Claw Shedding in Cats

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A cat scratches to help remove its claw sheaths.
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Cat guardians will find a stray cat nail sheath now and then on the carpet or any other area their kitty might have been. When a claw sheds, it will be in the shape of a claw, but empty, so to speak. Cat claws shedding is a natural occurrence. As your cat's nail outgrows its blood supply, the outer layer of the claw, called the sheath, falls off. Your cat's desire to scratch helps her to get rid of this outer layer. Regular claw trims help cats to maintain a healthy nail length.

Cat nails are always growing

Like human fingernails, claws grow throughout the cat's entire life. They need to be trimmed because they are always growing, and indoor cats don't have opportunities to wear away their claws by scratching them on things like tree bark in the same way that outdoor cats do. Trimming their claws means they can knead on your lap without causing pain, and their claws won't get stuck when they scratch on things like carpet.

A cat's claws are made from keratin, the same protein that makes up human nails.
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Shedding the cat nail sheath

A cat's claws are made from keratin, the same protein that makes up human nails. Because cat's nails are always growing, cats shed their claw sheaths as a way to remove outgrown nail keratin and make room for new claw growth. The keratin grows from a blood supply within the nail. As the outer part grows and gets bigger, it starts to die when it is not as close to the blood supply. Then it becomes a "sheath," which wraps around the healthy, younger nail.

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A cat's claw has layers similar to an onion. As the outer sheath, or layer, grows, it naturally detaches and falls away every two or three months. When you trim the end of your cat's claw, it can help release the outer sheath so it can be shed. Cats scratch to sharpen their claws and to help remove their claw sheaths. Trimming a cat's claws also removes the sharp tip of the claw so that your cat can't shred furniture. Trim your cat's claws about once every 10 days to two weeks, says the ASPCA.

When to be concerned

If you find a cat's claw that looks like an entire claw and not an empty sheath, this would be a cause for concern because it likely means that your cat's claw got stuck on something and was pulled off. If that happened, your cat will be in pain and there will probably be bleeding. A torn claw can quickly lead to an infection, so take your cat to the vet right away if this occurs. You may see that your cat is limping or repeatedly licking its injured paw if it has lost a claw.

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Cat claw caps

A torn claw is a problem.
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The National Cat Groomers Institute discusses cat claw caps, or cat nail caps, as a tool to help with cat scratching. Cat nail caps are sort of like a plastic fake nail that goes over the cat's claw. When wearing cat claw caps, a cat can still extend and retract her nails, but the claws are covered with a soft plastic material that prevents them from scratching. Because of this, they shouldn't be used on outdoor cats since the cat wouldn't have the use of their claws to defend themselves if necessary.

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Cat nail caps are adhered with glue and are selected to be the right size for the cat's nails. The process of applying cat nail caps also removes the dead layers of nail sheath and trims the nails to an appropriate length. A cat's nails are still capable of growing underneath the nail cap. The nail caps need to be removed every two months at a minimum. Either a groomer or your veterinarian can apply cat nail caps.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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