Are Cat Dew Claws Retractable

What are dew claws?

Dew claws are located on the inner side of a cat’s front legs, a few inches above the paw. They are vestigial digits that generally do not make contact with the ground when the cat walks. Dew claws are similar to a thumb in appearance and consist of a nail, bone, and connective tissue.

The main purpose of dew claws is for stability. When a cat climbs trees or jumps up to higher surfaces, the dew claw helps provide an additional gripping point. Dew claws also serve as a sensory organ and alert the cat of debris caught between the digits. In addition, cats use their dew claws to scratch, hook prey, and rip open food packaging.

While the front dew claws serve a clear purpose, rear dew claws located on the back legs generally serve little function. Some cat breeds like the Norwegian Forest Cat use rear dew claws when climbing, but they are often removed by breeders and vets early on. Overall, front dew claws are important for cats to utilize their natural grasping and scratching behaviors.

a cat's front paw with extended dew claw

Are all cats born with dew claws?

Most domestic cats are born with dew claws on their front legs. According to the Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance Program (FVEAP), the majority of cats have a total of 18 claws – 5 on each front paw and 4 on each back paw (1). This includes the dew claws on the front legs.

However, some cat breeds are exceptions and do not have front dew claws. For example, the Cymric, Manx, Japanese Bobtail, and British Shorthair are sometimes born without dew claws on their front legs (2). But most other domestic cat breeds will have dew claws on their front legs at birth.

Cats do not have dew claws on their back legs. Only the front legs have dew claws in cats.

So in summary, while most cats are born with front dew claws, some breeds are exceptions. But dew claws on the hind legs are not typical for cats.

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Can dew claws retract?

Unlike most other claws on cats, dew claws cannot retract. Dew claws are located higher up on the leg, above the paw, and are attached by bone and ligaments rather than muscle and tendon. This means cats do not have the ability to flex or extend the dew claw the way they can control their other claws. The dew claw is essentially fixed in place and always remains extended.

Front dew claws have a nail similar to the other claws, but the claw itself is smaller and often grows in an irregular shape. Back dew claws may only consist of a nail and have no bone structure. Since dew claws are immobile, they do not get worn down from being retracted and extended like the other claws. As a result, they are prone to becoming overgrown if not trimmed regularly.

While a cat’s front claws on their paws can be partially retracted into the paw when not in use to help protect them and prevent wear, dew claws have no such ability. They remain extended all the time. This makes them more vulnerable to getting caught on objects or damaged.

Pros and cons of dew claws

Dew claws have potential benefits as well as some drawbacks that cat owners should consider. Some of the potential benefits of dew claws include:

  • They provide stability for climbing and descending trees. The dew claw acts as a ‘thumb’ to grip branches.
  • They help cats grip prey and hold items between their paws.
  • In some breeds like the Norwegian Forest Cat, they help distribute weight and provide balance on snowy terrain.

However, there are also some potential drawbacks to dew claws:

  • Dew claws are more likely to get caught on objects, carpets, etc. leading to injuries like torn nails or broken bones.
  • If not trimmed regularly, dew claws can grow into a circle and embed into the skin.
  • Overgrown, untrimmed dew claws may become painful for cats.
  • Cats may bite or scratch at irritated dew claws, risking infection.

Cat owners should weigh these pros and cons when making decisions about their cat’s dew claws.

Common injuries/issues

Overgrown dew claws are one of the most common issues that can occur. As the name suggests, overgrown dew claws are when the nail grows too long and starts to curl. This can make walking difficult and lead to pain and infection according to Vetwell. Keeping dew claws trimmed regularly can help prevent overgrowth.

Torn dew claws are another common injury, often caused by getting caught on furniture, carpet, or while climbing trees according to Wag Walking. A torn dew claw is very painful and can bleed profusely. If the tear is severe enough, the claw may need to be removed by a vet.

a cat with an overgrown curled dew claw

Any injury to the dew claws can lead to infection. Signs of infection include swelling, redness, discharge, and a foul odor. Infections should be treated quickly with antibiotics prescribed by a vet to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Should dew claws be removed?

Sometimes cat owners and veterinarians may recommend removing a cat’s dew claws, but this is a controversial topic. According to the Humane Society, declawing should only be considered as a last resort when a cat’s excessive scratching behavior puts their owners’ health at risk. The procedure may be recommended if the cat’s dew claws are poorly attached or injured repeatedly.

However, declawing carries risks like long-term pain, arthritis, and other complications. Removing the claw also removes an important part of a cat’s anatomy for balance and climbing. The Humane Society states that declawing changes the way a cat’s feet meet the ground and can cause pain. Improperly removed claws may regrow as well, causing nerve damage. Overall, routine declawing is controversial and increasingly frowned upon. There are alternatives like trimming claws regularly and providing scratching posts.

Caring for dew claws

Proper care of your cat’s dew claws is important to keep them healthy and prevent potential injuries. This involves regular inspection and trimming of the nails.

It’s recommended to trim your cat’s dew claws every 2-3 weeks. Trimming helps keeps the nails at an appropriate length. Overgrown claws can catch on things and rip off. Use cat nail trimmers and clip off just the sharp tip of each nail. Avoid cutting too close to the quick, the blood vessel inside the nail.

Check the dew claws frequently for any signs of injury. Look for things like swelling, redness, limping, or excessive licking of the paws. If you notice anything concerning, take your cat to the vet. Injuries like torn or broken nails may require medication or even surgical removal.

Keeping the dew claws trimmed regularly can help prevent issues. It’s also important to provide scratching posts and boards around your home so your cat can naturally shed the outer layers of their nails.

With proper care and monitoring, dew claws can remain healthy parts of your cat’s paws.


Alternatives to Removal

There are alternatives to complete removal of the dew claws that can help avoid potential injuries or issues.

One alternative is a capsulectomy procedure, which removes the nail and bone but leaves the tendons and ligaments intact. This prevents the risk of irreversible damage while still removing the source of potential injuries (Source).

Another option is medical management if the dew claws become injured. Providing appropriate veterinary care such as antibiotics, pain medication, and bandaging can allow the nails to heal while avoiding amputation (Source).

a cat getting its dew claw bandaged by a vet

There are also nonsurgical alternatives such as trimming the dew claws regularly to blunt the nails or using soft caps over the nails to prevent potential damage. These can avoid amputation while still protecting the cat and owners (Source).

Making a Decision

Declawing a cat is a major decision that requires careful thought. There are various factors to weigh when deciding whether declawing is right for you and your cat.

First and foremost, it’s essential to have an open and honest discussion with your veterinarian. They can provide insight into the risks, benefits, and alternatives based on your cat’s health and personality. According to MetroVet, declawing results in less bleeding, pain, and recovery time when done with a laser versus a scalpel blade. Your vet can advise on the best surgical method if declawing is deemed necessary.

You’ll also want to take lifestyle factors into account. Will declawing prevent destructive scratching that’s harming furniture or humans? Or is it being considered solely for convenience and aesthetics? The latter is often cited as an inhumane reason for the procedure. Consider if scratching posts, routine nail trims, soft paws, or other alternatives can redirect the behavior. Declawing strictly to protect furnishings may not justify permanent removal of the claws.

Additionally, assess your cat’s age and personality. According to PetsBest, declawing older cats carries higher risks as they are less able to recover from surgery. Kittens also have small, delicate paws that are more prone to complications. An anxious or fearful cat may suffer greater stress from the change in their natural defense abilities. A confident, laid-back cat may adapt easier to being declawed.

Weigh all factors carefully, understand the risks, and make an informed decision with your vet’s guidance on whether declawing is truly the right choice for you and your cat’s wellbeing.


To recap, cat dew claws are in fact not retractable. Dew claws are located higher up on a cat’s leg, above the paw, and do not make contact with the ground as the cat walks. As a result, they do not retract in the same way a cat’s claws extend and retract when walking on various surfaces.

an illustration of a non-retractable dew claw on a cat

Some key points to remember about cat dew claws include:

  • Most cats are born with dew claws on their front legs, but some cats may also have them on their hind legs.
  • Dew claws are attached by bone and muscle, so they cannot retract like the other claws.
  • Injuries and tearing of the dew claw are common, especially if they are ignored during grooming and trimming.
  • Some vets recommend removing dew claws to prevent injury, while others advise leaving them intact unless issues occur.
  • Regular inspection and trimming of dew claws are important for cat health and preventing problems.

Overall, while cat dew claws do serve a purpose and have nerves and blood supply like other claws, their location means they are not able to retract in the same way. Being aware of proper dew claw care is important for any cat owner.

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