A cat’s claws(five on the front paws, four on the back) – are a cat’s primary hunting weapons. Their design makes them efficient for stalking as well as for the kill. Their paws end in sensitive, hairless pads which, when the cat is walking normally or relaxed, conceal the sheathed or retracted claws. (Fun fact. Only the cheetah of all the cats is unable to retract its claws, trading off silence for speed. They are the fastest of the cats but are virtually unable to climb.)
A Cat’s claws are unsheathed when the cat is climbing, moving quickly across the ground, making a kill, and sometimes, as sometimes just when cranky. For this last reason, children should be taught to approach cats with care and respect. A cat may choose to play wrestle with its claws sheathed.. or unsheathed
All members of the cat family, excepting only the cheetah, are able to sheath and unsheathe their claws at will.
The sheathing mechanism consists of an elastic ligament linking the last two toe bones, which are connected by tendons to the leg muscles. When the claw is sheathed, it is held beneath a layer of skin by the tightened ligament.
The appropriate stimulus causes the muscles to pull the tendons back, extending the end toe bone and pushing the claw forwards and outwards. At the same time, tendons lock the two end bones so that the joint becomes rigid.
Keeping Claw Sharp is instinctive behaviour. Outdoor cats will sharpen their claws on a tree or fence post usually returning to the same one day after day. Cats kept indoors will find an object for the purpose, and if furniture and carpets are not to be damaged a scratching pad or post must be provided and the cat must be trained to use it.
It is pointless to try to discourage an indoor cat from scratching furniture without providing an alternative, and even then, your cat will make their choice. The outdoor cat will normally keep its claws in trim without the owner resorting to clipping them, but indoor cats may need this attention occasionally. It is not an easy task and is best left to an expert.
In the US vets carry out de-clawing operations on the front paws of cats which live entirely indoors. This practice is not generally approved of elsewhere (It’s very much illegal in Australia, though it is possible to purchase claw covers which are claimed to prevent much of the damage to furniture which is the main reason cats re declawed anyway), and most cat fancy organisations ban declawed cats from shows. The declawing process usually leads to deformation of the paws in later life and it’s exceptionally cruel.
Cat’s claws and Climbing
Although the claws are excellent tools for climbing upwards, they are less helpful when the cat wants to come down because they curve backwards and cannot provide a grip. Thus your cat’s graceful ascent to height will be followed by undignified slithering, a swift turn and a forward jump. Cats’ excel at climbing upwards and their relative hopelessness in the descent have caused many an owner some anxious waits and many a fire brigade a frustrating outing.