December 2008 Issue

Care for Your Cat's Claws

Claws that grow too long can pose a serious health threat to a cat — and her owner, as well. Here's why.

The typical cat will spend up to 18 hours a day sleeping and as much as 50 percent of its waking hours meticulously grooming itself. In addition to persistently licking its coat in order to keep it clean and free of dirt and parasites, the animal will pay special attention to its claws, which serve it well as invaluable tools and, when the need arises, as formidable weapons. "A cat in the wild uses its claws for a wide variety of purposes," says William Miller, VMD, medical director at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. "It will use them to scratch its skin when it itches, mark its territory, provide traction when it wants to climb a tree trunk, or dig a hole to go after a mouse. A cat will also use its claws to conceal its scent from predators by scratching dirt over a spot where it has urinated or defecated." In the course of their routine activities, most cats — especially those that spend a lot of time outdoors — will be able to maintain their claws at proper length, notes Dr. Miller. Cats that live mainly indoors will usually be able to accomplish this as well if they have access to a sturdy scratching post. In some cases, however, a cat’s claws can become too long, a situation that can have harmful implications for the animal and possibly its owner.

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