Why Do Cats Have Retractable Claws?

Kitty's claws allow him to hunt, climb and defend himself.
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There's one part of your Kitty that isn't so lovable: his claws. If he's scared or excited, those talons, normally hidden away, come into sight. While the destructive power of his claws can be annoying for pet parents, they are an integral part of Kitty's life.

Now You See Them, Now You Don't

While cat claws are often referred to as “retractable,” the term “protractable” is more appropriate. This is because the natural state of Kitty's claws is to be sheathed, or hidden away. His claw is attached to his final toe bone and is attached by an elastic ligament. If frightened or excited, his muscles will pull the tendons back and expose his claw.

He'll keep his claws sharp by scratching. This is instinctive, and cannot be stopped. Give him a sturdy scratching post and cover it in catnip. This will give him a place to scratch and destroy to his heart's content, and just might save your sofa. If Kitty's claws couldn't be sheathed, he'd turn into kitty Velcro. If you've seen a cat get hung in the curtains, you understand the gripping power of his claws.


One of the main reasons Kitty has such sharp claws is because he uses them for hunting. Kitty is a carnivore, which means he gets most of his nutrients by eating other animals. He'll use his claws to grab hold of prey, and keep them in his grip. They also provide traction when he runs. This is why cheetahs are the only species of cat who can't retract their claws. He'll use his claws to be able to chase and catch a meal.


Kitty is a superb climber. He's claws are perfect for gripping tree bark and allowing a quick ascent up a tall tree. Climbing into a tree is an excellent way to escape from a potential predator. If you look at his claws, you'll notice they curve backwards. While this is great for climbing up, it can make it hard for Kitty to climb back down. To get back down he'll have to go butt-first. Sometimes this can mean it may take him a little while to figure out the best way to get back down when he's headed skyward.


Claws are Kitty's first line of defense. When he's scared or pursued by a potential predator, he'll use his claws to fight them off. You should never declaw your cat. Not only is it painful and traumatic for Kitty, it could be a death sentence for him if he ever escapes outdoors. He may become the prey of a larger animal if he has no viable way to defend himself or the ability to climb to safety. He also won't be able to hunt properly and may go hungry. The best option is to start trimming his nails young so he doesn't mind the process. Ask his vet to show you how to safely trim his claws. This will keep you, your stuff and your furry friend safe.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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