Adopting my wonderful senior cat, Pickles, is one of the best things I’ve ever done. She’s sweet and gentle, and she fit in with my other cats very quickly.
These precious senior cats have so much love to give, and yet they are the most overlooked when people adopt a new cat. When you decide to adopt an older kitty, you are giving a cat a home that he probably would never have had otherwise. And, in return, you get a kitty who is calm and peaceful — one who has already been through those high-energy, mischievous years and who knows her way to the litter box.
But you might be surprised, and confused, if your new friend decides to scratch your furniture or your rug, especially if this is the first cat you’ve ever had. Not to worry. There are a few simple steps you can take to discourage this unwanted behavior.
Why Cats Scratch
Although senior cats do it far less than their younger counterparts, scratching is part of every cat’s life, so understanding why cats scratch is important.
Using his nails helps your cat to strengthen the muscles in his paws, while at the same time shedding the outer layers of his claws to keep the nails fresh and clean.
Scratching is also how your cat claims territory — by using the scent glands in his paws to leave his mark. His new territory is your home, and your cat is staking his claim on the areas he likes, especially when he is new to the place and might be feeling insecure.
Also, it feels good to him when he scratches, and it’s not something a cat is likely to stop doing altogether.
Redirect Your Cat’s Scratching Urge
Should you find your senior cat clawing places you’d rather he didn’t, distract him by clapping your hands or throwing a toy for him to chase. Provide scratching posts, pads and boxes so you can redirect his urge to scratch to these appropriate places.
There are many different types of scratching posts available, so watch how your cat uses his claws so you can select the type that will best appeal to him. Choosing the right scratching post for your cat is important; otherwise, he won’t use it. Cats who like to claw your sofa would best enjoy a horizontal scratching post. If he is a rug scratcher, a flat vertical scratching pad or box would work best. A cat tree can serve double-duty by offering another place for your cat to scratch. You may also want to try different textures, such as rope, knobby fabric or cardboard, until you find the one he likes best.
Deciding where to place the scratching post is also important. It’s best to put it in a location that is central to the action in your home. Select a place where your cat likes to hang out with you and your family. If you hide it away in another room, chances are your cat won’t go out of his way to find and use it. Attract him to the scratching post using catnip, or by leading him toward it with a toy or treats. Whenever he uses his scratching post, give him praise and a yummy treat as a reward. Turn it into a positive and exciting experience for him, and he will happily repeat using the scratching post.
While you are providing your cat with good scratching places, you can deter him from clawing your furniture by covering sofas and chairs with plastic. This will make it difficult for your cat’s claws to take hold on the slippery surface. Using double-sided sticky tape on your chair and sofa edges will also cause your cat to avoid clawing those items, since cats don’t like the sticky feel on their feet. Spraying sofas and carpets with an orange-scented spray will also keep kitty away, since most cats do not like the smell of citrus.
Maintain Those Nails
Since senior cats don’t tend to scratch as much as younger cats, one of the best things you can do for him is to keep his nails trimmed. Clipping the nails regularly will prevent the nail from growing inward toward his paw pads, which can become very painful. It will also render his claws relatively harmless should your cat decide to scratch in an unwanted place. You can take your cat to a veterinarian or groomer to have them trimmed, or you can learn to do it yourself at home. If you’ve never clipped a cat’s nails before, ask your veterinarian to show you exactly how to cut the nail.
Beware Of Boredom
Boredom and insecurity in his new surroundings can also cause your cat to scratch your furniture and rugs, enabling him to release his pent-up energy and soothe his feelings of anxiety. Play with your cat daily to strengthen the bond between you, making him feel more confident and secure in his new home. You’ll soon find he has settled into his new life just like he’s always been a part of the family.
About the Author:
Rita is Owner and CEO of Just For Cats Pet Sitting, with locations in Beverly Hills, CA and Charlotte, NC. She also offers Feline Behavior Counseling and writes a Cat Behavior Blog at her website The Cat Analyst. Rita has always been drawn to animals, cats in particular. Much of her “cat magic” comes from her over 25-years of experience, Rita is currently working toward her PhD in Behavioral Psychology. She has also studied Feline Behavior and Psychology with Compass Education Ltd, and is a member of the Institute for Animal Care Education. Her Feline Behavior Counseling services help people better understand their cat companions and find solutions to issues that might otherwise cause a cat to be surrendered to a rescue or shelter.