Why Do Cats Bite and Chew on Their Nails? What You Can Do About It

Cat lying on its side, licking its paw

As humans, we’re often told that biting our nails is a bad habit, detrimental to our teeth. However, when it comes to cats, nail biting serves a different purpose. So, why do cats bite their nails? While occasional nail biting is usually harmless, excessive chewing may indicate underlying issues. Understanding the reasons behind this behavior can help you determine whether your feline friend needs assistance.

Natural Nail-Biting Habits

The primary reason why cats bite their nails is instinctual. According to Pet MD, some nail chewing occurs naturally during a cat’s grooming routine. Cats may chew on their paw pads and nails to remove accumulated dirt in the area. Occasionally, a cat may bite its nails to maintain them, especially if there is a broken piece or if the nails are naturally shredding. However, cats with access to scratching posts and trees may be able to maintain their nails without resorting to chewing.

White longhaired cat grooming itself

When Nail Biting Becomes Excessive

There are instances when cats take nail chewing to the extreme. Normal nail chewing tends to go unnoticed as cats usually do it discreetly and on rare occasions. Excessive nail chewing, on the other hand, is hard to ignore. Your cat may chew its paws excessively due to an injury, such as a broken nail or a cut, or even an infection like a yeast infection that causes itchiness. If your cat allows it, you can examine its paws for signs of irritation or injury.

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Stress and anxiety can also lead to abnormal behavior, including obsessive nail and paw chewing. Look out for other signs of anxiety, such as changes in urination patterns, increased hiding, and shifts in attitude. Consider any recent changes in your home environment that may have triggered these feelings, such as a recent move or the addition of a new family member (human or pet).

Orange and white cat grooming its paw

What You Can Do About Nail Biting and Chewing

If you notice that your cat occasionally bites its nails, there is likely no cause for concern. However, if the chewing becomes more pronounced, intervention may be necessary. You can examine your cat’s paws for any signs of irritation or injuries, or you can seek the assistance of a veterinarian to identify and address the root cause. Your vet can provide treatment for infections or injuries, ensuring your cat’s comfort. As the underlying issue gets resolved, your cat should be less inclined to chew on its nails.

Coping with stress and anxiety-related nail chewing can be more challenging. Identifying the cause of anxiety can help you take steps to create a more relaxed environment for your cat. Additionally, engaging your cat in daily play sessions can help alleviate stress.

Do Cats Trim Their Own Nails?

Most cats are capable of trimming 90% of their nails through biting and scratching. It’s a natural instinct for them to scratch, which is why it’s beneficial to provide scratching posts and toys that satisfy this need. Regularly checking your cat’s paws is still recommended, regardless of whether it engages in nail biting. Look for the characteristic curve that indicates it’s time for a trim. If you’re new to pet ownership, consult your vet for guidance on trimming your cat’s nails.

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Holding a cat's paw and trimming its nails

Final Thoughts on Cat Nail Biting

Cats are meticulous groomers, and nail chewing is often a part of their bathing routine. You can support your cat’s nail health by providing access to scratching posts, cardboard scratchers, and toys that allow it to satisfy its natural instincts. Scratching not only helps groom and maintain nails but also contributes to your cat’s overall wellbeing. Additionally, it’s beneficial to get your cat accustomed to having its paws handled, enabling you to inspect its nails when necessary. This familiarity also facilitates regular nail trims, which are essential for maintaining your cat’s nail health.

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