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  • Writer's pictureSieske Valk

How to get your elderly cat to start using the scratching post again

As your feline friend is getting older, their scratching post needs to change.

Whether at a younger age, they would go outdoors more often and climb trees or stay indoors and scale sofas, doors, and jeans, they would use their razor-sharp claws to get a grip and hunt prey.

When life is slowing down for your kitty, so do their scratching habits. This often results in nails that are too long, too thick or both, which can lead to painful ingrown nails. And cats being cats, won’t show the pain they are in, giving the nail more time to grow deeper.

In a previous post, I discussed how to cut your cat’s nails in a way that the nail doesn’t grow too thick. In this post, I will discuss how to prevent the nail from growing too thick or too long in the first place.

First, let’s explore why your cat needs a surface to scratch their claws on. It’s not just for maintaining little daggers on every digit, to kill prey on their way.

Cats also scratch surfaces to stretch their bodies. When they use a vertical, or upright scratching post, they can lengthen their whole body, from neck to back paws. This is why they need a solid scratching post, not the flimsy kind that topples over the moment your cat touches it. Not only do they need it to be a hefty object, but it’s even better if the scratching post is attached to the ground or wall, to ensure the thing won’t come crashing down, resulting in your cat never looking at it again and opting for your sofa instead.

Cat hugging scratching post shaped like a cactus
Cute but very ineffective scratching post

For the cat to relieve itself from the nail husks around the tiny daggers, they need a scratching surface to create enough traction, like sisal rope or softwood.

Have you ever noticed that cats love to scratch doorposts or the wallpaper on corners? Cats have scent glands around their paws. Just as them peeing against bushes and surfaces, or rubbing their cheeks against your legs, they use their paws to let other cats know a territory or object is theirs.

That’s a reason why your cat will use the scratching post more frequently if it is placed in a pathway, e.g., the pathway from the lounge to the garden. If you hide their scratching post in a corner of the room because you think it’s ugly, the cat will likely not use it and find other scratching opportunities instead.

So, what happens when a cat gets a bit older? Older mammals tend to get osteoarthritis, and cats are no different. This painful degenerative disease affects their joints and makes certain movements painful. The muscle mass decreases in their backside, giving them less strength to stand up and fully stretch out. On top of allopathic and complementary pain relief and manual therapy, we also need to make environmental adjustments for our furry friends.

In terms of the scratching post, we can do the following:

Give your elderly cat vertical and horizontal scratching posts

Some cats get very sore hips and can’t be bothered to stand up against their scratching post anymore due to the discomfort. This will not only influence their nails but also their whole body because they fail to stretch. Their body gets increasingly stiffer, and their connective tissues get less mobile, which will create other painful problems in the body.

Often, you’ll see that a cat that has topped using their vertical scratching post is very happy to use one they can stand on, such as a simple scratching plank with sisal, a doormat made of coconut husks, a cardboard scratching pod or a rug or piece of carpet. With these opportunities, we again want to make sure they are sturdy and don’t move too much when they’re clawing away at the fabric.

Give your older cat different material options for scratching

I already touched upon this in the previous paragraph, but sisal is not the only material that feels good on the cat’s nails. If their paws and toes are a bit more sensitive due to osteoarthritis or an accident, sisal might be too rough on their nails. Cardboard is a perfect, gentle material and there’s a plethora of cardboard scratching boards that look nice enough. However, sometimes a flattened cardboard box will do the trick just fine.

Other materials are doormats made of coconut husks, carpets, and rugs.

Allow for grip around the scratching post

Do not place the scratching board, whether it has a vertical or horizontal orientation on a slippery surface. As mentioned before, you want the object to be as immovable as possible Whether that means it’s large enough for the cat to stand on it completely or it is placed on a piece of carpet, so they have more grip with their hindlegs, find a way to make the scratching post stuck for it to be as enjoyable and Moorish for your cat as possible. You’ll see that once they get into the feel, they’ll go at the thing with a furious concentration you haven’t seen in years.

Place various scratching posts and boards where your cat spends a lot of time

Don’t place the scratching post in a corner of the bedroom because you think it doesn’t suit your décor.

Your cat needs to have a scratching opportunity available, preferably in every room. For instance, in our lounge, we have a floor-to-ceiling post, that is attached to the wall and has a doormat beneath it for grip. And there’s a horizontal scratching board placed on a rug made of plant-based material. Then we have a carpeted bedroom with a large pillar our cat uses ferociously and sometimes even hangs upside down from. Depending on how sensitive his legs feel, our cat Lewis has ample opportunity to give himself a good scratch and stretch and sharpen his claws wherever he chooses to spend his time, before going outdoors.

The scratching posts are not the prettiest pieces to have in your lounge, but they keep your kitty happy and healthier, which is worth more than a stylish home.

Bonus tip 1: Help your cat get used to the feeling of scratching again

So, you have placed various scratching opportunities in all the rooms your cat loves to spend time in, and they refuse to use them. They look at it, they look at you and walk away again. It might just be they have forgotten how to use the objects, or worse, they remember how sore they felt the last time they tried stretching their body with it.

Gently take their front paws and rub them against the scratching surface. Maybe even press their nails out a bit and do the scratching movement for them. Once they get the feel for the surface again and notice it’s a sturdy and enjoyable feel, they’ll get on the bandwagon quickly.

Bonus tip 2: Keep an eye on the nails of the hindlegs

When cats are younger, they can sharpen the nails of their back paws by biting them. Sore hips and backs will limit the range of movement, causing them to spend less time grooming their behind and back paws. This is why, despite making all these adjustments, we still need to keep an eye out for the nails on the back paws. Use the tips given in this blog post to maintain those nails to lessen the discomfort in their hind legs.

I hope that with these tips, you’ll be able to get your elderly cat to start using their scratching post again. Just like a regular yoga session works wonders on our ageing body, scratching will have the same beneficial effects on your cats' bodies. You’ll start noticing a new passion for life, once they feel that surface under their pads and who knows, might even be able to be enticed by a cheeky pat at a toy!

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