How Do Cats Retract Their Claws?

Just like the big cats of the jungle, the cute little puppy you keep at home has retractable claws.

Cat’s claws were created for a good purpose, but sometimes, they can get lethal and compromising.

These claws are designed with a unique protective sheath to retract to when they are inactive.

When the claws are not in use, a cat will retract by pulling the tip of its toe. This mechanism will unsheathe the claws.

How Do Cats Retract Their Claws

It also makes the foot wider than usual because it has been turned into a weapon. However, for one reason or another, claws in some cats cannot retract.

Retracting the claws is something your cat should learn while it is still young and growing.

This means that claws retraction is something that is both adaptable and teachable.

Some cats might begin forgetting to retract their claws as they grow older, and they will need a little reminder from their human parents.

For younger cats, it is much easier for them to retract their claws.

This is because theirs are still short, and most often, they have no reason to pull out their claws.

For the older ones, their claws might grow longer than the sheath, and retraction becomes an issue.

Why Is My Cat Not Retracting Its Claws?

As your cat grows older, its claws become more fragile and brittle.

A cat will retract its claws back to the sheathe of skin beneath the paws that are structured to cover the claws. They always know when to draw back its claws to the sheathe when they are not in use.

When a cat doesn’t pull back its claws, while in a relaxed mode, the claws will distract them a lot.

The claws will catch things like furniture and clothes, which can hinder the cat’s movements.

Also, since the claws are sharp and lethal, they can easily break if they keep catching everything around them.

Understanding the mechanism of how cats retract their claws can be both challenging and exciting at the same time. A cat always wants to pull back its claws when they are not needed.

Cat’s claws are held in place by tight muscles under the paws.

The retraction and protraction of these claws will largely depend on the contractions of these muscles and tendons.


Protraction (unsheathing) happens when a cat releases its muscles and tendons.

When the muscles contract, the claws automatically retract right into the sheath.

This is where claws stay for as long as they are not needed.

However, when it is time for hunting, scratching to mark territories, climbing, among other things, the claws will automatically push out of the sheath.

It is almost like an impulse action.

By retracting their claws when not needed, cats preserve their nails from breaking and getting blunt.

It also helps them to walk around so quietly without noise, thus the saying “as stealth as a cat.’’

A fascinating fact about claws retraction is that it is a passive action, whereas on the other hand, claws protraction is an active process.

Retraction involves the shortening of dorsal elastic ligaments.


On the other hand, claws protraction involves both the flexor and extensor muscles. When these two muscle groups rotate and extend simultaneously, the muscles are pushed out of the sheath.

If the flexor contracts and acts independently without the extensor muscles, some joins are flexed, and the claws will remain retracted.

As earlier mention, retraction is a necessary action to prevent the cat from blunting its claws.

According to science, the claw retraction mechanism is associated with a character complex that includes the morphology of the middle and distal phalanges.

The degree of retraction of the distal phalanx is restricted by contact with the dorsal surface of the middle phalanx.


If your cat has the habit of protracting its paws even when it is not necessary to have them out, there are a few things you can do to help them out of this behavior.

Protracting claws might cause your cat to wear out its claws and scratching and catching on surfaces unnecessarily.

You can help your cat out of this behavior by home training them.

When it scratches at something with its claws, punish your cat with high-pitched sounds and walk away to show that you disapprove of it.

Do this every time it uses its claws unnecessarily, sooner or later; it will get it.