Cats and many other mammals, birds, and reptiles grow and use claws. Even dinosaurs millions of years ago grew claws. Claws are used in climbing, feeding, defense, prey capture and a range of other behaviors important for survival. Claws are composed of the same material that forms mammalian hair and our fingernails.
Claws evolved as animal weapons and tools millions of years ago. Tyrannosaurus rex (means "tyrant lizard king") was 40 feet (12.4 m) long and weighed 5 to 7 tons. They had two claws on each arm and three claws on each foot. Today's domestic cat has claws that are essentially the same material as T-rex claws. There appears to be an evolutionary advantage for some animals to have claws.
Cats have a unique ability to retract or extend claws at will. The long tendon (green line) is normally not pulled tight, and the claw is retracted. But when desired, a strong muscle can pull the tendon (green line) and the needle-sharp claw is extended and ready for action. No other species can do this with claws.
Also interesting is how cats normally walk on their toes with claws retracted, so the claws do not touch the ground. This insures that the claws remain sharp and never become worn down as do dog's toenails.
Cats like to scratch on surfaces because scratching knocks off the outer covering on their claws. This shedding of the outer covering is normal as it exposes a fresh new needle-sharp claw! Shown here are pieces of Flash's claw outer coverings found in his scratching area.
The desire to scratch is natural and necessary for claw maintenance. So be sure there is a suitable place available for your kitty to scratch off those old claw coverings. If your kitty is shredding your furniture, then both your cat and you may be happier with a better place to do scratching.
There are many special devices designed especially for cat scratching and natural claw care. Click below to see Flash scratching then tearing up his scratcher pad.
© Copyright 2009 by Lawrence Rodrigues
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