Ask A Vet: Why Does My Cat Sharpen His Claws?

Everyone’s cat does the stretch-scratch posture. We have dubbed it “sharpening claws”, but there is more to it than that. Even cats that have no claws will still go through the scratching motions, so we know that it is ingrained in their brains and probably in their genes. If we realize that claw marking is a standard behavior for most felines, we can see that it is natural.

It can be destructive, and while we can try to channel and redirect it, we can never really eliminate it. What is the motivation for it? Why do they do this? As a matter of fact, there are many reasons for this behavior.

Image Source: RVADrewsPix via Flickr


Claw health

Sharpening claws and claw hygiene is one reason. The movement on a rough surface can smooth out rough edges of the nail, just like an emory board does for us. Your cat might not realize claw health is a reason why – he just feels driven to do it.

A chemical message for others

Scratching can be a form of pheromone (hormone) marking. Cats produce a marking chemical between their toes that releases when they flex their toes. The chemical can serve as a sign to other cats or animals that this is a territory boundary or that the area is occupied and claimed. The same chemical may also release when cats knead their toes. Cats can use chemical markers for other signals too. When your cat rubs his face on you, he is marking you with a happy chemical that signals you are safe.

A visible mark

Scratch marks in the wild can serve as visual markers of territory boundaries. Lions and other wild cats can use scratch marks as a “sign” in the mating search and to alert receptive females of their presence. Your cat may not be looking for a mate, but many of these behaviors are hard-wired in every cat.

Maybe it just feels good!

If you love to stretch when you yawn, you know how terrific it can feel. Yogis know that stretching is good for our brain chemistry and our overall sense of wellbeing. Cats do appear to be very content when they stretch.

Whatever the reason, all cats engage in some form of the scratch/stretch and it is a normal part of feline behavior. If your cat’s scratching is a problem for you or he is damaging your things, it is also damaging your bond with him. Instead of seeing the behavior as something you want to squelch, try to redirect it by offering him desirable options in great places, like near his food or convenient to where he sleeps. Be creative and try to figure out his favorite spot and put the appropriate object there. You can rub a little cat nip on it or even buy some Feliway® pheromone spray to make it more enticing.

Work WITH your cat’s natural tendencies and you can find harmony and even be entertained by his antics.

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