Why does my cat tear at the fabric of my furniture?:
The first thought is that our cats are sharpening their claws, but this is not true in the sense of
sharpening a knife. Instead, the cat is removing the outer layer, or sheath, of the claw to reveal
the new, sharp claw underneath. Essentially, the outer claw layer is shed. Sometime we'll find
what looks like a claw and worry that our cat has accidently torn out its claw. But that is not what
has happened -- we have found the outer claw layer that was ready to come off.
Cats don't do this "stropping" (as it is called) with the hind feet. They chew off the outer layers
of the hind claws.
Another function of the stropping is the exercising and strengthening of the retraction and protrusion
apparatus of the claws to keep them in prime condition.
A third function is that of scent-marking. The cat has scent glands on the underside of the front
paws. During stropping, these glands release a tiny bit of scent, depositing the cat's personal
signature. This is why furniture that we sit in the most tends to get the most "attention". Our
cats are responding to our personal fragrance and adding their own to it. And this is why scratching
posts are sometimes ignored.
Also, if a cat has already established a favorite location for stropping, it can be very difficult to
get him or her to change the location.
[Aside from the Editor: When I first set up my furniture in my living room, I waited until my cat picked
a couple of spots that she liked for stropping, and I bought scratching "posts" and put them right in
front of the
furniture. Fortunately, I have a casual living room so the scratching posts don't look too out of
place. Also, I purchased "posts" that were large (12 inch diameter) cylinders covered with
this carpet that my cat cannot resist. The brand was called Claw-Tuff and I don't know if they
can still be bought. My cat has really loves these Claw-Tuffs and has left my furniture alone.]
Source: Catwatching, by Desmond Morris, Crown Publishers,
Inc., New York, 1986, pp. 21-23.