Why do cats pull at their claws?

If you notice that your cat is claw pulling, there may not be too much concern.

There are normally three reasons that can cause this behaviour in cats:

  • Normal grooming
  • Medical
  • Behavioural

Normal grooming:

Normal grooming is anything like, licking, chewing and biting. So when it comes to your cat’s claws understanding how claws are structured will help you to understand your cat’s claw pulling actions. Your cat’s claws are made up of layers that grow from the inside out. Over time the outside layer can become worn and frayed. Consequently, your cat will chew or bite at their claws during grooming. Their aim is to remove the outer layer to expose the sharp claw underneath.

*MOST cases of nail-biting are normal and generally require no treatment.


A number of medical causes can lead to chronic nail-biting and chewing including:


Ringworm can be challenging to diagnose in cats. A fungal infection, ringworm, can cause skin irritations and dandruff. Its name comes from the red ring that the infection can cause on the surface of the skin.


Pemphigus is the most common autoimmune skin disease recognised in cats. It can cause irritations to the skin around the face, ears and paws.

Brittle and thick nails, most often seen in older cats

There are a number of causes of brittle or thick claws in cats. These range from bacterial infections, cancerous tumours or high levels of growth hormone. It is also possible that the cat’s claws have been cut to close to the nail bed leaving them susceptible to infections.

These are just a few of the issues that can cause your cat to pull at his or her claws. Therefore, it is vital to seek medical advice if you see your cat compulsively licking and biting claws, having difficulty in walking or has pain in his or her paws.


Your cat may develop behavioural issues that can originate by chewing their claws excessively. There is often a fine line between what’s normal and what’s excessive behaviour. It’s important to keep a close eye on your cat for what you’d consider to be out of the ordinary behaviour.

How to help

Keep a routine. Most cats like a routine, so it can help to make their home life as predictable as possible for them.

  • Feed them at the same time each day
  • Regular play times.

Reduce Stress

Once the cause of stress is identified, do as much as you can to restore harmony in your cat’s life.

  • If the issue is another cat in the home, try separating them and then slowly re-introduce them.
  • Another option is to neuter your cat to reduce aggression.
  • If you’re in a multi-cat home make sure you have enough resources so your cats don’t have to share.
  • provide multiple food and water bowls as well as litter trays. There should be one tray per cat, plus one extra.

Provide mental stimulation

If you own an indoor cat, be sure to provide them with plenty of stimulation, especially if you are out of the house for long periods of time.

Try scheduling time to play with your cat each day or be sure to provide an enriched environment with elevated surfaces where your cat can get up high:

  • Shelving
  • Cat trees

Provide your cat with interactive toys to avoid boredom. Even something as simple as a box or a paper bag. There are many inexpensive cat toy puzzles stuffed with cat treats which will keep your cat entertained whilst you are out.

You can even build a cat enclosure to allow them to freely roam and explore safely – If space and finances line up.

Speak to your vet

A simple check-up will really put your mind at ease. So, if you feel like your pet is suffering from any of the above or damage to their nails; speak to your veterinarian. They will be able to determine whether your cat’s symptoms are normal, medical or behavioural.

– Symptoms of concern:

  • Redness
  • Raw skin
  • Bleeding
  • Hair loss

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