Cats Claw Sheaths 101

As cat owners we expect to find the tumble weeds of fur under the couch, the stray hair on our clothes and sometimes even a lost whisker, but finding one of your cat’s claws stuck in the scratching post or on the ground can be confusing. Did the cat break its claw off in an over-enthusiastic scratching session? As small as these little weapons are, they are also incredibly strong, so to find one no longer attached to your cat can cause worry. Dr. Roy Brenton Smith of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, has certainly seen his share of owners who are thrown by the experience. “They come in with the claw — upset that the cat is injured or sick. However, it’s not actually a claw that the cat’s owner has found, but a nail sheath. These sheaths are the older, outer layer of the claw that “sheds” to expose a newer, sharper claw. This shedding is a natural part of the cat’s nail health and not a cause for alarm. It’s a natural and beneficial process for the cat. Strong healthy claws are essential for felines, who use them for defence, climbing and hunting.

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Why Do Claw Sheaths Fall Off?

According to Dr. Smith, the claw sheath sheds when the nail has grown beyond the blood supply. The outside sheath is discarded to make room for a newer, sharper version. Think of the sheath like a cap on the claw that separates and dislodges when it becomes old and ragged to reveal a sharp and shiny new version underneath. Your little tiger is likely to shed claw sheaths approximately every three months throughout its life.

To help your kitty in being able to manage this natural process make sure that there are always plenty of appropriate places to scratch in the home. Some cats like vertical scratching places, others like horizontal areas, or even both. There’s also a range of surfaces that cats like to scratch on. Sisal rope, felt, corrugated cardboard, carpeted posts and even wooden posts. By paying attention to you cats scratching behaviour you can provide what will be best suited to your cat and save your furniture at the same time.

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How Do I Care for My Cat’s Claws?

In addition to honing their nails, scratching also helps cats to shed old claw sheaths. Felines who never scratch can require medical attention for nails that have grown so long that they curl under and pierce the paw pads.

This is why owners need to provide adequate clawing surfaces, such as a sturdy scratching post. Clipping also aids the shedding process — cutting the excess nail off means that cats don’t have to do as much scratching.

But even with regular nail trimming, kitties can still feel the need to scratch. “There is definitely a psychological reason why cats do this,” says Dr. Smith. “There is a look on their face of enjoyment. When they are happy, they really get their claws into it. It’s part of their environmental enrichment”.

What About Claw Covers?

Claw covers are stick on caps that go over your cat’s natural claws. They are quite durable and can stay in place for up to 6 weeks. However, most vets deem the use of these covers to be harmful to your cat. Not only do they stop your cat from displaying their natural behaviours, which leads to anxiety and behavioural issues, they also prevent the cat from being able to fully retract their claws. Battersea’s head of catteries Lindsey Quinlan has said that “It’s extremely cruel to inflict this sort of thing on your cat”. Scratching is a natural for your cat and claws are necessary for grooming as they act like a comb. With a little care and effort, you can provide suitable surfaces for your cat to scratch that suit both of you. Remember that it is their home too and part of sharing your life with a pet is making room for their needs. The love that they give you in return will far outweigh the cost of a few scratching posts.

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