Why Can’t My Cat Retract Its Claws?

cat can't retract claws

Ever heard of the saying “You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight”? Not to be taken literally unless you were born during the Wild West era. it means that you should use the right tool to not be outmatched or come unprepared.

Your cat’s claws are the right tools for almost any circumstance besides finding your cat scratching furniture. They depend on their claws to hunt for food, climbing, burying their waste and marking territory.

Your cat’s claws are usually sheathed but some cats lose their ability to retract their claws. But what can’t my cat retract its claws?

Some cats can’t retract their claws due to a medical condition with their paws that is caused by an infection or disease. If your cat has suffered trauma to its paws, it can prevent the claws from being properly sheathed. Older cats can also have problems retracting their claws.

It isn’t always easy to spot an issue with your cat’s claws as they are typically hidden from view. But you should take your cat to the vet immediately if it is having problems retracting its claws.

Why Are Cat Claws Retractable In The First Place?

Most cats retract their claws when not in use. If you have ever seen or felt your cat’s claws before, you’ll understand how sharp they can be, almost to the point of being knife-like.

My cat used to have this weird habit of climbing my legs and I still have the scars to show just how much damage a cat’s claws can do.

Each claw is attached to the end of each toe bone which is in turn attached by an elastic ligament. This ligament acts like a spring device that allows the cat to extend and retract its claws.

Given how sharp the claws are, it will make it difficult for cats to move on some surfaces and hunt if they can’t retract the claws.

They can also keep their claws sharp and prevent them from becoming blunt when retracted.

It would be similar to you walking with your fingers all fully extended. The risk of injury is higher and you look like you’re having an electric shock.

Why Can’t My Cat Retract Its Claws?

cat cant retract claws nail disorder

Here are some possible reasons that are preventing your cat’s claws from being retracted.

Feline Nail Disorders

Your cat could be having a nail disorder which is any infection or disease that affects the nail bed and the surrounding tissue.

A fungal or bacterial infection can hinder your cat from retracting its claws. An infection can occur when there is a break or injury to your cat’s nail bed.

The two most common types of nail disorders in cats are:

  • Paronychia – This is when an infection causes the area around the claw or nail to become inflamed
  • Onychomycosis – A fungal infection that affects the nail bed

Here are some common symptoms in cats with nail disorders :

  • Excessive licking of the infected paws
  • Limping or unable to walk properly
  • Claw area looks inflamed
  • Claw color doesn’t look normal

Diagnosing Nail Disorders In Cats

You can’t treat such disorders at home here you need to get your cat to the vet for treatment.

The vet will have to scrape some skin near the infected claw or claws and run a bacterial or fungal culture to ascertain the correct skin disorder.

Treat For Nail Disorders

If the claw area is very inflamed and infected, the vet will have to do minor surgery to drain out all the bad stuff from that area.

A cleaning solution and topical ointments will also be given to you to keep the area clean and promote recovery after the vet visit.

Injury To Your Cat’s Feet

Cats do get themselves into trouble from time to time which can cause some injury to their feet.

If you have a young kitten or an outdoor cat, the risk of getting into an accident is a lot higher.

Your cat might have sprained its foot when jumping down from an elevated area or gotten into a fight outside. This can lead to a sprain or even a broken toe in your cat’s paw.

It is also very common to hear of cat owners stepping on their cat’s paws by accident as well.

Imagine if a heavy object landed on your palm, you won’t be able to move your fingers properly until the pain or injury subsides.

The most obvious sign that your cat’s foot or paw is injured is when you see your cat limping.

Your cat can’t put weight on the injured paw. Cats with such injuries will also be hiding a lot due to the pain that they are feeling.

If your cat is limping or has a fracture, please do not attempt to straighten the joint. Medical attention is required and also an x-ray to determine the severity of the injury.

The vet might have to put a cast on your cat’s foot or paw to stabilize the area and allow for the bones to heal properly.

Do not listen to anyone who claims that you should let fractures heal naturally.

That is complete B.S. that can cause your cat to have a deformity for the rest of its life.

Older Cat Claws Not Retracting

old cat can't retract claw

Father time can be cruel to us at times. If your cat is in its golden years, aged 11 years and up, its joints and muscles will start to stiffen up.

This will have an impact on their mobility and flexibility as well as the ability to retract their claws.

Senior cats tend to also suffer from degenerative joint ailments like arthritis which leads to inflammation and pain.

This makes retracting and extending their claws a lot more difficult.

Treating Arthritis In Cats

The vet will be able to diagnose your cat’s condition after a series of tests. Arthritis treatment is more about management and relief as it isn’t curable.

The more common forms of treatment are:

  • Acupuncture
  • Pain relief medication
  • Cold laser therapy

When at home, the best way that you can help your cat is to not let it put strain and pressure on its joint.

This means giving your cat a soft warm bed, a ramp to reach higher areas, weight loss if it’s obese and less physical playtime.

Can Cats Control Their Claws?

According to Dr. Cindy Houlihan, DMV, owner of the Cat Practice, cats do have absolute control over the usage of their claws.

Cats know when they should and should not use their claws. There is also an instinctive side in cats that causes them to use their claws for self-defence.

How To Teach A Cat To Retract Its Claws?

cat using claws to play

There isn’t really a need for you to teach your cat to retract its claws. It is a reflex action that comes naturally to them, similar to blinking in humans.

I doubt any cat owner has trained their cats to react to the command “Retract claws!”

it can be problematic and painful for some cat owners when their cats tend to use their claws when playing.

This is a common behavior in younger cats as they are still learning about proper claw usage.

As kittens, the mother cat will discipline them when they get too rough with their claws.

Cats that are weaned too early might not have gotten the proper training and can carry this behavior into adulthood.

There are a few methods that you can use to make your cat more aware of its claws.

Your Hand And Feet Aren’t Cat Toys

I see many cat owners make the mistake of using their hands and feet as ‘toys’ for their cats. It won’t be a problem if your cat is a 3-pound kitten.

But you will be screaming out in pain if your cat is 25 lbs and is still using its claws to play.

Stop the habit of using your limbs to engage in rough play with your cat. You do not want to allow your cat to think that it is fine to claw and bite you.

That is how kittens play when young but they have a thick coat of fur to prevent their soft skin from being scratched by teeth and claws.

We humans, don’t.

Use proper cat toys like a feather wand or interactive toys when playing with your cat.


cat uses claw on owner

I ain’t kidding when I say use the “Owww” as a way to deter your cat from using its claws on you.

When my cat decides to use my hand or feed as hunting practice, he gets a loud “OOWWW” from me. This stuns him and causes him to pause his actions.

I will then remove his claws from my skin and get him to focus on his toys instead.

Do not scream or shout at your cat.

Just a loud “Owww” would suffice. Do not beat or lay your hands on your cat as well.

It Takes Time

Don’t be upset if it takes some time for your cat to realize that using its claws on you isn’t right.

My cat had the bad habit of charging at my hands and feet when he was younger and this behavior took months to correct.

Just be patient and always be consistent with your actions when correcting your cat’s behavior.

When Do Kittens Learn To Keep Their Claws Away?

kitten meowing

Kittens are born with their claws intact. It can be difficult to see them because their claws are so tiny. But they are still sharp as ever.

Kittens will have their claws fully extended until they reach about 4 weeks old. At that age, they can start to to retract or sheath their claws back into the paw.

How To Manage Your Cat’s Claws?

One responsibility that you have as a cat owner is to maintain your cat’s claws. And by maintain, I do not mean seeding your cat for a mani and pedicure. But you need to see your cat’s claw short and trimmed.

If you have never trimmed your cat’s nails before, you should learn how to do it the right way.

All you need is a set of nail clippers and a cooperative cat. Based on my years of clipping my cat’s claws, a cooperative cat is harder to come by.

That being said, the earlier you start trimming your cat’s claws, the faster it learns to tolerate the experience.

When trimming your cat’s nails, be careful of cutting too much and into the quick. The quick contains blood vessels and nerves. And if you cut too close to the quick, it can cause your cat’s nail to bleed.

This can cause infections that lead to nail disorders when your cat goes about its daily routine like using the litter box or wandering outside.

If you accidentally nick your cat, stop the bleeding with a piece of tissue and apply some pet-friendly antiseptic cream to the nail.

Do Scratching Posts Trim Nails?

cat scratching post

Some cat owners believe that cats can self-trim their nails by using a scratching post or scratching mats. But based on my experience and experimenting with many different types of scratching posts, they don’t really do a good job of trimming a cat’s nails.

Scratching posts do a good job of promoting your cat’s nail health by removing the outer dead layer of skin but your cat doesn’t scratch hard enough to trim the claws.

You still need to manually cut your cat’s claws to keep it well maintained.

What Happens If You Don’t Trim Your Cat’s Nails?

If you don’t trim your cat’s nails on a regular basis, they can start to grow too long and become a problem for your cat.

If your cat’s nail is too long, it can start to poke into the paw pad even when it’s sheathed. This can cause a lot of pain for your cat and affect its mobility.

The longer the nail is allowed to poke into the paw pad, it can cause an infection that requires medical treatment.

Besides causing injury to the paw pads, sharp nails in cats can also become a hazard for those at home and your furniture.

cat claw poking into paw pad

The above image was taken when my cat had one claw on his left paw that just wouldn’t stop growing a lot faster than the rest. And to make matters worse, the quick of the claw was very close to the tip hence there was only so much I could trim off.

He was walking fine without any mobility issues and I made it a point to check on his paw once every few days.

The claw started poking into his paw pad and I had to take him to the vet to get it treated. My cat turns into a monster whenever he goes to the vet hence they had to sedate him in order to clean up the area.

Thankfully, it wasn’t a serious infection ad I could remove the bandage after a day.

Should I Cut My Indoor Cat’s Claws?

You should definitely still cut your cat’s claw even if it’s a strictly indoor cat. The nails of indoor cats can also grow too long and cause problems to the cat and others.

I Hear My Cat’s Claws When She Walks?

cat lying on floor

The reason that you are able to hear your cat’s claws when it walking is due to the claws bring too long in length.

The long claws could already be poking into your cat’s paw pads which makes moving around painful.

It is a sign that you need to get your cat’s claws trimmed as soon as possible at home or at the groomer.

Why Does My Cat Keep Getting Her Claws Stuck?

Besides being able to hear your cat’s claw when it walks, claws getting stuck is another sign that it is too long.

Cat claws are sharp and curved which makes getting caught in materials like fabric and your carpet a lot easier.

Your cat needs to have its claws trimmed if they always getting stuck.

My Cat’s Claw Is Breaking Off

All cats love to scratch as it helps to stretch their claw muscles and mark their scents. Cats can really go at it when they are scratching something. If the material is too rough, their claw can get snagged on it and break off.

Some cats have nail diseases that can make the nail very brittle or separate easily. You need to be careful of breaks that result in bleeding.

It is painful for your cat and can lead to infections.

You need to apply some first aid to stop the bleeding and keep the area clean. Keeping your cat’s claw short is a good way to prevent breakages.

What Cat Does Not Retract Its Claws?

All domestic and wild cats are able to retract their claws except for the cheetah. The reason for this lies in how cheetahs catch their prey.

The body of a cheetah is not made for brute strength and climbing trees. It is made for speed and agility.

A cheetah can reach a top speed of 75 mph and can hit 60 mph in less than 3 seconds. That is a lot faster than many supercars out there.

The cheetah’s need for sudden acceleration and the ability to stop and turn on a dime is why their claws can’t fully retract.

Never Declaw Your Cat

One thing that you should never do to your cat is to get it declawed. It is an act of cruelty and serves no purpose to a cat.

Some cats do need to be declawed because of having cancer in the paws. But outside of having a legitimate medical reason, a cat’s quality of life is drastically reduced when declawed.

The act of declawing a cat isn’t just removing its claws but cutting away the bone that the claw is attached to. It is similar to having all your finger removed.

Studies have shown that declawed cats suffer from anxiety as they feel insecure from the lack of claws to defend themselves.

It is also painful for these cats when they walk or use the litter box.

Please do not declaw your cat just to stop it from scratching your furniture. It is better to not keep a cat if your furniture matters that much to you.

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