The Biology of Cat Claws

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Whether it’s the snowy lynx or the neighbor’s calico, cats are known to have a common trait: retractable, sharp, and curved claws. These versatile assets are used by domesticated and wild felines alike; with such abilities include hunting, marking territory, and defensive maneuvers, as well as climbing, stretching muscles, and keeping balance. Of course, not every cat  comes out unscathed against other territorial cats and dogs, which is why claws are an important part of a cat’s paws. But what exactly are claws, and how can you prevent Fluffy from scratching up the sofa?

Claws are made of a hard protein called keratin that naturally forms a curvature, making the claw very sharp. The outer layer of the claw is “sharpened” or shed against trees, scratching posts, or even that really nice coffee table in the living room, so that the newly exposed sharp claw can have room to grow.

Taking a closer look at  the claw, there is a pink interior known as the quick, which is the nerve and blood supply of the nail. Moving closer to the paw, a sheath-like flap of thick skin allows the claws to retract when not in use. The nail itself, however, does not grow from within the skin, but rather from the distal phalanx, otherwise known as the last bone of their toe. Under observation, a kitty’s front claws are actually sharper and much more curved than the claws on their back paws. Hence why you might not see a cat picking away at a tree in reverse.

Kitty claws are not always in a state of attack. Most of the time, cats keep their claws hidden in their sheath-skin unless they are provoked by fear or excitement. When cats are not on defense, claws are necessary for climbing or grabbing onto toys. Because of the occasional use, cats’ nails have a slim chance of wearing down or becoming damaged, unlike their doggy counterparts. Also, having retractable claws means stalking their prey – a natural behavior of all cats – silently and effectively.

De-clawing is a very painful process and can be traumatic for a kitty, so by regularly training and earning trust with your kitten at an early age, there is more allowance for handling paws and trimming those claws.

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