Cat claws – 101 – critical information which every cat owner should know.

Let’s start from the end – for the owners, cat’s claws are not the most pleasant to cooperate with. Who haven’t been scratched when trying to give medications, during combing or trimming claws? Most of us got blessed with these “needles” when the happy cat wanted to find a peaceful place to sleep on our knees? To whom did the cat not destroy even one thing? Let’s face it. Every cat keeper knows what I’m talking about. But the claws play a very important role in the life our beloved-ones.

Claw functions

– defensive and offensive
– hunting and gripping
– a method of communication
– nursing,
– for support and movement

For instance claws are used by cats for communication with each other – they leave scratches on surfaces for visual signs which are recognized by other cats. They can also catch the prey, defend themselves, climb trees. Do you know the saying, that a cat is tiptoeing? Exactly! Even the silent and gentle cat’s movement 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 curved, and additionally and the upper part of the nail bed has higher mitotic activity this is the reason that claw looks like a hook or sickle. The claw is evolutionary purrrfect 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 must only cut the dead part and avoid the pink, innervated shaft. For a better visibility, I higly 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, have an angel-cat, or you are a very wise owner! to adopt your cat to this process when he/she was young. It’s definitely with young kittens. If you was unlucky or the adaptation process was a little bit bumpy, how you can get your cat used to claw trimming?

You should wait for the moment when the cat is relaxed, you can try to gently touch the paws, in the same time offering the cat a healthy snack. If the cat has no objections during the hand-paw interaction, you can proceed to trim the claws, don’t forget give your rascal a snack 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 beast 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, sudden moves we will significantly reduced, struggling is dangerous 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 Tex-Mex “dish” resists and tries to bite you, there is a tip! You must include in the procedure an additional assistant which supplies the cat with treats. We do this with our 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.


Forbidden things!

We do not recommend using your hands, large paper clips, underwear (sic!) 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. It is not OK! 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? Gladly in the US where declawing (onychectomy) is still a common procedure, the State of New York states banned this deep misunderstanding. Let’s hope that more legislators will follow this trend, btw. you can support it via organizations like The Paw Project.

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.


What the look of the claws can tell you about the cat’s health?

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).

Claw problems

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:
– tender,
– swollen,
– red,
– 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.

Your Inari!

– 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

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