When Do Kittens Learn To Retract Their Claws?

When Do Kittens Learn To Retract Their Claws?

Kittens are adorable and are born blind and deaf but their senses start to develop when they are around one to two weeks of age. Upon birth, they are also toothless and are unable to retract their claws.

When do kittens learn to retract their claws?

Kittens learn to retract their claws when they are around four weeks old. At that time, they will begin to use their claws to groom themselves, scratch, stretch, balance and explore their surroundings. They will also start to use them for self-defense and will begin to gain confidence in themselves. 

A kitten’s claws are permanently unsheathed when she is still less than a month old. This enables her to knead her mother’s teats and get milk. 

Most kittens retract their claws instinctively and will take their lead from their mothers or older cats at home. They also learn the value of retracting their claws through play and they instinctively know that if they are not careful they could injure themselves or their fellow kittens during playtime. 

How do you teach a kitten to retract its claws?

You can teach a kitten to retract its claws through play. If you are approached with her claws unsheathed, make a high-pitched yelping sound and stop the playtime for 30 seconds. Next, repeat playtime but if your cat unsheathes her claws again, stop the playtime for one to two minutes. Repeat the process to give your kitten one last chance. 

If your kitten still unsheathes her claws, cease the playtime for good and try again the next day. The yelping sound imitates the noise made by another cat or kitten. It will teach her that claws hurt. 

Why can’t kittens retract claws?

Kittens cannot or are unable to retract claws at birth but they can sheath them at will when they reach around four weeks old.  

Reasons why cats cannot retract claws

These are the reasons why cats cannot retract claws:

1. Due to a bacterial or fungal infection. 

Your cat may not be able to retract her claws because of a fungal or bacterial infection. This could be due to biting or impact injury.

Infections that prevent claw retraction include paronychia, a bacterial or fungal infection spreading from the skin to the claws and onychomycosis, a contagious fungal infection that is also referred to as a ringworm. Consult your vet if you suspect that your cat is suffering from an infection so he can prescribe the right medication. 

2. Due to an injury.

An injury in the leg or feet can prevent cats from retracting their claws. Your cat could be masking a limp if you notice that her claws are permanently unsheathed. According to the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, injuries on a cat’s plantaris are common and the cat may have injured the tendon while jumping or running. Injuries to the calf muscles can also cause harm to the tendon. 

3. Due to old age. 

Cats can lose the ability to retract their claws due to old age. Senior cats become less flexible and arthritis can also contribute to the problem.  A cat’s joints and muscles become stiff and can impact the plantaris as they grow older. Senior cats experience discomfort when they flex the tendon and retracting the claws becomes painful for the cat. 

Some cats just do not like to retract their claws which could be because of a lack of socialization when they were still kittens. 


Kittens are born deaf and blind and without the ability to retract their claws. However, their senses begin to develop after a week and they start to learn how to retract their claws when they are around four weeks old. At that age, they will start to use their claws to scratch, stretch, balance and groom themselves. 

Image: istockphoto.com / TranceDrumer