniture.

If your pet is still very young, it will probably not have started to attack your furniture yet, and so it will be easier for it to get used to a scratcher. If it comes from a breeder, it will probably be used to it already. If your pet is older, though, you will have to arm yourself with a bit more patience: habits die hard.

The best thing we can do is to stimulate your pet with toys, such as balls and felts, in the vicinity of the scratching post, hoping that it will soon associate it with pleasure. We can also take our pet’s paws and invite it to scratch the pole – or mimic the gesture ourselves. We could also use some attractive substance: for example, we might rub some catnip on the sisal ropes to call our cat in a natural way. Finally, feeding our pet near the scratcher is a simple but effective way to teach it the importance of that place: it won’t be long before our pet wants to mark it – scratch it – as its own property.

Besides making the scratching post appealing to our pet, there are ways to discourage improper use of our sofas and armchairs. So we can use harmless, natural repelling substances wherever our pet likes to sharpen its claws, or we can cover the targeted areas with blankets (cats don’t like to scratch too soft a surface) – or produce an unpleasant experience (such as an acute sound or a splash of water) whenever our cat attacks the furniture.

Where to put a scratching post

You might be considering putting your new scratching post in an out-of-the-way part of your house, or even in a storage room. That is not the right choice, as your pet will never use it. It is crucial that the scratching post be placed where the family habitually is: your cat needs to be able to control its territory from a place it considers its property.

If your cat is adult and already used to scratching furniture, you will need initially to place the scratching post near its favourite target. You will then move it bit by bit – a few inches every day – as soon as your pet has started to use it, until you reach the desired position.

Provide our pets with a place they consider safe and fulfilling is a way to strengthen the affectional bond we have with them, and to make them happier and more balanced.