Dr. Roy Brenton Smith, DVM, of the Central Texas Cat Clinic and president elect of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, has certainly seen his share of owners who are thrown by the experience. “They come in with the claw — upset that something bad happened,” says Dr. Smith.
The good news is that the process is natural and actually beneficial for a cat. Claws are essential for felines, who use them for defense, climbing and hunting.
According to Dr. Smith, when this happens, the nail has grown beyond the blood supply, so the outside sheath is discarded to make room for a newer, sharper version. He estimates that this happens to each claw about every two to three months in the average housecat.
In addition to honing their nails, scratching also helps cats to shed old claw sheaths. Felines who never scratch can require medical attention for nails that have grown so long that they curl under and pierce the paw pads.
This is why owners need to provide adequate clawing surfaces, such as a sturdy scratching post. Clipping also aids the shedding process — cutting the excess nail off means that cats don’t have to do as much scratching.
But even with regular nail trimming, kitties can still feel the need to scratch. “There is definitely a psychological reason why cats do this,” says Dr. Smith. “There is a look on their face of enjoyment. When they are happy, they really get their claws into it. It’s part of their environmental enrichment.”