We all know a person or two who bite their nails, right? It is a common activity, although with not-so-pretty results. People are usually doing it because they’re either nervous, stressed, or bored. But, why do cats bite their nails?
I have a friend who used to bite her nails. A lot. Her poor fingers always look like they’re in a lot of pain. She tried so many things to stop biting her nails, like using spicy nail polish, getting a regular manicure, and wearing press-on nails. She even tried yoga because she thought it will help her calm her nerves.
Her nerves were calmed, all right, but the habit of biting her nails remained.
And ironically, she adopted a cat with the same habit. Except for her cat’s paws always looked purrfect because of all that fur and not like they had been tortured.
Nail biting in cats is usually not something you should worry about. It is a normal thing for them to do.
However, if you wish to learn more about “Why do cats bite their nails?”, then keep on reading.
Is nail biting a part of a normal grooming process?
Cats are famous for being champions of self-grooming. They spend most of their days either sleeping or grooming themselves. They really enjoy their pamper routine and will put a lot of time and effort into purrfecting their appearance.
So, for them, nail biting is a regular part of their hygiene. Just as how we have to clean our nails and make sure they look nice, so do our cats. Except they are unable to use any tools like cleaning brushes, nail files, or clippers. And therefore, they have to use their teeth.
This process is also referred to as claw biting or claw pulling. And to understand it, it’s important to understand the construction of our cat’s claws.
What’s the secret behind cats’ claws?
To be honest, everything I knew before researching cats’ claws was that they have four paws and that each paw has 5 claws. And that they use their claws for climbing and catching their prey. So, I knew pretty much nothing, right?
But, as I was reading more about this topic, I found many interesting and meow-blowing details.
For example, did you know that cats actually walk on their toes? And a term for that is a digitigrade walker. So, basically, our cats are little ballerinas!
Also, their claws are a biological miracle! They’re made of the protein called keratin, the same stuff hair and fingernails are made of. The claw tissue grows in layers from the inside out. And as time goes by, the outside layer gradually becomes worn out.
Therefore, cats have to bite their nails in order to get rid of the damaged layer and replace it with a brand-new and sharp one.
So, as I already mentioned, this is one of their ways of taking care of themselves.
But, what if they’re doing it a bit too much that it becomes concerning? What if your kitty takes her nail-biting habit to the next level? Should you, as a cat parent, worry? Should you intervene? You’ll find out soon enough.
Why do cats bite their nails excessively?
Sometimes cats can way overdo with their nail-biting. If they bite their nails as a part of their regular self-grooming, they would do it occasionally and probably somewhere private, far from their owner’s curious eyes.
But if this behavior becomes excessive and problematic, your cat will make sure you find out about it.
If your cat starts to overly pull on her claws, then she might have some serious problems. As a pet parent, it would be advisable for you to become aware of these.
Down here, I’ve listed some of the usual reasons why cats bite their nails excessively. Take a look and see if there’s a possibility your cat fits into one of them.
1. They are dealing with stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety are very common causes of strange behaviors in cats. They can be a trigger for many of their peculiar habits and misdemeanors, such as constant hiding, peeing in improper places or over the edge of the litter box, and aggressive outbursts.
Likewise, stress and anxiety can be the reason why some cats bite their nails.
Cats can be under stress or deal with anxiety for various reasons. They could be frustrated because there’s a bird outside the window and they’re unable to reach it. Or, it could be because their mom brought home another cat without consulting them first.
Therefore, cats bite their nails to cope with the stressful situation they’re in. Just as some people do, right?
2. They have a paw injury
This one is fairly simple. Cats could be biting their nails excessively because somehow they have injured their paw.
Maybe they have cut themselves on their footpad or damaged their toe and broken a nail. Maybe they stepped on the hot stove when their mom was so invested in the new recipe that she wasn’t paying enough attention.
There are millions of ways for cats to injure themselves, the result of which could be excessive nail biting.
3. They have ringworms
Ringworms or feline dermatophytosis is one of the most frequent skin diseases in cats. It is a fungal infection picked up from the ground. And yes, it has nothing to do with worms. The infection appears on the skin in a circular rash form (hence the ring in the name).
When the fungi come in contact with the cat’s skin, one of the following things could happen:
- a cat might brush them off during the self-grooming process
- they might disappear because of other stronger microorganisms present on the skin
- they can stay on the skin but cause no damage
- or they might settle in large numbers and cause dermatitis
If left untreated, fungi will infect the cat’s hair and nails resulting in excessive hair loss, and infected claws and scales. But they will resolve by themselves over time.
However, without treatment, the healing process will take anywhere from 9 months to a whole year.
4. They have pemphigus foliaceus (PF)
Pemphigus foliaceus is an autoimmune skin disease in cats.
A cat who has this autoimmune disease develops scabs and ulcers around the ears, eyes, bridge of the nose, and footpads. Lesions can develop at the toenail beds resulting in sore and crusty feet.
It usually appears out of the blue and without a known cause, but it can also be drug-induced and a result of other skin diseases.
The cat with pemphigus foliaceus will lick and bite her paw with attention to remove the lesions.
5. They have other infections
Cats’ paws can also be a target for other bacterial or yeast infections. These infections are usually hard to prevent, especially with breeds that are genetically more likely to get them, like Persian cats.
But, bacterial or yeast infections might not just be a result of bad genes. Cats can also get the infection as a reaction to chemicals in some detergents.
So to prevent it, it would be best to try and keep the cat away from the kitchen sink. And to opt for sensitive floor cleaning solutions which are appropriate for pets.
6. They have Pica syndrome
Ever heard of pica syndrome? It is the name for a condition characterized by the desire a cat can have to eat non-edible things like small pieces of paper, plastic bits, toy parts, and so on.
So, this could be the reason why cats bite their nails.
What to do when cats bite their nails excessively?
The one thing you should certainly do is to have a regular vet visit. You can first try and examine your cat’s paws. And if you notice something out of the ordinary, then you can take your cat to the vet.
As cat parents, we can take such good care of our fluffballs, but there’s only so much we can do. At the end of the day, the vet is an expert and knows exactly what our kitty needs to feel better.
But, if you think your cat bites her nails out of stress and anxiety, then you can do her a favor and reduce stressful situations in your home. First, determine what’s causing her the stress, and then work slowly on eliminating that trigger.
Also, observe your cat. Pay attention to how she responds to everything you do for her. You got her a new cat tree but she prefers the old one? Then bring the old one back.
All of a sudden you’ve changed her usual eating spot and she doesn’t like it? Then return the food bowls to their old place.
If you want to change something which involves your cat in any way, then remember you have to do it slowly and patiently. Cats are creatures of routines and do not like for their routines to be suddenly disturbed.
I hope you have found your answer to the question, “Why do cats bite their nails?”
As mentioned at the beginning, if your cat is doing it but only occasionally, then there’s nothing you should worry about. In that case, nail biting is a part of their meticulous self-grooming process.
However, if you notice that she is doing it more often and with greater force, then it might be time for you to take a closer look.
Examining your kitty should be fairly easy. You just need a few seconds of careful observation to notice if anything is wrong with her paws.
If you do notice something out of the ordinary, take your cat to the vet.
We owe our fluffballs all the care in the world and their welfare should always be in our best interests. Always. With no excuses.