Don’t throw out that old, well-scratched cat tree just yet! It might be the best way to help keep your kitty from scratching things you don’t want her to.
Cat scratchers come in all shapes and sizes, and enhancing their attractiveness to your cat so that she prefers scratching there instead of scratching on your sofa can be frustrating when you don’t know how to get her to get started using a beautiful, new cat tree you just brought into the house. A new study may have unlocked one of the keys: pheromones.
A team from Texas Tech led by professor John McGlone used kittens to test various cat scratchers to determine which one cats preferred and why. The study offered horizontal scratchers, vertical scratchers, and scratchers with all kinds of substances, even bubble wrap. They found that the kittens preferred cardboard scratchers in an S shape over the others offered.
Even more interesting, the study looked more closely at what attracted the kittens to the scratchers by putting various substances on the favored S-shaped scratchers. The results suggested that what really attracts cats to scratchers is pheromones left by cats who scratched there before, which trigger a social response for the next cat who encounters it to scratch the scratcher to mark it, too.
While catnip oil attracted some attention to the scratchers, kittens clearly preferred scratchers that were previously used by other kittens. Each subsequent kitten that used the same scratcher used it for longer and longer, suggesting that the pheromones left by the previous kittens were attracting the new kitten to it.
The researchers say that the next step is to determine exactly which pheromone impacts cat behavior. Once it is isolated thorough organic chemistry and animal behavior work, it can be applied to scratchers to attract cats and help keep your furniture safer from cat claws.
One day soon, there may be a scratcher attractant spray. Until then, you might want to think twice about throwing away your cat’s favorite scratcher, even if it’s looking a little tired. That might be the best way to be sure that your kitty is going to return to it again and again.
Reference and further reading:
ASDA-ASAS Joint annual meeting, Evidence for a cat pheromone that modulates kitten scratching
Raelene Gutierrez on Flickr