What are retractile claws?

What are retractile claws?

Some animals, mainly cats, have retractile claws. 

Retractile claws can be retracted – they can go inwards so that they are not visible. 

Human finger nails and toenails cannot retract – they cannot disappear into the skin of our hands. Our nails are flat, but cat’s claws are narrow, long, rounded, and curved at the tip.

The Cheetah is a cat that cannot retract its claws – they are always visible. The lion, leopard, and domestic cat can retract their claws.

Cats use their sharp claws for climbing trees. When they are not climbing, their claws go inside and are protected by a sheath of skin. Cats use their sharp claws for hunting prey. They retract their claws when they are not being used to catch their prey. This keeps the claws sharper for times when they are needed. 

The claws on the front paws are mainly retracted and extended because cats use the front paws to grab onto their prey.

The outer sheath of the claw sheds when it gets blunt, and and a new sharp one grows. 

Cats can control their claws and they can be retracted and extended quickly, especially when they are in danger.

Tendons are tissue attached to muscle and bone or nails. It is the tendon that contracts and extends to move the cat’s claw in and out. 

However, the retractile claws do not really disappear all the way into their paw. There is a tiny bit exposed, but the hair on the paws hides the tip of the claw. 

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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