Your cat’s claws are an important part of their anatomy. Like our nails, o are designed to be useful without causing problems for your kitty. However, like our nails, they can also get caught in things. This usually comes down to improper nail care.
Why do cats’ claws get stuck?
There are a surprising number of reasons why cat’s claws get stuck. The most common is the simplest, your kitty’s claws are simply too long. However, it’s important to be aware of the other reasons claws can get stuck as well.
Why Cats Have Claws
Before we get into why your cat’s claws are getting stuck, let’s look at why they have them in the first place. Your cat’s claws serve several purposes.
In the wild, a cat’s claws provide defense, protection, and hunting. They can use their claws to climb, which allows them to get to safety when another animal is after them. If a dog chases a cat, odds are the cat will climb a tree. It’s then safe from the threat, without risking physical harm.
If the cat can’t escape, they will use their claws for defense. If you’ve ever been scratched, you know that the claws can be quite painful. When a cat is truly scared or angry, the claws can leave deep gashes similar to a knife slash. This will send many predators running the other way, seeking an easier meal.
They are also used for hunting. Cats are typically ambush hunters. This means they will stalk and then spring on their prey. They dig their claws in, so the prey can’t escape or harm them. Then they use their teeth to deliver a killing blow, usually to the animal’s spine.
It may seem as if an indoor domesticated cat has little need for claws, but this is far from the truth. Claws offer your cat a sense of security. You may know they are safe, but it’s their instinct to be able to defend themselves if necessary.
When it comes to climbing and scratching, these activities are often a component of play or relaxation, as well as defense. They are part of what makes your cat a cat, and a cat that can’t climb or scratch may experience emotional distress.
Cat Claw Anatomy
Have you ever thought about how your cat’s claws work, and what they are made of?
Cat claws are made of keratin, just like our fingernails. They are attached to the end of the toe bone. They are scythe shaped, which allows them to hook their claws into things.
The pink interior of your cat’s claw is the quick. You can see it if you take a close look at their claws. Just like our nail beds, injury to this part of the claw hurts. Unlike us, the quick grows into the bone. The quick has nerve endings and blood vessels which supply blood to the claws.
Cats have a tendon that allows them to extend and retract their claws. This is similar to your own hand. Tendons allow your fingers to make a fist or extend into an open hand. The bones in your cat’s foot are also very similar to the bones of your hand.
Cats walk differently than humans do. We use our toes for balance, but we don’t typically put weight on them, unless we are standing on tip toes. Cats, however, walk on their toes. They are essentially nature’s ballerinas.
No Scratching Post
One reason a cat’s claws get stuck is because they don’t have a scratching post. Most cats are good at maintaining their own claws, given the right tool.
A scratching post essentially allows your cat to file their nails, which prevents them from growing too long. If they get too long, they can’t retract completely.
Although, technically, cats can’t completely retract their claws. When the claws are the correct length, the tips of the claws are covered by their fur.
Scratching does more than simply file your cat’s nails. It also helps remove splinters which will easily get caught, just like a hangnail. Lastly, it helps remove old claw sheaths which is essential for claw health.
Bad Claw Care
Some cats seem to be missing the instinct to care for their claws. In some cases, this is related to age. More on that in a moment. In other cases, there’s no clear reason. Perhaps the cat was never taught how to care for their claws. Perhaps they experienced some type of trauma that made them stop scratching.
Whatever the reason, these cats do not scratch their claws to shorten them. This causes them to get too long and not shed. They will get caught easily, just like a long unfiled fingernail.
Age is a factor in kittens and senior cats. It can cause them to use their claws improperly or not care for them correctly. can cause a cat to not care for their claws properly.
Kittens haven’t learned claw control. They may have difficulty retracting their claws, and knowing when to retract. This is essentially like a toddler learning to hold a crayon. Scratching is a natural instinct, but kittens still require learning to care for their claws properly by scratching.
Cats will bite off splinters or old claw sheaths. Young kittens or those raised alone will need time to learn this aspect of grooming as well.
Senior cats can also have difficulty controlling their claws. Just like humans, they can get arthritis. Stiffness and joint pain can make it harder to control their claws. It will make them less likely to scratch. It’s also harder for them to groom their claws with their teeth.
Anxiety or Excitement
Claws can only be retracted when your cat is relaxed. If your cat is anxious or excited, they will not be able to fully retract their claws. If you get scared or angry, you may ball your hand into a fist. This same tension causes your cat’s claws to extend.
If your cat is anxious or scared, it wants to have its claws ready in case they need to escape or defend itself. When they are excited and playful, they will have a similar body tension. They may also extend their claws while playing because they want to catch toys, or even your hand.
What to do about my cat getting their claws stuck?
If your cat’s claws are getting stuck, it’s up to you to solve the problem. Your cat’s claws getting stuck pose a danger to them and you, so you’ll need to resolve the problem as soon as possible.
Getting Your Cat Unstuck
The first concern is getting your cat unstuck. If your cat’s claw is stuck, they may panic. If they panic, they will begin clawing at anything within reach out of instinct.
To get your cat unstuck, you’ll need to remain calm. Hold the paw and gently remove the stuck item from their claw. Do not attempt to jerk their paw loose, because it can injure their claw.
Reassure them with a calm voice, and do your best to keep your body out of the line of fire if they are prone to panicking. Once they are unstuck, they may want some attention. They may also want some time alone to calm down. Follow your cat’s lead.
The best way to keep your cat’s claws in order is with a scratching pad or post. This allows them to file their nails while scratching, and it helps to remove old claw sheaths.
When choosing a scratching post, it should be tall and sturdy. Your cat should be able to stretch out fully to reach the top of the post. The stretching is good for them and part of their natural scratching process.
Of course, it must be sturdy enough to hold your cat’s weight. In the wild, cats choose trees as a scratching post. If the post wobbles, your cat probably won’t be interested in it. Keep in mind that the taller the post, the steadier it needs to be to avoid wobbling and tipping.
It’s best to choose a post that doesn’t have carpet, particularly if you have carpet in your home. Sisal fabric is perfect for scratching. It shreds under kitty’s paws, and is stiff enough to file their claws. It’s also a material that isn’t in other areas of your home, so your cat won’t get confused about what’s ok to scratch.
Cardboard is also a great option. For the most satisfying cat experience, offer your cat a vertical post made from sisal fabric, and a flat scratch pad from cardboard. Cats want to scratch in the horizontal and vertical position, and the change in texture helps keep them from getting bored.
If your cat doesn’t perform good claw care, you may need to clip them. This is common in kittens and senior cats, but it’s a good idea for any cat who is consistently getting their claws stuck. This is especially true if you’ve provided scratching posts and pads but your cat is still getting their claws stuck. You can also give them a trim when giving them a scratching post. This allows them to start with nails at the correct length, then they only need to maintain them.
To clip their nails, you can use cat clippers or regular fingernail clippers. You may need someone to hold the cat while you trim. Be careful not to trim into the quick, or the pink part of the claw. If you aren’t comfortable with clipping your kitty’s claws, a vet or groomer can also give them a trim.
Nail caps are also an option. These are plastic or rubber caps that are glued onto the claws. These cover the sharp ends, and can be helpful if your cat is accidentally scratching or doesn’t have proper claw control. It’s generally considered a temporary solution, however.
Should you Declaw?
Declawing was once a common procedure. However, we now know that there are several reasons declawing is a bad idea. Declawing is not similar to clipping your cat’s nails. The end of the toe bones are removed to prevent the claws from growing back.
This can cause pain and infection after the surgery. It also affects the way your cat walks. Cats walk on their toes. When the toe bones are removed, it’s impossible for them to walk normally.
They are clumsier because balance is affected, and they no longer have their claws for grip. They may avoid the litterbox, because digging is now painful.
Lastly, without their claws, your cat will feel vulnerable. Their claws are their main method of protection and defense. No one likes to feel unsafe, and it can lead to behavioral or anxiety disorders.
Some cats that have been declawed bite, because it’s the only method of defense they have left. Cat bites can cause injuries and infections. In fact, 2-3 of cat bites to the hand result in hospitalization due to infection. 2/3 of the hospitalizations require surgery.
Is it normal for cats to get their claws stuck?
In a way, yes. Every cat will get their claws stuck at one time or another. It is normal for kittens that are learning to care for and control their claws. However, it’s often an indication that your cat’s claws are not being properly cared for if they are an adult.
If it happens occasionally, or when your cat is excited or nervous, it’s probably nothing to worry about. However, if your adult cat is getting their claws stuck frequently, there’s a problem that should be addressed.
Does it hurt cats to get their claws stuck?
If your cat gets their claw stuck, it usually doesn’t hurt. The ends of the claws have no nerve endings to feel pain. However, it can hurt if the claw breaks. Your cat can also injure their leg, depending on how they are stuck.
Dangers to Cat
Claws that get stuck do pose a danger to your cat. The most obvious danger is the claw getting broken or ripped off. If your cat gets stuck while they are moving, they can also injure their leg. If you’ve ever stepped into a hole and sprained your ankle, you know how painful this can be.
They can also be dragged or stepped on if they snag on your clothing. If they are jumping, it can cause them to fall or get caught in a hole.
Dangers to You and Other Animals
Claws that get stuck are typically too long. They are also extremely sharp and splintery. This can lead to you or other animals getting some nasty scratches, often unintentionally.
In addition to the scratch itself, cat scratches can easily become infected. You are also at risk if your cat gets caught on or near you. They may begin scratching out of fear, and if you are in their path, you will get scratched. Think of a person who is drowning. They will flail their arms and legs, and can easily injure the person trying to save them.
Danger to Possessions
Of course, skin isn’t the only thing that can be damaged by a cat’s claws getting stuck. Your possessions are also at risk. If your cat gets stuck on your carpet, upholstery, or clothing, you can expect it to get rips from their claws.
Again, this is unintentional. Your cat is simply reacting. They are scared and trying to get loose, with no concern for your new sofa or your favorite sweater.
How often do cats claws shed?
You may be surprised to find your cat’s claws lying around the house, but they are supposed to shed them. The front claws are typically shed by scratching. The back claws are shed by biting. Each claw should be shed every 2-3 months.