Cats certainly are mysterious creatures – ever wonder why they do what they do, or how? Since cats don’t have fingers or thumbs like humans, they find ways to use their paws and mouth for everyday functions.

One of the best tools cats have are their claws. Behold, a secret glimpse into cat claws from health, their uses, to purposes.

Health

One of the most basic reasons our kitties scratch at our couches, counters, carpet and more is for the health of the nail itself. The nail bed is alive and rich with blood and new cells. Nails grow because the new cells force the old cells out from the body – creating the length.

When cats scratch, they are thinning out the nail by shaving off the dead cells on the outer layer. This sharpens the nail and also prevents the outer layer from splintering and causing the cat pain.

If the nail is unable to be trimmed by scratching or trimming, it will continue to grow uncontrolled. Cat’s nails grow in a curved line, as I am sure you have noticed. When the line continues uninterrupted it can grow back in towards the paw and reconnect  with the paw.

If the nail is allowed to grow that far it can penetrate through the pad which would cause extreme pain for your cat. Even the removal of such a nail would be painful and would open the entire paw for infection. Sharpening and trimming the nail through scratching is an important part of your cat’s health!

Uses

Your kitty’s nails are used in every aspect of their day such as protection, playing, and even stretching. As important as it is for their nails to be healthy, a great way to encourage that is with a scratching post. Cats will scratch at whatever is available, so if a designated area is not provided they will scratch on any surface that will scrape off the top layers of their nail.

Great surfaces are carpet, your couch, or even wooden cabinets; it is much better for everyone involved if they have a specific place to scratch so they do not ruin your furniture.

For fun, a scratching post or even a stuffed animal allows them to play and sharpen their nails. As natural hunters, cats like to swat as they play and that usually involves using their nails. This allows them to hold onto toys or get a good grip on whatever they are playing with. Having sharp nails that are thinned out and healthy allow for just that.

Nails are even used during stretching, which is important for their muscles. Since cats cannot hold onto something for traction during stretching, they hold onto carpet or even a jacket hanging off the back of a chair to grip for a full stretch.

And of course they use their nails as a defense mechanism. Sharp weapons at the end of your arm can certainly be a useful device when cornered or scared. The sharper they are, the more damage they can cause. As you can see your cat’s nails have many purposes.

Behaviors

So with these multifunctional tools called nails, what other purpose do they serve? Have you ever noticed your cat scratching at other objects that didn’t seem to make sense, like the floor around their food or water bowl or the door entry to a room?

The soft fleshy part under their paw, called the pad, has scent glands that release a tiny odor called pheromones unique to each cat. When a cat scrapes its paw along a surface it is leaving behind a scent other cats can smell; it is like taking a marker and writing your name all over your favorite things.

When you see your cat scratching the area around their food bowl or even a toy, the behavior is not so much mocking a burial, but spreading their scent around the object so other cats know to keep their distance. In this way, scratching is a way to claim their territory. Even cats who have been declawed can be seen scratching around the area they deem to be their property.

When it comes to the litter box, there are several scratching behaviors to be acknowledged. Cats naturally take to covering their feces in sand, dirt, or litter – even without instruction. Cats in the wild cover their messes to avoid detection of predators and competitors of their habitat. Scratching over their feces and urine is another habit that helps to protect your cat. It is also rumored that covering feces prevents the spread of parasites in the waste, although that has not been confirmed.

Another issue with covering cat’s messes in the litter box is dominance. When you are the dominant being in your household, your cat is respectful of you by covering their mess. If your cat is the only feline in your house, they do not feel the need to compete for dominance with anyone else so they behave as normal.

However if you have a cat with attitude or a multiple cat household, there is a possibility that cats will compete with dominance by not covering their mess. This is an example of disrespect and trying to mark their territory. If your cat only occasionally leaves his mess uncovered then it is not an issue, but if your cat repeatedly leaves his mess uncovered, after previously covering it, he may be fighting for dominance with you or another cat.

It is also common that the cat who does not cover his mess will scratch outside the litter box or in the doorway of the room with the litter box in it. This is also to mark his territory as previously discussed with scent marking. It has also been suggested by vets that cats may scratch outside the litter box if they are unhappy with the litter or the cleanliness of their litter box.

It should also be noted – cats can scratch to itch!  We all have itches needing scratching, cats are no exception.

As always, try to be aware of the conditions and any changes with your cat and his habits so you can better understand your cat’s needs and methods of communication through scratching.  After all, you now know their signs!

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