Many people think cats scratch to sharpen their claws, which is only partially true. Scratching actually removes the outer portion of the claw called the sheath, which exposes a new, sharp tip. If you’re like me, you may have found a sheath once upon a time in your carpet and become alarmed. Me: “Oh no! My poor cat’s claw fell off!” (Runs to check on cat, and then to Google). “Whew, that’s not my cat’s claw, only the sheath.” Once you understand this natural feline process of “shedding” the sheath, it’s rather fascinating and no cause for concern.

Another reason cats scratch is as a form of communication…. they scratch to mark their turf, if you will. Cats have scent glands on their paws, and scratching leaves a scent as well as visible claw marks that send a message to other cats. The message is something akin to “This is mine! Intruder beware.” Cats also scratch for exercise, to stretch their bodies, and to relieve stress. It’s a perfectly natural behaviour that feels good to them. And as you probably already know, all cats subscribe to the motto “If it feels good, do it.”

Establishing Good Scratching Habits

Having scratching posts available in different rooms of your home will ensure that when the urge to scratch strikes, your cat won’t get in trouble for going to town on your carpet or furniture. No one wants that. The cat just needs to scratch, and encouraging good scratching habits will go a long way toward saving your belongings from razor sharp kitty claws. Keep in mind that it’s much easier to train your cat to scratch on his post than to re-train him after he’s developed a habit of scratching up your favourite chair.

Encouraging Your Cat to Scratch

Admittedly, even with multiple scratching posts around the home, some naughty cats will still try out their scratching moves on your carpet or furniture. They may do it stealthily or openly. When you catch them in the act, it’s important not to punish them for scratching. Cats simply don’t understand punishment, and all it does is create a negative association with the act of scratching.

Remember, scratching is a natural behaviour. So if you see them working over your carpet, redirect them to their scratching post, and praise and pet them if they start scratching it. Cats don’t respond quite as happily to praise like dogs do, but you probably won’t have any CANIDAE treats handy (because really, who carries cat treats in their pocket?). So when redirecting them, copious praise and petting will have to do.

You can, however, use the cat treats at other times to lure them to the scratching post, and as a reward for using it. Shake the treat bag to get their attention, and when you see that they’ve noticed, place a few treats on the post. This will get your message across – “scratch here, kitty” – and create a positive association with the scratching post.

You can also use toys to draw your cat over to the scratching post. Get them interested in playing with the toy as you slowly move towards the post. Once there, move the toy around on top of the post, so that when your cat chases the toy their paws come in contact with the post. A word of caution: it’s best to use the fishing-pole type of toys for this, to avoid your cat accidentally clawing your hand.

Many cats love catnip, and sprinkling it liberally – and often – on the scratching post will attract them to it.

Location, Location, Location!

Yes, just like with real estate, the location of your scratching post matters. Put posts in the rooms used most by your cat, so they don’t have to go out of their way to find one when they feel like scratching. Don’t put the scratching post in the back bedroom, the closet or another out of the way place, because it’s highly unlikely your cat will use it there. Out of sight, out of mind.

Training your cat to use a scratching post takes time, patience, and a nice supply of the aforementioned cat treats, a.k.a. the “lures.” In time, you should be able to establish good scratching habits even if your cat has a bit of a naughty streak.

Cats are skilled masters at finding warm, sunny spots, but they still need a bit of help in winter. Here are some tips that will keep your feline friend happy and cosy in the colder months ahead.

1. Food requirements

In winter cats conserve energy by sleeping more. They also tend to go outside less than usual, and this means less activity and exercise. Their diet may need to be adjusted so that they don’t pick up weight. Visit your veterinarian to determine what your cat’s unique food requirements are for winter.

2. Let the light in

Cats love basking in the sun, especially in winter. Keep your curtains open during the day so there are as many warm patches as possible in your home.

3. Cosy beds

Your cat will thank you with lots of purrs and snuggles if you invest in an igloo-type bed – this keeps out drafts and the chilled air. Add a warm, fluffy blanket inside for the ultimate sleeping toasty sleeping spot. For an extra spoil, warm up a bean bag for the really cold nights (avoid hot water bottles – those claws can cause a nasty accident).

4. Heaters and fireplaces

Cats love lounging in the warmest spots in the house. Unfortunately, they also have a knack getting themselves into dangerous situations when they venture too close to the heat, so never leave them unsupervised if you have a fire going or the heater on.

5. Slippery play areas

Rain and ice can make balcony areas and high walls that are usually easy to navigate a real hazard. If you live in a high-rise building, it is safest to keep your cat indoors. After it has rained, or if there is a bit of frost on surfaces like railings, wipe them down before you let your cat out to play.

6. Car danger

There are sadly a lot of injuries – and even deaths – when cats sneak unnoticed into warm car engines. Always check that you know where your cat is before you start your car, and it’s worth doing a quick check under your bonnet for your neighbour’s cats too.

7. Golden Oldies

Cold weather makes old bones feel stiff and sore, so if your cat already has arthritis they will feel it even more in winter. If you don’t already give your senior cat a joint supplement to lubricate her joints, winter is the perfect time to start.

Provide different levels for your cat to sleep and play on. Just because she can reach her favourite high spot at the window in summer, doesn’t mean she can in winter. Those sore joints mean less movement and agility.

8. Body warmth

Even the least affectionate and aloof cats tend to want to cuddle more in winter – far more snug than a hot water bottle, this purring sleeping partner will keep all your winter blues away!

A final note: feral or homeless cats live in SA’s parks, factories and streets. Life is always tough for them, but especially so in the cold, wet winter months. If you see a cat this winter that has just given birth, is injured, sick or starving, please get in touch with our TEARS Feral Cat Project as soon as possible – or 021 785 4482.