Friday, April 5, 2013

Why Do Cats Shed Their Claws?

By Julia Williams

Cat owners are accustomed to discovering tufts of fur around their home. We will also find whiskers now and then, and some weird humans will even save those whiskers and tape them to the fridge as a sort of oddball kitty collage…ahem…no one I know does that, of course. But I digress.

If you have a cat, though, sooner or later you will find “the claw.” There it is, one of kitty’s claws stuck to the carpet or the scratching post. If you have multiple cats and they tend to scuffle, you might even find a claw jutting out from one of their foreheads, like a little “kitty unicorn horn” or a victory badge left behind by the cat who won. (Don’t laugh, that has happened to two of my cats!).

No matter where you find the claw, the first time it happens you might freak out a bit because you think something awful happened to your cat. “Oh no! Fluffy’s claw fell off!” you exclaim. “Is she sick or injured? Should I take her to the vet?” You might even examine her paws only to see all of the claws intact. Well, if Fluffy still has all of her claws, then what IS that thing you found?

Relax. It is a claw…sort of. Your cat still has all of her claws, but what you found is the nail sheath, which is the older, outer layer of the claw that “sheds” to expose a newer, sharper claw. This is perfectly natural and no cause for alarm.

Why Does the Claw Sheath Fall Off?

According to Dr. Smith, DVM at the Central Texas Cat Clinic, it means that the cat’s nail has grown beyond the blood supply, so the outside sheath is discarded to make room for the sharper claw underneath.

Think of the sheath like a “cap” on the claw. When your cat scratches (hopefully on her scratching post and not on your carpet!) this helps dislodge the older sheath and its ragged edges. Eventually the sheath falls off to reveal a smooth, razor-sharp claw capable of mass destruction (or what I like to call “eagle talon”).

The average “house panther” will shed each claw about every three months. You can help the process by always making sure your cat has plenty of appropriate places to scratch. There are lots of different options, and every cat prefers a different type of scratcher.

Additionally, some cats like to scratch vertically while others prefer to scratch horizontally. Some cats love sisal rope while others favor corrugated cardboard scratchers, carpeted posts or natural wooden posts. (For more information, check out How to Train Your Cat to Use a Scratching Post from the CANIDAE RPO blog archives).

So the next time you find a cat claw stuck in some odd place (like smack in the middle of your other cat’s forehead?), never fear…it’s just the sheath. Actually, if your cat is prone to keeping his claws out when he makes biscuits on your leg, a little bit of fear might be justified – because that newly exposed eagle talon claw is really sharp!

Top photo by Liz West
Middle photo by Jill Allyn Stafford 
Bottom photo by Stephen Jones 

Read more articles by Julia Williams


  1. Nice post, Julia! I remember the first time I found a sheath (years ago). And you're right ... I did kind of freak out! :)

  2. Oh yes, those things are always popping off around here!

  3. We have lots of those too here in this house. I find them every now and then. They also chew them off. Have a wonderful Week end.

  4. Oh don't I know it about the eagle talon!!! I quite like coming across Austin's discarded sheaths. Perhaps I should save them? ;)

  5. I'm gonna start taping them to the fridge (ha!). Yes, the first time I saw one I went and inspected my kitty for injuries and then called the vets. It would be nice if we ladies could sorta do the same with our nails but shed new "nail shop nails" instead!:)

  6. Oh joy... the sheath sheds to make room for a new and improved sharper claw... Just what a person with eight cats wants to hear! I think I need to go buy another scratching post just to be safe!!

  7. We don't find too many here since my cats give their claws a good workout on trees. Have great weekend!

  8. I save any sheaths and whiskers I can find. Whiskers were so easy with Admiral as her were black. Katie's are white and the carpet is off white so I have 1 total whisker(s)

  9. I'm embarrassed to say my peeps don't just save whiskers. They save sheaths AND furs they FURminate off to send in my Christmas cards so my furrends can smell me. They used to take drawings of cats and paste the whiskers of the cats that came before me onto the drawing where the whiskers sould go.


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