Are a Cat’s Claws Supposed to Fall Out?

cat or kitten paws with missing claws that fell out on their own

You’re tidying up around the house one day when you spot it: what looks like one of your cat’s claws laying there on the carpet. You pick it up and examine it, your concern growing by the second. Do a cat’s claws just come out like this?

Are a cat’s claws supposed to fall out? In short, yes. Not only is it supposed to happen but it can be a sign of a healthy cat. A cat’s claw, being made of keratin is continuously growing shedding and yes falling out. The old claw sheath gets pushed out so a new, sharper claw can be revealed.

Ahead, I’ll explain more about the cycle of cat claw shedding and when it’s normal to see pieces of the claw around the house versus when it’s not. I’ll also provide some care tips for your kitty’s claws so they’re in even better shape!

Do Cat’s Claws Just Fall Out?

cat or kitten paws with missing claws that fell out on their own

As I established in the intro, your cat’s claws can indeed fall out, typically through shedding but sometimes as caused by trauma or an injury. Since in most cases the lost claw is due to the former, I wanted to explain how and why cats shed their claws. Then I’ll touch on the effects of injuries to a cat’s paws.

Cat Claw Shedding 101

The protein that produces human hair, nails, and skin is known as keratin, and cats contain it too. Namely, their claws grow from keratin, giving the claws the same hard texture as our fingernails.

Also made of keratin is the claw’s sheath, a part of the nail that protects the quick, which is an area of nerves.

Cats rely on their claws all the time. Some purposes of a cat’s claws include grooming, climbing, gripping, digging, and of course, to defend themselves. Their claws can be retracted, but only the front ones, and not completely.

Your fingernails, if you never trimmed them or if they never broke, could grow indefinitely. That’s also the case with a cat’s claws, and a dog’s too, for that matter. That said, the claw doesn’t necessarily grow evenly throughout, as it’s comprised of layers.

The outer layer or the sheath was there first. It starts out covering the quick but, as it grows, the outer layer moves further from the blood supply, eventually being disconnected from that supply. It’s around this time that the outer layer sheds.

Depending on how cleanly this happens, some inexperienced cat owners can assume their cat’s entire claw came out.

The shedding process repeats itself about every two months, sometimes every three months.

Cat Claw Injuries

If your cat spends part of its time outdoors, they’re an especially vigorous player, or they fight frequently with another cat in the house, injuries are more likely. If their paw was damaged, the claw might have shed as a side effect of that injury.

The nail could also have been broken. Thick, shaggy carpeting can make your cat’s claws tear off as well.

Leaving a paw or claw injury untreated could invite bacteria, eventually leading to a condition called paronychia. This inflammatory disease will cause nailbed swelling and pain.

Other symptoms include nail discoloration (the nail will often turn brown), nail thickness, and leaking pus. 

Was It the Claw or Just the Sheath That Shed?

You’re more familiar now with what can make a cat’s claws fall out, but you still feel uncertain about your situation. You found a pretty intact claw and you can’t tell if it’s just your cat’s sheath or the entire claw.

How do you know?

There are a few ways to be sure, so let’s go over them now.

Hollow vs. Thick Claw

Pick up the claw and examine it. Hold it in your palm to get a feel for its weight.

Is the claw remnant thicker and fuller or does it look hollow inside? If it’s the latter, then it’s merely the sheath that came off.

A full claw that’s not as hollow probably was ripped or torn away from an injury or even a fight with another animal.

Tissue and Blood Residue

Remember where you saw the claw. Was there anything else nearby on the floor, such as pieces of tissue or even small spatters of blood?

If you notice one or both of these, the leftover traces of violence show that your cat’s claw likely did not come out willingly.

I would definitely recommend you take your feline friend to the vet immediately for a checkup. Most cats don’t love it when people touch their paws on a good day, let alone when they’re injured and the paw feels sensitive.

Your vet will be able to examine your cat’s paws like you couldn’t to find which claw was forcefully removed.

Location, Location, Location

If all you have to go on is the claw with no blood around (thank goodness!), then use your context clues. If you find the claw by your cat’s scratching post, that’s a pretty good indicator that you only have the sheath, not the entire claw.

What to Do If Your Cat’s Claws Fall Out

Now that you’ve used your detective skills to deduce whether it was the claw or just the sheath that came out, what should you do about it? If it’s the sheath your cat shed, then you don’t necessarily have to do anything.

I’ll provide some care tips for kitty claws in the next section, but considering claw shedding is a standard part of a cat’s life, nothing abnormal has occurred.

What if it’s the entire claw that’s fallen off? If you can find which paw was affected, pick up your cat and run that paw under warm water.

This will flush out any bacteria around the area. Putting pressure on the paw, such as wrapping a paper towel around it and squeezing, will curtail the bleeding.

Then, as I advised you in the paragraphs above, get your cat to the vet ASAP. In the meantime, please avoid using alcohol on the injured area.

Sure, it stings when we apply it on a wound, but for a cat, this treatment can be extremely painful. That’s also the case with hydrogen peroxide.

Not only will hydrogen peroxide hurt your kitty, but it can affect the nearby tissue too, weakening it.

Your vet may bandage your cat’s wound. If that’s the case, then once you’re home, it’s your job to make sure your cat doesn’t remove the bandage.

They will try at every turn, so you must be vigilant. You should also apply or administer any medication the vet prescribes your cat so they heal completely.

Cat Claw Care Tips

A cat will shed its claws regardless, but here are a few things you can do to accelerate the process and keep it moving healthily along.

Trim Their Claws Regularly

When you trim your cat’s claws, the sheath can’t grow to its full length, but it still comes out faster. Trimming is also good in that it keeps your cat’s claws at a manageable length so they’re less likely to catch on things and possibly tear right out.

It’s ideal if you began trimming your cat’s nails in kittenhood, as they’ll have grown up with this and won’t fight you each time you grab the nail clippers. You can cut an adult cat’s claws, but don’t be surprised if they get angry.

If you often end up bloody and scratched trying to trim your cat’s nails, groomers will gladly do it, as will your vet.

Should you ever decide to tackle the job yourself, you’ll need pet grooming scissors. I’ve tried a lot of different brands and styles over the years and I found that these Pet Republique nail clippers I found on Amazon, which are made for kittens and adult cats alike, work extremely well.

Here are some steps to follow for successful, stress-free nail trimming each time.

  1. Work in a room your cat feels relaxed in. You want to put your kitty at ease as much as you can, even encouraging them to sit in your lap if possible.

Helpful tip: if your cat is especially upset about you getting near their claws, try feeding them and then trimming them post-meal when they’re contented and even a bit groggy. You can also cut your cat’s nails right after they’ve woken up from a long nap.

2. Before you ever trim a sheath, you want to acclimate your cat to the trimmers. Take a strand of uncooked spaghetti and keep it with you while your cat sits in your lap. You might hold their paw and every now and again trim a piece of the pasta like you were cutting your cat’s nails.

Reward your cat with treats as you do this.

3. Hold the paw in your hand, using your fingers to rub it for three seconds. Your cat might try to pull away, in which case, wait a few seconds and then try again. When you can hold the paw for more than three seconds, apply gentle pressure so the nails pop out if they’re not already out.

4. You can finally begin the trimming process for real. Avoid getting too close to the pink area of the claw, which is where the nerve is. Only cut where it’s white. You don’t want to trim too much of the nail, as remember, cats rely on their claws for quite a lot.

5. Repeat this with another claw, but after two or three, let it go for now. Give your cat a treat and continue trimming more claws later. Once your cat is adjusted to what you’re doing, cutting their nails won’t be a multi-day process.

About every two weeks going forward, trim your cat’s nails.

Provide Them a Place to Scratch

Do you know why cats like to scratch? You might have assumed the act satisfies a wild ancestral instinct to hunt or train, but it’s not really about that. Instead, cats scratch to mark their territory and to help their claws shed.

If your cat doesn’t have a scratching post or a cat tower, rectify that ASAP. Cats have to scratch, and they’ll use any surface they find suitable, be that your couch or other furniture.

Replace the rope or fabric that covers the scratching post every few months as well, as a playful cat will wear these away fast.

Remember to Offer Your Cat More Water in the Winter

In the winter your cat’s nails can dry out faster and more often, which may cause the layers to shed more unevenly in the cold season. Trimming their nails becomes more difficult as you’re likely to notice splintering when you try to trim them.

Ensuring your feline friend drinks more water throughout the colder months is an easy way to help keep their claws hydrated all winter long. 

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