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