When your cat’s claws are always out, your relationship with your pet can be compromised. Feline claws are sharp and dangerous, and must be kept to themselves wherever possible. If your cat’s claws don’t retract, you’ll need to take action to address this problem.
Retracting claws is a behavior that cats learn as kittens. They need to be trained to remember it, however. Older cats also struggle to retract their claws, so they’ll need help with claw maintenance. In this guide, we’ll look at why the problem happens and how it can be easily addressed.
- 1 Can All Cats Retract Their Claws?
- 2 Why Do Cats Unsheathe Their Claws?
- 3 My Cat Doesn’t Retract Their Claws
- 4 Teaching a Cat to Retract Their Claws
- 5 Should I Declaw My Cat?
- 6 How to Keep Cat Claws Dull
Can All Cats Retract Their Claws?
Kittens can retract their claws from the age of around four weeks. From this point on, cats can theoretically retract their claws at will.
As always, there are exceptions. Senior and geriatric cats are the most likely to struggle with retracting their claws.
This can be problematic for your older pet. A senior cat’s claws tend to get very long, as they never stop growing. Unfortunately, they’re also fragile and brittle.
Your senior cat will also likely lose interest in their scratching post as they age. Their claws will be so weak that a scratching post hurts.
As a result, a senior cat that doesn’t retract their claws will experience several issues. These include the following:
- Always catching claws on furniture and your clothing
- Claws growing to excess and curling in the paw pad
- Claws regularly shattering and breaking at minimal impact
Once your cat is ten years old, keep a close eye on their paws. They’ll likely be looking to you to help them maintain their claws.
This means that you’ll need to trim your senior cat’s claw regularly. This may not be easy, as many cats loathe having their paws handled. You’re going to have to be patient.
Why Do Cats Unsheathe Their Claws?
Cat claws are essential and versatile parts of feline anatomy. Your cat’s claws aren’t just for scratching; they serve multiple purposes.
Some of the everyday activities that your cat will use their claws for include:
- Self-defense. Your cat’s claws are the first line of defense against predators. Cats also use claws for protection from neighborhood felines with designs on their territory.
- Balance and Poise. Humans rarely walk on tiptoes, but we’d struggle to balance without them. The same applies to cats and their claws.
- Hinting and Eating. During a hunt, your cat’s claws immobilize prey and slice flesh from bone.
- Climbing. Cats feel safer on higher ground, as they can see all around them. Claws give cats purchase, and make climbing far easier.
- Digging. Your cat likes to remain anonymous. This means digging, and burying, their waste or uneaten food. That’s why you may notice cats scratching near their litter trays after pooping.
Of course, scratching remains the most common use of cat claws. Cats don’t scratch because they want to destroy your furniture.
They are marking their territory, for one thing. Cat scratches are akin to graffiti tags in the feline world. If a cat sees scratches on a wall or fence, they’ll know another pet has claimed it.
As paw pads contain sweat glands, your cat will also leave their scent as they scratch. This is another way to send a message that they have claimed an object.
Other reasons for a cat to scratch include:
- Exercise and Stretching. When a cat unsheathes their claws, they are stretching and extending their body. This makes them likely to scratch after a nap.
- Grooming. If you didn’t trim your fingernails, they’d grow long and unkempt. The same goes for cats. They scratch to wear down their claws.
- Excitement and Frustration. If your cat is highly stimulated, they’ll paw and scratch. This is usually an unconscious act.
A cat scratching and showing their claws is perfectly natural and healthy feline behavior. However, this doesn’t make it less problematic.
Cats should keep their claws retracted unless they’re needed. Failure to do so can be dangerous.
Not only will their claws get trapped in the material, but they could hurt people and other pets. All cats must be prepared to retract their claws.
My Cat Doesn’t Retract Their Claws
When a cat retracts their claws, they do not disappear entirely inside the paw.
Take a close look at your cat when their claws are retracted. You’ll notice that they’re still just about visible. They’re just typically hidden by fur.
When not actively in use, most cats will retract their claws. This prevents your cat from walking on them, and wearing their claws down.
Cats want their claws to be sharp. More or less everything they use them for depends on this. So, why would they not retract their claws?
Assess whether retraction of the claws is possible for your cat. Senior felines find this problematic. Your pet may be just as distressed by this as you.
My Cat Doesn’t Retract Their Claws During Play
Most forms of feline play revolve around exercising their hunting instincts. Whether stalking toys, or their littermates as kittens, kittens love to hunt.
Naturally, when a cat is replicating a hunt, they’ll use their claws. That’s what they’d do in the wild. It’s a habit that needs to be coached out during kittenhood. A cat’s mother will usually teach her young about when claws are appropriate. If she doesn’t, siblings often will.
Unfortunately, some kittens are removed from their homes before they have been socialized appropriately. This leaves the onus on pet owners to teach them.
My Cat Attacks Me with Claws Without Provocation
There are two possible explanations for this behavior.
- Your cat is playing. They see you as a moving target that’s fair game for hunting.
- Your cat is behaving aggressively through stress or ill health.
If your cat is playing, the behavior still needs to be stopped. They’ll be hunting your toes and ankles. This can get dangerous, and painful.
To stop your cat leaping at your toes without warning, play with them more. Once you get a cat into a routine, they’ll respect it. They’ll quickly learn that hunting is for toys, not humans.
If your cat is generally acting aggressive, consider if they are stressed. Has something changed in their routine recently? This makes cats very anxious, which sometimes leads to hostility.
If not, they may be unwell. Many cats become aggressive when sick. See a vet for a physical examination.
My Cat Doesn’t Retract Their Claws Around My Other Cat
If your cat keeps their claws unsheathed around other pets, they don’t feel safe. They are on high alert, in case they need to defend themselves at short notice.
If you have recently introduced a new cat to your existing pet, this is very common. It will take quite some time for the cats to accept each other.
Watch the interactions between the two felines carefully during this period. Ensure that they do not display any signs of outward aggression. Hissing, in particular, is a common precursor to fighting.
It’s likely that neither cat will use their claws. They’re just posturing, and making themselves as big as possible. Eventually, they’ll both settle down.
You can speed this up by giving each cat their own room. That way, they’ll feel less like another feline is infiltrating on their territory.
Assign each cat a room, complete with their preferred scratching post, litter box, bed, and toys. That way, they’ll always have a safe space to retreat to. This, in turn, makes them less edgy.
My Cat Doesn’t Retract Their Claws Around My Baby
This can be a worrying behavior. Cat claws are sharp, and babies are delicate. Is your pet planning something terrible?
There are usually two explanations for a cat to leave their claws unsheathed around babies:
- Your pet feels very protective of the baby, and is ready to protect them from everybody
- Your pet is jealous and threatened by this new arrival that is taking all their attention. It’s making them very stressed
Sadly, the latter is more likely. Provide your cat with plenty of one-on-time. It will be tough to fit into your schedule, but it’s crucial.
Cats are extremely sensitive to changes in their routine. If they feel abandoned or neglected, they become stressed and anxious.
Stressed cats can be dangerous. Behavioral problems can follow – including claw-centric acts of aggression. Nip this anxiety in the bud as quickly as you can.
Teaching a Cat to Retract Their Claws
Whatever situation is inspiring your cat not to retract their claws, it cannot continue. Your cat will require training to rectify the behavior.
Teaching your cat to retract their claws is sometimes referred to as ‘velvet paw training.’ This is because you’re trying to teach your cat to keep those sharp edges to themselves.
To engage in velvet paw training:
- Play with your cat as usual.
- When your cat catches you with their claws, react. The first time, remove your hand and make a loud, high-pitched, “ouch!” sound. The second time, stand up and walk away. Don’t tell your cat off. Return after a minute. The third time, end the game. Walk away, and pack away the toys. Resist your cat’s pleading eyes to start again for at least an hour.
- Keep repeating the above steps, prolonging the time outs on repeat instances. You’ll find they become less and less frequent.
Cats are smart. They’ll eventually realize that claws end their fun, and will stop using them. If this training doesn’t work, however, you need professional help.
Your first port of call should be a vet. They will run tests, and ensure that your cat’s refusal to retract their claws is not medical.
If a vet cannot find a reason or explanation, you’ll need a cat behaviorist. Work with such an individual to dig deeper into why your cat acts the way they do.
Should I Declaw My Cat?
An onychectomy (declawing) is an extremely controversial procedure. The operation is banned in many countries, but remains legal in most U.S. states and Canada.
The feline in question will be placed under anesthetic, and their claws are surgically removed. This ends any risks of your cat failing to retract their claws, but at what cost?
Declawing is not a feline manicure. It is a harrowing experience for a cat. It’s the equivalent of amputating human fingers above the first knuckle.
In addition to this, declawing can have a significant physical and psychological impact upon a cat. Some of the issues that arise among declawed cats are as follows:
- Defenselessness. Declawed cats are missing their first line of personal defense. This leaves them vulnerable to attack from neighborhood cats.
- Aggression. Cats that feel helpless consider attack the best form of defense. Declawed felines are hostile and cantankerous. They’ll bite more, too.
- Territoriality. Your cat scratches to mark their territory. If they can’t use their claws, they’ll start eliminating outside the litter box to do so.
- Compromised Hunting. Declawed cats can still hunt, but not as effective. This compromising of their instincts will not sit well.
- Balance. Imagine if you had to walk without the tips of your toes. That’s how a declawed cat lives. They struggle to maintain balance and poise.
- Pain. Your cat’s claws may be amputated, but they still grow inside the paw. That will be extremely sore for a feline.
Declawing is cruel, unnecessary and risky. Cats need to scratch, for the sake of their physical and mental health.
As Veterinary Partner explains, there are alternatives to declawing. These should be exhausted before considering the surgery. The other options include:
- Cover furniture with a horizontal drag. Cats prefer to scratch vertical surfaces.
- Make your cat’s favored scratching locations unappealing through scent or texture. Cats despise the smell of citrus, and dislike sticky feelings beneath their paws.
- Dissuade your cat from scratching through training, such as loud noises or a squirt gun.
- Ask a vet to apply a blunt, acrylic nail caps to your cat’s claws.
Remember that declawing is amputation. It should only be done when essential.
How to Keep Cat Claws Dull
If your cat does not use a scratching post, you’ll need to clip them yourself. This is quite the challenge, but it will pay off in the long-term.
Trimming keeps a cat’s claws blunt. This means that, should your cat be unable to retract their claws, that damage will be minimalized. In addition, trimming a cat’s claws will prevent them from damaging their paws.
As WebMD explains, the best method for trimming feline claws is as follows:
- Wait until your cat is calm and relaxed. Post-eating is an excellent time to consider trimming claws.
- Take one of your cat’s paws in your hand. Hold on for three seconds.
- If your cat tries to escape, wait and try again later. There is no point attempting to trim claws until your cat tolerates contact with their paws.
- Apply pressure to your cat’s paw pads. This will see them unsheathe one claw. Give your cat a treat, or lavish them with attention.
- Repeat this with different paw pads, until your cat happily unsheathes all ten claws.
- Hold a piece of uncooked spaghetti next your cat’s paw. Squeeze the pad to release a claw, and clip the top off the spaghetti using nail clippers. This will familiarize your cat with the sound of nail clippers.
- When you’re ready to cut the nail, position the clippers above the quick. The quick is the pink part of the nail. This is where your cat’s blood flows.
- Trim the nail. If your cat tolerates this, consider leaving the activity and returning tomorrow. Trimming one nail a day is perfectly acceptable.
If you cut to the quick, your cat will cry, bleed, and never let you try again. Always cut above the quick. If you do have an accident, stem any bleeding ASAP. A styptic pencil will be the most impactful solution.
If your cat does not allow you to trim their claws, take them to a groomer. Groomers are used to being scratched, and will have the apparatus to help restrain your pet.
Teaching cats to retract their claws is an integral part of feline domestication. There is a time and place for unsheathed claws, and the home is rarely it.