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Posted by on Jul 15, 2016 in Tell Me Why |

Why Do Cats Retract Their Claws?

Why Do Cats Retract Their Claws?

Cats retract their claws in order to keep them sharp for catching mice and other prey. A cat has a special movable joint at the end of its toes that enables the claws to move in and out. The claws move out when they are needed.

When not in use, the cat conceals its claws in little sheaths on its toes and walks softly on the pads of its feet. Claws that can be pulled back so that the sharp points are protected are called retractile claws. Cats sharpen their claws by raking them on furniture and tree trunks to remove any ragged edges on the claws.

Most cats have five clawed digits on their front paws and four or five clawed digits on their rear paws. Some cats may have more clawed digits as a result of a mutation called polydactylism. The fifth front clawed digit is proximal and is called the “dewclaw.” This thumb-like digit provides better grip and traction while playing or climbing.

The claws on the front paws are usually sharper than the ones on the hind feet. A cat’s claws are curved, which helps them to hold onto prey. The curved claw also comes in handy when they’re climbing. Unfortunately, the curved design can also be problematic if the claws get tangled. This can cause injury to the cat if he can’t free himself.

Cats have retractable claws. Normally when the cat and his paws are relaxed, the claws are retracted, sheathed with the skin and fur around the toe pads. This helps keep the nails sharp since it cuts back on the wear from contact with the ground and other surfaces. It also allows a cat to walk silently, which is especially helpful when stalking prey.

A cat can voluntarily extend his claws on one or more paws. The cat’s claws may be used for scratching an itch, hunting, self-defense, climbing, kneading, and for extra traction.

Like human fingernails, claws grow throughout a cat’s life. Consequently, they need some attention and maintenance. Most cats take care of this while using their teeth to pull at the rear claw sheaths, which reveal new, sharp claws underneath. For the front claws, they generally scratch on something, or hook their claws into a material to pull the old sheaths off.

Content for this question contributed by Tom Purtell, resident of Library, South Park Township, Pennsylvania, USA