Purpose of a Sheath on a Cat's Claws

Written by clayton yuetter
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Purpose of a Sheath on a Cat's Claws
The sheaths house the claws when they are not in use. (Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

There are many misconceptions when it comes to characteristics of a cat's claw, especially the function of the sheath. The sheath on a cat's foot serves several distinct purposes and allows it specific advantages over other clawed animals that do not have them. Often, when an owner thinks he has found a torn out claw, it is actually a sheath that has naturally shed.

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House the Claws

It is a common misconception that a cat's claws retract inside the sheath when not in use. In truth, when the cat is relaxed the nail is naturally inside the sheath. In use, the nails protract out of the sheath. The sheath actually serves as a resting place for the nails and keeps them from catching on the surface of objectives that the cat does not intend to grab. Otherwise, the cat would have difficulty simply walking across the carpet.

Keeps Claws Sharp

Animals that have permanent claws have to deal with them wearing down on a daily basis. In some cases, this can affect the animal's health and survival. Cats, however, do not have fixed claws. Instead, their old worn out claw sheaths are consistently replaced by new pin sharp claws underneath them. For this reason, a cat's claws are never dull. The present sheath is always housing sharp claws underneath it.

Removing Worn Out Sheaths

Cats love to scratch furniture and other surfaces, making a scratching post necessary. When a cat vigorously claws at carpet or fabric the misconception is that it is "sharpening" its nails. The more correct term, however, is stropping. The feline is removing the old, worn out sheaths to get to the new sharp claws underneath them. One may notice the old sheaths on the scratching post or the carpet. It looks like a claw that has been torn out, but it is actually a sheath that was ready to be replaced.

Sheath Overgrowth

In some instances, the old sheaths do not get removed and instead continue to grow and curl back into the pad of the foot. This is more common in old or unhealthy cats that do not groom themselves or experience enough physical activity. To prevent this, keep the nails on older cats trimmed. If a nail has become embedded due to failing to shed the sheath, it is best to have a veterinarian remove it.

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