Pheromones: A Secret Language Just for Cats
Pheromones are chemical messages that cats use to interact with the world around them. These “messages” are released from special glands around their bodies. These glands can be found in your cat’s chin, lower ears, forehead, cheeks, tail, rear, back, and paw pads. Pheromones have no odor and cannot be detected by humans or dogs! They are only perceived by other cats.
So… what is my cat talking about?
You may have watched your cat rub or bump against objects (or even you!). Cats use this behavior, called marking, for a variety of reasons. For example, if your cat comes across a new object in your home, after inspecting it, your cat may rub against it to leave the message “this object is safe”. Other messages may include marking territory to keep other cats away, to enhance bonding with family cats, to self sooth, to signal happiness, and more.
What does this have to do with their claws?
Just as your cat uses facial or body rubbing to leave messages, your cat may use its claws! This is a totally normal and natural behavior. When a cat scratches, they deposit pheromones onto the object they’re scratching. These pheromones come from tiny glands on all four of your cat’s feet, called interdigital glands, that give off a strong scent when the paw is stretched and the claws are extended. All cats want to feel secure in their homes, and marking their territory helps them feel reassured that the area is safe.
Okay… but my cat is leaving “messages” on my brand-new leather couch!
Your cat will often have favorite areas to scratch – unfortunately, those areas may be doorways or furniture. Don’t worry! There are lots of easy ways to redirect destructive scratching! Try placing a scratching post close to the area your cat is scratching. Research has shown that cats highly favor scratching cardboard, but other materials, such as rope or carpet, may also appeal to your cat. It is important to try a variety of surfaces – cats are unique individuals with unique likes and dislikes. Lots of cats love a big stretch when they first wake up, just like we do! Cats will often stretch their entire bodies while they scratch, which makes a taller vertical or slanted post highly appealing. Try placing one near where your cat rests to give them a great way to wake up! Another location to try is near the entryway or doorstep for territorial marking. Other ways you can discourage furniture scratching include placing sticky tape on it, keeping your cats nails regularly trimmed to reduce damage, and applying Soft Paws (small rubber caps that cover the tips of the cat’s nails).
What are artificial pheromones?
Now that we’ve talked about pheromones and scratching, it’s easy to understand the link between the two. There are a few amazing products that have helped to better understand and engage with our cats’ unique form of communication. Feliway is an artificial pheromone that comes in the form of a diffuser or a spray. It is a synthetic copy of the facial pheromones that cats use to mark their territory as safe and secure! A stressed-out cat is sure to scratch and mark more often, desperately trying to write “I’m safe! I’m safe!” on everything. Using Feliway products in your home can help reduce your cat’s anxiety by encouraging facial rubbing as a more desirable marking behavior. They can also reduce scratching, hiding, stress, and even improper litterbox usage.
Feliway has even created a pheromone specifically designed to target scratching! Feliscratch is an artificial pheromone that sends a “territory” message that attracts cats to scratch in the location it is applied. Try spraying Feliway on the area the cat has currently been scratching, to mark it as an area that is “safe” and does not need to be made “safer” by scratching it! Pair a great scratching post with Feliscratch and Feliway, and your cat will redirect their scratching to the appropriate area. Give us a call if you have any questions, or for a customized plan for your cat’s individual needs. These are just a few of the many ideas we have to share – we would be happy to help you incorporate this into your household!
What about declawing my cat?
Declawing is a surgery in which the distal phalanges, or end bones, of the animal’s toes are amputated. Declawing can be a painful and risky procedure, not to mention expensive! Declawing cats may also lead to an increase in behaviors such as aggression and destructiveness. As there are so many economical and risk-free ways to address scratching, we do not recommend declawing your cat. We do, however, offer behavioral consults to tackle individual problems. If you are struggling to find a solution to improper scratching, please feel free to give us a call, and we will work with you to help you and your cat find harmony together!