Cat Can’t Retract Claws

Cat Can't retract claws

Cats are natural predators and their claws play a vital role when they hunt for prey. They also use them for climbing, to leave their scent, for stretching and to protect themselves from enemies. Sometimes cats can have issues with their claws, including that they may lose the ability to retract their claws. 

Why won’t my Cats claws retract?

A cat may be unable to retract its claws for the following reasons:

1. Because of disease or infection. 

A cat’s claws are prone to disease or infection because they are exposed to various bacteria on the floor or soil. They are susceptible to bacterial, viral and fungal infections but the good news is that these conditions can be treated with medication like antibiotics.  

2. Because of their age. 

Old age is also among the reasons why cats cannot retract their claws. Senior cats claws become thicker and more fragile. Cats may also forget the habit or lose interest in scratching posts. 

3. Due to trauma. 

Trauma is considered the leading factor for cats not being able to retract claws. Their claws may get trapped in a door, due to fights with other cats or because of road accidents. Cats can also suffer from claw trauma due to thermal and chemical burns as well as frostbite. 

Sometimes cats simply do not want to retract their claws because of the following reasons:

  • when they are in the mood to play  
  • due to a lack of socialization when they were still kittens 
  • if they feel insecure 
  • when they are around their favorite humans like babies and children 
  • when they are not feeling well 

What to do when  your cat cannot retract her claws

Here are some measures that you can do if your cat cannot retract her claws:

Provide scratching posts and scratching mats for your cat. 

A scratching post allows your cat to exercise its claw muscles to keep them healthy. It helps keep their claws sharp and removes the dead parts called sheaths. A scratching mat is a good alternative if your cat is not so fond of the post.

Trim your cat’s nails. 

Trimming or clipping your cat’s nails is a good option especially if your cat is not actively using her scratching post. However, this may not be an easy task with most cats. You can hire a professional pet groomer or if you opt to do it yourself, ask some assistance from a family member with the task. 

Check out these articles on how to trim a squirmy cat’s nails, how to cut a cat’s nails without getting scratched, what happens if you don’t trim your cat’s nails, tips for trimming the claws of an aggressive cat and cat nail trimming cost for information on this topic.  

Bring your cat to the vet. 

To ensure your cat’s wellbeing and safety, bring her to the vet so he can assess the situation.  Your vet may run an X-ray of your cat’s feet to examine the extent of the damage. 

Can cats lose the ability to retract their claws?

Yes, cats can lose the ability to retract their claws especially when they are in their senior years. Arthritis causes stiffness and limits mobility which leads senior cats to give up on scratching.  To remedy this, you need to have your cat’s claws trimmed or clipped. If you are not confident doing it yourself, ask assistance from your vet or a professional pet groomer to help maintaining your cat’s claws. 

Trauma, disease or infection may also be other reasons why your cat loses the ability to retract the claws. Take your cat to the vet for a thorough assessment and treatment if you suspect that this is the case.

How do you teach a cat to retract her claws?

Here are some methods that you can try teach a cat to retract claws:

1. Set clear boundaries 

Let your cat know that any time is not always a good time to show off her claws. When her claws are out it could be dangerous for anyone in the household.  Do not pay attention to your cat when she tries to swipe you with her claws out. This will teach her to behave and she will eventually retract her claws.

2. Train your cat 

You can help your cat learn how to retract her claws through proper training. Felines can retract their claws while they are still kittens specifically when they are about four weeks old. However, they tend to forget it so it is your role to help them become reminded of that ability so that they can eventually retract at will.  

3. Devote some playtime with your cat 

Schedule some playtime with your cat, preferably at least 15 to 20 minutes twice a day.  When your cat catches you with her claws, let her know that it is painful. If she does it the second time, walk away but eventually come back but if she does it yet again, end the playtime and gather her toys. It will make your cat realize that she did something wrong. 

Resume playing with your cat after an hour or so until the cat learns her lesson. Your cat will realize that showing off her claws is not good as it is spoiling the fun. She will eventually learn to retract her claws while playing. 

4. Invest in cat scratching materials 

Encourage your cat to use cat scratching materials like scratching posts to keep her claws in check. It will also ease the retraction process. 

5. Consult the vet 

If you cannot control the situation you should consult your vet or cat behaviorist to assess and know the issue. A cat not retracting her claws should be addressed promptly before any untoward damage is done. 

What does it mean when a cat extends its claws?

A cat extends its claws for many reasons and one of these is to knead. Cats do this by pushing their paws in and out, alternating the right and left and they knead with claws completely retracted while some will extend their claws as they push in and retract their claws as they pull back. 

This is a common cat behavior and they do this on pillows, blankets, people and animals. It is said to be a leftover behavior from kittenhood when they knead the area around their mother’s teats to get milk during nursing time.

Felines will also extend their claws when they are angry or scared, for cleaning purposes and for scratching which can denote ownership, sharpening claws or as a sign of dominance. Claws can be removed but cat experts do not recommend doing this and this should only be done if your cat has a medical problem that requires surgery such as to remove cancerous nail bed tumors. The medical drawbacks of declawing include infection, tissue necrosis or tissue death, back pain and lameness. It causes pain and changes the way a cat’s foot meets the ground and ideally you should stick with alternatives such as nail trimming or nail caps. 


Claws are important for cats since they are their ultimate weapon against enemies and in catching their prey. It is also essential for cats to be able to climb and scale walls and to mark their scent. However, they can also lose the ability to retract claws due to age, trauma, disease or infection. 

Image: / Ksenia Raykova