The Cat Claw Conundrum. Do Indoor Cats Need Claw Trimming?


Cats have retractable claws that they can extend and retract as needed. Their claws play an important role in climbing, hunting, grooming, and defending themselves. Cat claws are made up of keratin, the same protein that makes up human fingernails and hair. When a cat’s claws extend outwards, this allows them to grip onto surfaces and catch prey. When retracted, the claws are safely tucked inside a sheath of skin and fur around the toe pads, protecting the claws from damage when the cat is walking. Cats regularly sharpen their claws by scratching on various surfaces. This removes old layers from the claw to expose a new sharp point underneath. Overall, a cat’s retractable claws are a vital natural tool for survival.

Normal Claw Growth

A cat’s claws typically grow at a rate of about 1 to 2 millimeters per week. This amounts to their claws growing about 4-8 millimeters or 1/8 to 1/4 inch per month.[1] The growth rate can vary based on factors like the cat’s age, health status, time of year, and activity level.

Kittens tend to grow claws more quickly as they mature. Older cats may experience slower nail growth as their activity levels decrease. Claw growth rate is also affected by diet, environment, and overall health – illness or nutritional deficiencies can lead to slower growth.

Claws grow faster in the summer when daylight hours are longer. More activity and exercise can also stimulate slightly faster growth. On average though, most indoor cats need their claws trimmed every 2-3 weeks to maintain a healthy length.

Kitten stretching out its claws

Normal, healthy cat claws should be sharp, curved, and taper to a point. They should not overly curl or fold back on themselves. If allowed to grow too long, the claws can curve around and grow into the paw pads.


Overgrown Claws

Overgrown claws occur when a cat’s claws grow too long and start to curl. This happens when the outer sheath or shell of a cat’s claw fails to shed normally, allowing the claw to continue growing. Overgrown claws may curve and grow in a spiral shape.1 Left unchecked, the claws can embed into the paw pads or twist into the skin. Overgrown claws are more common in older cats as claw growth slows down with age.

Overgrown claws can cause the following issues:

  • Pain and discomfort from long claws pressing into paw pads
  • Embedded claws growing into paw pads
  • Ingrown claws growing into toe skin
  • Infection
  • Abnormal gait and difficulty walking
  • Stress and behavioral issues from pain

Here are some examples of overgrown cat claws:

As seen in the images, overgrown cat claws can grow in a spiral shape, embed into paw pads, and cause visible discomfort.

Causes of Overgrown Claws

There are several potential causes that can lead to overgrown claws in indoor cats:

Lack of scratching opportunities – Cats naturally shed the outer layers of their claws through scratching. Indoor cats that lack sufficient scratching posts or other surfaces may not scratch enough, allowing their claws to grow too long. Providing ample scratching surfaces can help prevent overgrown claws.

Age and health conditions – Elderly cats and cats with conditions like arthritis may become less active and have difficulty scratching, which can cause their claws to overgrow. Regular claw trims may be necessary for cats with mobility issues (source).

Inactive lifestyle – Sedentary indoor cats that sleep more than they play and exercise may scratch less often, putting them at risk for overgrown claws. Increased playtime and activity can encourage scratching behaviors that help wear down claws naturally.

Signs of Overgrown Claws

There are a few key signs that indicate your indoor cat’s claws may be too long:

Curled Claws

Overgrown claws will start to curve and curl under, often getting caught on carpets and fabrics around the house. The claws essentially roll under themselves into a complete circle or spiral. This is a clear sign they are too long for your cat’s comfort.

Clicking Sounds on Floors

As your cat walks across hard floors, you may hear their nails clicking loudly and abnormally. This sound usually indicates the claws are making full contact with the floor due to their excessive length.

Difficulty Retracting

Cats use a tendon and muscle system to protract and retract their claws. But overly long claws may get stuck and prevent full retraction. You may see claws sticking out even when your cat is relaxed. Prolonged extension can risk catching and tearing.

Behavior Changes

Since overgrown claws are uncomfortable, your cat may start acting differently, such as avoiding jumping up to perches or being hesitant to scratch. Behavior changes like becoming withdrawn or irritable because of discomfort can also signify an issue.

Health Risks

Overgrown claws can pose several health risks for cats, including:

Pain and Discomfort

As a cat’s claws grow too long, they can start to curl back into the paw pads, puncture the skin, or put pressure on the toes. This leads to pain and discomfort, especially when walking. According to, “The constant pressure against the paw tissue can lead to abrasions, lacerations and wounds…which are very painful for the cat.”

Infection Risk

Punctures, lacerations and wounds caused by overgrown claws are prone to infection. As notes, “Bacteria can enter through these wounds leading to infections of the paw pads or toes…Infections need to be treated with antibiotics.” Keeping claws trimmed helps prevent infections.

Walking Issues

Overgrown claws altering the normal alignment of the toes can make walking difficult for cats. explains overgrown claws can “dig into the paw pad leading to pain and difficulty walking.” Cats may start limping or avoid bearing weight on the affected paw.


There are a few ways to treat overgrown claws in indoor cats:

Regular claw trimming – Trimming your cat’s claws regularly, such as every 2-4 weeks, can keep them from becoming overgrown. Use sharp nail clippers designed for cats and trim just the sharp tip of the claw, taking care not to cut into the quick which contains blood vessels and nerves.

Providing scratching posts – Offer different styles of scratching posts and boards around your home. Scratching is a natural behavior for cats that helps shed the outer layers of their claws. Make sure your cat has appropriate surfaces to scratch on.

Veterinary assistance – If your cat has very overgrown claws that are embedded or ingrown in the paw pads, they likely need to be trimmed by a veterinarian who can safely and effectively remove the excess claw length. Sedation may be required in severe cases.


There are several ways to prevent your cat’s claws from becoming overgrown:

  • Regular claw care – Trimming your cat’s claws every 2-3 weeks will keep them at an appropriate length. Use proper claw trimmers designed for cats.
  • Proper scratching outlets – Providing appropriate scratching posts and pads will allow your cat to naturally shed the outer layers of their claws. Scratching is an important instinctual behavior for cats. Vertical scratching posts made from sisal or cardboard work best. Place them in areas your cat already likes to scratch.
  • Exercise and playtime – Keeping your cat active through play and exercise will help wear down their claws naturally. Interactive toys that get your cat scratching and climbing are ideal. Try to engage your cat in active play daily.

Following these prevention tips will allow your cat’s claws to stay short and healthy, avoiding issues with overgrown claws.

When to See a Vet

If your cat’s claws become extremely overgrown, it’s important to take them to the vet. Signs that it’s time for a vet visit include:

Signs of injury or infection: If the overgrown claws have caused wounds, swelling, redness, bleeding, or pus around the nail beds, a vet visit is needed. An infection requires antibiotic treatment.

Extreme overgrowth: Claws that have grown in a circle or have embedded back into the paw pads require urgent veterinary attention. Sedation may be needed for safe trimming and treatment.

Claws impacting quality of life: Excessive claw growth can become painful and make it difficult for a cat to walk, jump, and use scratching posts. Seek veterinary help if the claws are noticeably affecting your cat’s mobility or normal activities.

In addition to trimming overgrown claws, the vet will assess for underlying causes. Medical conditions like arthritis, dental issues, or neurological problems can prevent normal scratching and claw maintenance. Treating the underlying cause may prevent future overgrowth.


In summary, healthy claws are as crucial for the well-being of indoor cats as they are for outdoor felines. Despite being indoors, indoor cats need regular opportunities to scratch and wear down their claws in order to prevent overgrowth. Trimming the claws can help, but is not mandatory for all indoor cats. Look out for signs of overgrown claws like trouble walking or aggression, and prevent them through maintaining scratching posts, providing claw-friendly surfaces, and incorporating play and exercise. Owners of senior or infirm cats, or any indoor cats with chronically overgrown claws, should consult a veterinarian.

Proper claw care is key to every cat’s comfort and quality of life, even for indoor kitties. Owners should regularly inspect claws and be proactive about providing indoor cats with adequate scratching opportunities. With the right balance of scratching, exercise, and strategic trimming if needed, indoor cats can easily maintain healthy claws and avoid overgrowth.

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