We will start from the end: for owners, cat’s claws are not the most pleasant to associate with. Let’s face it. Who did not have scratched hands when trying to give medications, when combing or speaking about the devil trimming claws? Who did not feel these needles when the blissful cat decided to show his mood by kneading our knees? To whom did the cat not destroy even one thing? Every cat keeper knows what I’m talking about. Meanwhile, the cat’s claws play a very important role.
– hunting/for gripping
– method of communication
That’s a lot! Thanks to the claws, cats communicate with each other, leave on the scratched surfaces visual signs recognized by other cats, catch the prey, defend themselves, climb trees. Do you know the saying, that a cat is tiptoeing? Exactly! Even the delicate cat’s gait is partly due to the claws, which are the tip of the cat’s fingers. Without them, the cat would be deprived of many aspects important for both the cat’s health and behavior.
Why claws are hooked, what do they consist of, and do all cats have the same number?
The claw is a horny dead sheath covering the innervated, bloody core. The core consists of the bone and the so-called nail bed.
A typical cat has 18 claws. 5 on each front paw and 4 on the back. Sometimes there are cats with an additional number of ‘fingers’ (aka. beans). This condition is called polydactylism.
Where the cat’s finger so is the claw, because it is directly embedded in the bony tip of the distal bone phalanx. To make it more clear: the claw core includes a bone. This bone is covered with a skin of the claw, which usually can be gently moved away, which protects a very important place: the matrix. This is where the keratinization process, which makes the claw grow. Claws in the front paws also have special tendons, thanks to which the cat can retract them and extend when needed. Pure magic!
Since the bone is arcuate, and additionally and the upper part of the nail bed has higher activity this resembles in the shape of the claw as a hook or sickle, pick your flavor.
This is why the claw is evolutionary perfect for scratching sofa’s and armchair’s corners. So much for the theory, and how can we use this knowledge in practice?
Clipping of the claws
When trimming the claws, we only shorten the dead part, avoid like the plague the pink, innervated shaft. For a better visibility, I recommend removing the claw completely from the skin shaft by gently pressing the pad.
It’s best to cut with special scissors or guillotine claw clippers.
Getting used to the touch
If the cat has no problems with trimming its claws – either you are lucky and you have an angel-cat, or you are a very wise owner and you were able to adopt your cat to this process when he was young. It’s definitely much easier this way. If you were are unlucky or the adaptation process when not so purrfect how you can get do your cat used claw trimming?
You are waiting for the moment when he is relaxed and gently the pads, btw. offering the cat a healthy treat. If the cat does not object during the hand-paw interaction, you can proceed to cut the claws, don’t forget the treat at the end. Thanks to this, your pet will connect the fact that actions involved with paws and claws are nothing but pleasures.
However, if your cat turns into a small but dangerous little beasty during this activity, I highly recommend the method called the cat burrito aka. purrito – where you wrap the cat in a bath towel or blanket. Thanks to this, we will significantly reduce sudden moves which can be harmful both for you and the cat. You take such growling purrito on your knees, and one by one pull out the paws and carefully cut the tips of the claws. However, if your fluffy Mexican cuisine dish resists and tries to bite you there is a tip. You must include in the procedure an additional assistant with treats for the cat. We do this with The Director, literally putting freeze-dried meat under his nose. He consumes fiercely while munching and snarling, but it gives me a split-second sufficient to do what we need to do.
We do not recommend using your hands, paper clips, underwear, etc. to “grab the cat by the neck like a mother.” It is supposed to immobilize the cat and “it’s soo natural because the mother did the same with her offspring”. Seriously? If someone tried to do something that your mother used to do with mini-you, would you be happy? Washing your bum? Uuu, not ok? Pretty far from ok, I think, neither we are small nor the person is our mother. It’s the same with cats. You are not a cat, you cannot adjust the grip strength to the situation, and your cat is not a small kitty. These types of behavior will not evoke positive associations with you or the clipping.
We also do not recommend beating, intimidating or to follow advice to “gently squat on a cat”. Probably no one would like to be sat on in stressful situations. Even with extreme caution. Also, none of us would like to have scratches on the bum when the cat decides to show his dissatisfaction on our gentleness. For squatting on the cat we say a loud NO!
Claw caps and madness of amputation (declawing).
This is a topic of great importance, which deserves a separate article. Both ways to eliminate scratching associated problems are far from being recommended, to put it mildly. The silicone claw covers are very easy to be inserted in the wrong way, so no wonder the cat will not accept them. It happens that the glue causes allergies, and swallowed cap will cause serious problems with the digestive tract.
For cats, nail amputation means nothing less than bone amputation. Thanks to this article, you know why claws are so important to cats, so you can guess that their permanent removal will cause a lot of behavioral problems. We can name just a few like urine and feces at home, increased frustration, and aggression. Peer-reviewed studies show that permanent pain will occur after such surgery. Is the new sofa worth it? It is no wonder that in the US where declawing (onychectomy) is still a common procedure some states banned this treatment. Let’s hope that more legislators will follow this trend.
Do all cats need claw trimming?
The answer may surprise you: definitely not. We only clip claws of stay at home pets, going out to catios or under supervision: in braces. If we let our cat roam free during daytime (which we don’t recommend by the way), we simply cannot deprive cats of the ability to defend or climb. In their case, the claws can save lives.
Can look of the claws be a sign of a disease?
The dead part of the claw consists of a protein – keratin and numerous elements: zinc, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, phosphorus, sodium, etc. If something is wrong with the health, it will affect the condition of the claws.
A dead claw sheath that falls off once every few months, which you can find on a cat scratching post, is nothing wrong, however, crumbling, excessively flaky claws can indicate:
– nutrient deficiencies,
– hormonal imbalance (hyperthyroidism),
– metabolic disorders,
– autoimmune diseases,
– immuno-dependent diseases,
– systemic diseases (chronic liver, kidney, diabetes).
Sometimes, despite the lack of systemic disease, you can notice that the claw or its surroundings is in bad shape. The pathologies of this region can be divided into diseases of the claw skin shaft and the diseases of the claw itself.
The most common causes of claw problems are primary and secondary bacterial and fungal infections, mechanical and thermal injuries, etc., tumor tissue growths, hormonal changes, immune deficiencies, and birth genetic defects.
If you have noticed that the area of one or more claws is:
– baldness appeared,
– something is oozing,
– scabs appeared
and the claw:
– changed the color,
– begins to crack,
– is distorted
go to the vet as soon as possible! In some cases, delaying treatment results not only in unnecessary pain but can also lead to the development of osteomyelitis!
Here, special attention is given to people who take care of elderly cats. Older animals are characterized by reduced activity, and therefore less frequent use of the cat tree and play less. In this case, the claw inspection is extremely important because cats are not able to control the length of the claws by abrasion.
I hope that the above article has helped you better understand your cat’s needs. Hope that some suggested tricks will make your and the cat’s life easier. If you have any other interesting ways for stress-free cat care – let us all know.
– Debra M. Eldredge, Delbert G. Carlson , Liisa D. Carlson, James M. Giffin, Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, 3rd Edition, New Jersey 2008
– Krzysztof Głowacki, Choroby pazurów i wału skórnego pazura psów i kotów, [w:] Medycyna Weterynaryjna, 55 (10), 1999
-Keith A. Hnilica, Dermatologia małych zwierząt, Wrocław 2014
– Dominique G Homberger, Kyungmin Ham i inni, The structure of the cornified claw sheath in the domesticated cat (Felis catus): implications for the claw-shedding mechanism and the evolution of cornified digital end organs, [w:] Journal of Anatomy, kwiecień 2009r
– Kvetoslava Mahelkova, Koci doktor czyli kot w zdrowiu i chorobie, Łódź 2007
– Sabine Schroll, Joel Dehasse, Zaburzenia zachowania kotów, Wrocław 2018
-Dawid Ratajczak, Jak wytresować kota [EN: How to tame your cat], Kraków 2015r