cat claw problems

Why Won’t My Cat’s Claws Retract?

Are your cat’s claws too long, and your cat can’t retract them? This is a common issue for cats and their owners. There is a simple solution, though.

Why won’t my cat’s claws retract? The issue could be disease, trauma or infection. Alternatively, it could be old age. Buying cat scratching furniture will help your cat wear down its claws. Don’t clip your cat’s nails because there are nerves and blood vessels running through them. If the problem doesn’t go away, take your cat to the vet.

If the problem is an infection, antibiotics may be needed. And trauma fades over time. This therefore isn’t a problem that will require extensive medical assistance.

Cat Claw Problems

Cat claw problems are bad for two reasons. One, they can cause your cat a significant amount of pain. A cat’s claws are full of nerves, so when they’re too long, your cat can feel it. Normally it will wear down its claws on its own, but your cat can’t always do that.

Two, issues if left untreated can seriously impair your cat’s mobility. Whilst you may be able to rectify the issue at home, and there may be multiple guides online telling you how to address the issue without the help of a vet, seek a professional regardless. Despite what they would have you believe, they’re delicate creatures and one wrong move with the nail clippers could do your cat more harm than good.

The Essential Role Of Your Cat’s Claws

cat claw problems
Cat claw problems stop them doing the things they love, like climbing. Image from Pixabay

Your cat’s claws were made to serve many purposes in the wild, they may not utilize their claws for all of those purposes as domesticated animals, but a cat’s claws are essential for their mobility. A cat’s claws allow them to climb fences, scale trees, help them to maintain their grip and catch prey. Your cat will also use their claws to hide their scent from predators by scratching at the dirt to cover where they have defecated or urinated.

You will notice that your cat spends a significant amount of their time during their grooming routines tending to their claws to keep them spotless and in good condition. This is because even indoor cats know how crucial their claws are to them. If a cat can’t retract claws, it will become upset. The grooming is also due to instinct; it makes sense to keep diseases at bay which could have serious systemic implications.

Whilst cat claw problems may not be one of the most common issues which vets are faced with, disorders do occur. It is vital that you address the problems promptly when they happen. There are signs to look out for that will indicate whether your cat needs treatment straight away.

Cat Claw Problems: Understanding The Issue

To understand cat claw problems, first, you must understand cat claws. Their structure isn’t too dissimilar to human fingernails and toenails. They are made from keratin and coated in a thin sheath which is made up of ‘dead’ keratin.  Running through the center of the claw is the blood supply which is also referred to as the ‘quick’. The nail grows out of the cat’s pads, the nails should be able to project and retract at your cat’s will.

Generally, when your cat is relaxed or sleeping, claws should be in the retracted position. This means that they should be resting snugly in the paws, held there by tissue known as the dorsal ligaments. When your cat wants to unleash their claws, they will do this by contracting a muscle called the ‘digital flexor’. The digital flexor is a muscle strong enough to overpower the resistance of the dorsal ligament until your cat wishes to retract their claws again. This is done by simply relaxing the digital flexor muscle.

As you can imagine, with a relatively complex project and retract mechanism, your cat’s claws can suffer from a range of issues. Your cat will usually let you know if they are experiencing discomfort by being unusually inactive and quiet for a few days. However, all cats respond to pain in different ways, some cats may choose to be excessively vocal about their cat claw problems.

There may be no obvious physical signs in the early days of cat claw problems. However, your cat may begin to let you know my limping and being hesitant to place the affected paw on the ground, or excessively licking their paws.

Why Won’t My Cat’s Claws Retract?

Cause 1: Disease or Infection

Your cat’s claws are as susceptible as any other body part to bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Considering that your cat’s claws remain in constant contact with the floor and all of the bacteria that may happen to linger upon it, it should be no surprise that their toes can become infected. Most bacterial, viral and fungal infections can be treated with a simple short-term course of antibiotics. Yet, cat claw problems may also have more serious causes such as autoimmune disorders and tumors.

The most common medical issue cats have when it comes to their claws is a condition called ‘paronychia’ which is an inflammatory disease which specifically affects the nail beds. This condition is usually the result of bacterial infection and affects one or more claws at the same time. Alongside the inflammation, you may also notice pus coming from your cat’s nail bed. The pus will become thick and brown in color over time. The good news is the condition is treatable with a simple course of antibiotics! If the claw disorder persists after treatment, your cat may be suffering from ringworm.

Cause 2: Age

Advanced age can also be the cause of your cat’s claw issues. Older cats tend to experience issues as their claws become thicker and more fragile. Yet, younger cats especially kittens aren’t out of the woods when it comes to nail issues. Their energetic nature can make it all too easy for them to cause themselves an injury. Sadly, there is little you can do about kittens being playful. However, it is important to understand the severity of claw issues. They’ll need to be treated right away, or at least looked at by your vet. No one ever said being a kitten parent was easy!

Cause 3: Trauma

cat claw problems
We think someone may be requesting a manicure. Image from Wikimedia

Whether it’s getting in a fight with another animal, getting under your feet, getting their claws trapped indoors or being involved in road accidents, it’s safe to say there are many ways your cat could injure their claws through trauma. Your cat could also experience pad or claw trauma through chemical burns, thermal burns and frostbite. In these instances, the causes are quick to identify. A cat can’t retract claws when there’s a physical impediment stopping them from doing so.

Cats are generally hardy creatures and their fur does a good job when it comes to hiding their injuries, so if you suspect that your cat has been injured, contact your vet immediately.

What to Do When Your Cat Can’t Retract Claws

Option 1: Invest in Cat Scratching Furniture

If you’ve ever wondered why your cat spends so much time scratching away at pretty much everything that they can sink their claws into. It is important to note that they’re not just misbehaving or destroying your beloved furniture for the sake of it. Cat’s engage in scratching activity to maintain their claw muscles to keep them healthy and strong. The activity will also help your cat to keep their claws sharp and remove the blunt, dead parts of their nails, otherwise known as sheaths.  So, it is always important, especially with indoor cats to provide a rough service where they can maintain their claws. If your cat doesn’t seem interested in the traditional scratching posts you can always opt for scratching mats. We’ve covered all you need to know about scratching posts here in our expert guide.

Option 2: Clipping Your Cat’s Nails

Clipping a cat’s nails has never been the easiest job in the world, in fact, it’s probably enough to make you wish you got a fish instead. But, the good news is that cats generally take care of wearing down their claws by themselves. If your cat is an indoor cat and shows little interest in utilizing the scratching furniture which you have provided them with, this can become a problem. Some cats can simply become apathetic about it.

What people don’t know is that there are blood vessels which run through the center of a cat’s nail. When you cut these, you put your cat in a lot of pain. It’s therefore best not to clip your cat’s nails, even if most people do.

Option 3: Head to the Vet

cat claw problems
Getting some cat furniture for the home is a wise precaution against losing your garden furniture! Image from Pixabay

If you’ve noticed that your cat’s pads, nails, or toes have become inflamed or red, contact your vet straight away, and don’t hesitate in seeking treatment. Generally, inflammation of the toes can indicate your cat has received some form of trauma. Your vet will want to run an X-ray on your cat’s feet for them to examine the extent of the damage. Any obvious signs of swelling or damage will be causing your cat a significant amount of pain.

To Sum Up

Always ensure that you pay attention to your cat’s nail beds whilst grooming them. If your cat will allow it, you can check your cat’s nail health by taking their paw in your band and gently squeezing the pad to project the claw. You should be looking for any signs of inflammation, dirt, mucus or blood. Any discharge is a clear sign of infection that will require a trip to the vets. Cat claw problems can usually be resolved quite easily.