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Do All Cats Have Retractable Claws? The Surprising Answer

Rachael Gerkensmeyer

By Rachael Gerkensmeyer

cat nails scratching

All domestic cat breeds possess retractable claws. To cat owners, those claws might seem only to get used for destroying things in the home. However, those retractable claws were not designed by nature just to ruin your couch! Those claws are there for a few good reasons, even if most domesticated cats do not need to use them often. Learn more about retractable claws in this article!

How Do a Cat’s Retractable Claws Work?

cat claw
Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay

A group of strong muscles works to keep a cat’s claws retracted inside their paws until they are needed. When a cat wants to use their claws, they relax those muscles, allowing the ligaments the claws grow on to expand, so that the claws will protrude. You may notice that your cat’s paws spread open slightly to allow more room for the claws to protrude. The action happens so quickly that most people don’t even get a chance to see it occur.

Why Do Cats Have Retractable Claws? 3 Reasons

There are a few reasons why domestic cats are born with retractable claws. Hurting human companions and ruining clothing and furniture are not reasons, but they are sometimes byproducts of cat claws. Here are the real reasons why cats have retractable claws.

1. Climbing

mackerel tabby cat climbing
Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay

In nature, the ability to climb is essential for cats. However, cats don’t climb stairs or ladders like humans. Instead, they use their claws to climb up things like trees, whether for safety or a better view of their surrounding area. Cats can also scale the sides of wooden buildings and signposts with the help of their claws.

Indoor cats tend to use their claws to climb up things like curtains. To keep your cat from using household belongings as a tree, provide them with a tall scratching post that gives them enough room to climb up. Hang toys from the top of the post to encourage climbing and provide extra exercise. This will help ensure that your pet is less attracted to your stuff.

2. Hunting

Another reason why cats have retractable claws is for hunting. When not fed a commercial diet by its owners, a cat must find and catch its own food. Hunting would not be an easy task without retractable claws to count on. When the claws come out, there is little chance that a rat or bird will get away from a cat that has pounced.

Hunting is a sport for domestic cats, and they do it whether they are hungry or not. So even if you give your cat three meals a day, there is always a chance that you will find a dead rat on your doorstep when you wake up in the morning. The ability to get rid of unwanted pests around the house makes a cat’s retractable claws beneficial to humans.

3. Fighting

two cats fighting outside
Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay

Cats might be predators to smaller animals, but they have their fair share of predators to watch out for, too. Whether it is a dog, a coyote, or a tougher cat, there may come a time when a cat must defend itself. This is when their retractable claws really come in handy. With a few paw swipes at a foreboding opponent, they could buy enough time to get away from the threat. A cat’s retractable claws can do a lot of damage to another cat, even causing so much damage that a trip to the veterinarian is in order.

Therefore, it is not a good idea to assume that your cat’s claws will keep them safe when spending time outside around other cats. If another cat has larger claws or more experience fighting, your cat could end up in big trouble. It is always a good idea to take precautions to keep your cat safe from stray cats and those living at nearby houses, even if it means supervised outdoor time or keeping them inside for the most part.

Summing Things Up

There are plenty of reasons why a cat has retractable claws, but most of the reasons are not concerns for pet cats in today’s world. Rarely do pet cats need to hunt for their own food, climb up high into trees, or fight with predators. However, they still have an innate yearning to use their claws regularly, especially when it comes to keeping them sharp. Therefore, pet cats should always have access to equipment and toys that allow them to put their claws to use.

Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Rachael Gerkensmeyer

Authored by

Rachael has been a freelance writer since 2000, in which time she has had an opportunity to research and write about many different topics while working to master the art of fusing high-quality content with effective content marketing strategies. She lives off the grid in Hawaii with her husband, her garden, and her rescue animals including 5 dogs, a cat, a goat, and dozens of chickens. She is an artist at heart and loves...Read more

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