I absolutely adore watching my cat meticulously groom herself, especially when she delicately bites her nails one by one. It’s simply adorable. But have you ever wondered why cats bite or chew their nails? Is it a cause for concern? Well, let’s dive into this behavior and uncover the reasons behind it.
A Normal Part of Grooming
Just like humans, cats engage in nail biting as part of their regular grooming routine. It’s perfectly normal and serves a few important purposes. However, it’s crucial to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy nail chewing, as excessive biting may indicate an underlying psychological or medical issue.
Cats are known for their impeccable personal hygiene, spending up to half of their waking hours grooming themselves. From an early age, kittens learn to groom through their mother’s guidance and quickly adopt this self-care habit. Their bodies are designed for grooming, with a flexible spine and specialized tongue that acts as a hairbrush, untangling and cleansing their fur.
Keep Those Paws Clean
Just like how our nails can accumulate dirt and debris after a long day, a cat’s paws and claws can also collect various substances they come into contact with. Walking on different surfaces or digging in the litter box can leave dirt, skin oils, dead skin cells, and even occasional oily gunk around a cat’s nails.
To ensure their hygiene, cats diligently remove any filth that accumulates between their toes, in the toe tufts, and around the nails. It’s a commendable pursuit of cleanliness, and you needn’t worry about this type of claw chewing.
Cats Need the Occasional Manicure
Contrary to popular belief, a cat’s claws are quite unique. While human nails are simply connected to flesh, a cat’s nails are connected to bone and grow from special structures in their toes. Scientists had long puzzled over how cats keep their claws sharp and in good working order.
Research using advanced imaging techniques revealed that cats constantly shed the outer layer of their claws. The claws develop tiny “microcracks” on the outside, which multiply when the cat applies pressure, such as by climbing or scratching. Eventually, when enough cracks accumulate, the damaged outer layer naturally falls off, ensuring that the cat always has a sharp claw tip.
However, sometimes a nearly shed claw sheath may require additional assistance. If a hanging piece of nail gets caught on objects, a cat may use her teeth to complete the process. So, don’t worry if you see your cat chewing or biting her claws. It’s all part of a healthy grooming routine.
When to be Concerned
Although nail biting is generally harmless, there are instances where it might indicate an underlying issue. If your cat, who wasn’t a regular nail chewer, suddenly starts obsessively biting her nails, it’s important to consider medical or behavioral causes for this change in behavior.
Skin infections, allergies, parasites, or overly dry skin can cause itching or discomfort, leading to paw biting. Additionally, paw pain resulting from an injury or autoimmune diseases, such as pododermatitis, may cause a cat to excessively lick or chew her paws. If you notice other signs like hair loss, redness, swelling, flaking skin, or tenderness, it’s best to contact your veterinarian for further evaluation.
Behavioral Factors to Consider
Distinguishing between normal and excessive nail biting in cats can be challenging. You, as the cat parent, are best equipped to identify what is “normal” behavior for your feline friend. If your cat starts biting her nails excessively and displays signs of distress, such as hiding more, excessive meowing, or changes in litter box behavior, it could indicate emotional discomfort.
Certain behavioral factors might contribute to unhealthy nail biting or chewing in cats:
A Change in Routine
Cats thrive on routine and predictability. Even small changes in their environment, like introducing new furniture or altering their litter, can cause significant stress for them. Major changes, such as a new baby, the loss of a family pet, or a different work schedule, can generate high levels of anxiety in cats.
To minimize their distress, try to view your life from your cat’s perspective. Are there measures you can take to mitigate these changes? While you can’t undo certain events, you can try to maintain regular feeding times or reintroduce new additions to the household with patience and care.
Indoor cats are particularly prone to boredom. If you suspect that your cat is biting her nails out of boredom, make an effort to engage her in more playtime. Cats enjoy short play sessions, lasting around 10 to 15 minutes, several times a day. There are plenty of fun activities you can do with your cat to keep her entertained and mentally stimulated.
Furthermore, create an enriched home environment to keep your cat busy when you’re not available to play with her. Install a kitty seat by a window and set up a bird feeder nearby to provide visual stimulation. Leave foraging toys around the house to challenge her intellect. Tunnel toys and climbing structures can also promote both mental and physical stimulation. If possible, consider an indoor/outdoor cat enclosure, known as a catio, to provide the ultimate anti-boredom experience.
Understanding why cats bite their nails can help you determine whether it’s a normal grooming behavior or something that requires further attention. While it’s a natural part of their self-care routine, excessive or sudden changes in nail biting can indicate underlying medical or behavioral issues. By observing your cat’s behavior closely and addressing any concerns with your veterinarian, you can ensure the well-being and happiness of your feline companion.
To learn more about cat grooming and care, visit Katten TrimSalon.