Tuesday 9 August 2011

Admire Our Cat's Claws

I know a lot of people might think me a bit mad but I like the cat's claw. I admire it and I actually play around with my cat's claws sometimes! People who are a little fearful (or plain scared) of cat's claws will find my attitude strange.

cat's clawsAll the members of the Carnivora have claws. They are meant to be sharp to make them effective in catching and holding prey. During prey capture, the claws are extended from their relaxed and retracted position, and dug into the skin of the prey.

This enables the cat to cling on to the animal. The toes of the cat can then be closed in the same way that we close our hands around an object. This has the effect of driving the claws further into the prey. I know this sounds a bit gruesome but it is natural. Once the claws are well dug in, escape for the animal is very difficult.

Claws also assist in grooming and scooping up water (some cats do this), kneading, climbing and stabilizing the cat when jumping to a new position.

Cats claws are made of a hard protein called keratin; the same material that makes our fingernails. But it is not so hard that it does not wear down in use. Domestic cats that are inside/outside cats will have claws that have worn down tips. They are blunted somewhat. The claws of the hind legs tend to wear down faster than the foreleg claws because of the extra pressure placed upon them when jumping. There is probably no need to trim the claws of outdoor cats because of the extra wear.

The retractability of the claw is designed to protect it, to keep it sharp. When the cat's toes are in a relaxed position the claw is retracted by an elastic ligament. "As the toes (digits) are extended the tendon of the flexor muscle pulls on the lower edge of the third phalanx (the bone that holds the claw) so that the claw turns and points downwards" (The Big Cats by Allan Turner ISBN 978-0-231-10229-2).

The cheetah is said to be unique amongst the felids. The claws of the cheetah are "somewhat less retractable". The scientific genus name Acinonyx refers to this. The name comes from akineo, no movement and onynx, claw. The claws being semi-retracted allow the cheetah to grip the ground better when running and turning. The survival of the cheetah is dependent on its ability to catch prey with its speed and agility.

The dew claw is on the cat's thumb on the side of the paw. We hardly see it. It does not come into contact with the ground and is therefore constantly sharp. It is used to grasp prey and is particularly long in the cheetah.

Cat's claws are beautifully efficient pieces of anatomy in an animal that nature has designed to be a highly efficient predator. Let's admire them for what they are and not be frightened of them.

Michael signature


  1. Yeah I agree. I let my cat bite and scratch all she wants. She does it so lightly because she knows we are just playing so I just let it go.

  2. You are a damn good cat guardian!


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