Why Do Cats Need Their Claws?
I once read that a cat’s claws could be considered the “Swiss Army knife of the feline toolbox.”
At first glance, that can seem like a bit of an overstatement. I also realize that this topic can be highly controversial in the cerebellar hypoplasia community. I’ve met folks who have tremendously different opinions: Folks who have no qualms with declawing their cats, and folks on the other end of the spectrum who believe it’s wrong to trim your cat’s nails.
No matter which camp you’re a member of, take a moment to brush up on how cats use their claws. It may help you better understand your cat’s behaviors and needs.
So why exactly do cats have claws and how do they use them? Here are four reasons:
Outdoor Cats: For cats who live or roam outdoors, claws are an essential tool when dealing with prey. Cats use their claws to hold down their prey (whether it’s a meal or a gift for you), while they deliver the fatal bite at the back of the prey’s neck. Without their claws, cats wouldn’t be able to catch or hold on to their prey, which (in extreme cases) could lead to starvation.
Indoor Cats: Hopefully your indoor cat won’t be catching a mouse any time soon, but that doesn’t mean that indoor cats don’t exhibit the same behavior. Watch your cat carefully the next time he’s playing with a toy. Have you ever seen a cat hold on to a toy and kick it with his back legs? This is essentially the same behavior. Sure your cat may be playing instead of hunting, but the basic instinct is the same. Indoor cats without claws may feel powerless when it comes to catching their “prey,” so it’s a good idea to let your cat catch and attack the toy now and then, instead of immediately pulling it away.
Outdoor and indoor cats: Both indoor and outdoor cats use their claws to communicate, too. Clawing into a surface, like a tree, scratching post, or even your favorite chair, leaves messages for other cats. When the cat scratches a surface, it not only leaves a visual territorial mark, it also leaves an olfactory mark as the paw pads’ scent glands brush over the area.
Outdoor Cats: We’ve all seen a TV show or movie that shows a predator chasing a cat when suddenly the cat uses his claws to scale up a tree or fence to get to safety. Claws provide an additional option for mobility. Without claws, cat would only be able to walk or jump to other destinations, which can be limiting.
Indoor Cats: Here’s where some CH cat parents may get squeamish. Since some CH cats have trouble jumping, they often climb to get to get onto a couch, bed, or cat tree. However, some find this behavior destructive, and may discourage it. Yet without their claws, indoor cats – especially those with cerebellar hypoplasia – can be significantly unsteady.
Certainly cats with mild cases of CH may not miss their claws too much, but some owners will tell you that claws are essential to their cat’s mobility. This doesn’t only include climbing onto furniture, but being able to grip onto carpet while walking or playing, and more.
Last, but not least, a cat’s claws are its main source of defense. From swatting at another cat to teach him to stay out of his territory, to disciplining the family dog, to smacking us when we’ve upset them – claws can convey a powerful message.
Without claws, cats can feel powerless in situations. They can certainly bite, but having four paws’ worth of claws in their arsenal is certainly the better deal. Some claim that cats who have their claws removed may develop behavioral issues, like biting, to compensate for their lack of claws.
In the end, it’s up to each one of us to decide what’s best for our cat and family. However, I firmly believe that cats were born with claws for a reason. That said, there are certainly things we can do to make sure that claws aren’t an issue in our everyday lives.
Does your CH cat have claws? How does he use them? Have you done anything around your home to encourage or discourage claw-related behaviors? Please share in the comments!