So you have found something that looks like a claw from your cat on the floor and now you are wondering do cats shed their claws? This is an entirely understandable question for a cat owner, especially if you are a first time cat guardian who has never come across this situation before. Read on to learn what is going on, and under what circumstances your cat might lose their claws and what you can do to keep your cats claws healthy and in good condition.
Do Cats Shed Their Claws?
Do cats shed their claws? No, they don’t – their claws do not drop off in their entirety and a fresh one grows in place of the old claw.
What does happen and what can confuse people and leave them certain that a claw has been shed is that layers of a claw can peel off. These layers are curved and pointed and mirror the shape of the claw leading people to assume their cat has indeed shed a claw. These layers are actually known as claw “sheaths”.
Claw sheaths come away at regular intervals to reveal fresh, sharp claws underneath the old top layer or sheath.
If you looked at a cat claw in cross-section you would see that the claw is built up of numerous layers. As the layers move away from a blood supply they detach to reveal fresh layers of the claw beneath. The cat ends up with claws that are continually layering and shedding to reveal fresh sharp claws beneath!
Why Is My Cat Missing Claws Then?
Cats do sometimes have missing claws (and they lose their whiskers). A cat that spends time outdoors is more likely to have missing claws as a result of routine daily activities.
It is not unheard of for cats to lose claws during fights with other cats. Usually the front claws are lost during fights.
Cats that have been accidentally trapped can end up digging themselves out or trying to claw their way out of a problem – the result can be the loss of the claws on the front feet.
In other circumstances, like climbing or jumping fences, mistimed or poorly executed leaps can result in a scramble that results in the loss of the odd claw from front or rear paws.
If your cat losses all of its claws this may signify that it has been involved in a road traffic accident. When a cat is hit by a car or bike the shock of impact makes them extend and dig in their claws to the pavement surface – of course, then they are flung by the impact and their claws are left at the spot of the accident.
Indoor cats can also lose the odd claw due to activity. They can get caught up in fabric on furniture and get ripped out following an escape attempt.
If your cat has always had missing claws and your cat came from an unknown background it could be that they were declawed early in life by an owner who was anxious to protect property from scratch marks.
Where your cat has accidentally lost claws in daily activity the claw will eventually grow back out much like if a human loses a nail. Declawed cats never regrow their claws. If the missing claw has left a tender or bleeding area of the paw it is important to try to stop the bleeding and clean the area to reduce the risk of infection. The best way to do this is with a salt bath to clean and reduce the chance of infection and then by dabbing the area with a dressing until the bleeding stops.
But My Cat Is Scratching Its Claws Out!
If your cat is using a scratching post or scratching spot, it is actively trying to remove claw sheaths that are due for removal. The cat will use such scratching objects to remove the sheaths off the claws on the front paws.
Sheaths on the claws on the back paws are usually removed by the cat biting and chewing/pulling the sheath off to reveal new claws beneath.
Your cat is not scratching its claws out it is removing old claw sheaths in a normal everyday instinctive fashion!
Should I Trim My Cat’s Claws?
If your cat is an outdoor cat or spends regular time outdoors the chances are that you will never have to trim your cats claws. They will be worn down through daily activity like walking or running on hard surfaces and jumping from trees and fences and the like.
If your cat is an indoor cat the chances are that you will have to trim your cats claws to prevent them getting stuck on soft furnishings and carpets. For some cats you might have to trim claws every ten days or at two weekly intervals.
The ASPCA gives a handy guide on trimming your cat’s claws and how to do it here. The main thing to note is that you shouldn’t trim or cut into the pink area of the claw. This is the area of the claw with a blood supply and nerve supply. Cutting here may result in bleeding and a cat in pain! Trim or cut the white section of the claw tip only and remove as little as possible to ensure nothing goes wrong.
If you supply a bunch of scratch posts or scratching areas for your cat this can help your cat to naturally control their front claw length and sharpness and should reduce the amount of trimming they need you to do.
When will you know to cut sharp claws? When your cat starts to get stuck to carpets and fabrics!