Understanding Cat Behaviors: Why Is My Cat Biting His Nails?

You may have noticed your feline friend nibbling on his nails from time to time, leaving you with the question: “Why is my cat biting his nails?”. While it might seem cute or harmless at first, excessive nail biting can be a sign of underlying issues that require attention.

In this article, we’ll delve into the reasons why your cat may be biting his nails and explore potential solutions to address this behavior.

Disclaimer: The content in this article provides general information that should not be used as a substitute for professional advice from a vet. For an accurate diagnosis of your cat’s health condition, please consult a vet. 

Healthy Reasons For Your Cat To Bite His Nails

Grey cat happily licking his paws

Cats care a lot about their personal hygiene and spend up to half of their waking hours grooming themselves. Here are some healthy reasons why your cat may be biting his nails:

Cleaning Paw Pads

When your beloved cat grooms his paws, he nibbles on his nails and the area around his paw pads to get rid of dirt, litter, or debris that may have been trapped. This act of biting and chewing is essential for maintaining cleanliness.

Removing a Broken Nail

Anatomy of a cats claw -infographic

Credit: catinthebox

Cat claws have a layered structure, with the outer layer naturally wearing and fraying over time. If your cat’s nail begins to break, he might instinctively chew off the protruding part to prevent it from snagging on objects.

Lack of Different Scratching Surfaces

If your cat has only one scratch toy at home, he may bite his nails more often. Cats with multiple scratching surfaces are less likely to bite their nails, except when necessary.

When To Worry About Your Cat Biting His Nails

You usually won’t notice normal nail chewing as your cat will only do it occasionally and he’ll likely groom in private. However, when this behavior happens regularly with visible damage to his claws, it can be a cause for concern.

Causes of Excessive Nail Biting

Excessive nail-biting behavior in cats typically has 3 main causes: an injury or infection that causes your cat to pick at his paw, stress or anxiety, or feelings of boredom. 

Injury or Infection

Your cat may chew on his nail excessively in response to an underlying issue, such as an injury like a broken nail or a cut on the paw.

An infection can also cause your feline friend to chew on his nail. Certain breeds like Persians may be more prone to skin problems, and contact with certain chemicals can lead to infections resulting in redness, inflammation, and swollen skin around the nails. Common infections include:

  • Bacterial and yeast infection: Caused by cutting your cat’s claws too near to the nail bed
  • Ringworm: A fungal infection of the skin, fur and/or nails
  • Pemphigus: An autoimmune skin disease that can also affect the nail bed

Stress and Anxiety

Anxious, frustrated, and stressed cats groom themselves excessively in an attempt to calm themselves down. Stress can be triggered by various factors like moving to a new house, changes in their daily routine, or even seemingly minor things like relocating their food bowls

Moreover, cats that feel uncomfortable in their surroundings, such as those who don’t get along with other pets in the family, may also resort to nail-biting as a way to soothe themselves.

Some other signs of anxiety include:

  • Improper urination habits
  • Increased hiding
  • Attitude changes  

Boredom

Cats, like us, can feel bored from time to time. When our feline friends find themselves with too much time on their paws and lack stimulation, they might resort to nail biting as a way to pass the time.

It’s their version of a fidgety habit, and it can be a sign that they’re craving some mental and physical engagement!

What To Do About Your Cat’s Excessive Nail Biting And Chewing

If your cat’s nail-chewing habits are becoming more intense, it might be time to step in and take action:

Examine Your Cat’s Paw for Irritation or Injuries

Checking cat paws for injuries

Should you observe any signs of redness, swelling, or irritation on your cat’s paws, it’s advisable to promptly consult with a veterinarian. Seeking veterinary care ensures that any potential health issues are treated and also allows for a thorough examination to identify and address the underlying problem.

Whether it’s an infection or injury, your vet can provide the necessary care for your feline friend. Once the issue is resolved, you can expect your cat to be less inclined to indulge in nail chewing.

Pinpoint the Cause of Your Cat’s Stress

If there are no visible signs of injuries or infections, it’s possible that your feline companion is engaging in claw chewing or pulling as a result of stress. In such cases, it’s important to pinpoint and address the root cause of their distress, and subsequently, help them to adapt to the environment. 

Incorporate More Play Sessions

Incorporating regular play sessions into your cat’s routine can work wonders in alleviating boredom and reducing the likelihood of nail biting. Cats are natural hunters and explorers, and playtime helps fulfill their need for mental and physical stimulation. 

Interactive toys like feather wands and laser pointers can engage their hunting instincts and keep them entertained.

Consult a Vet

If you’re unsure about the underlying cause of your cat’s excessive nail biting and how to address it, have a chat with your vet. Your vet can offer expert guidance on how to manage this behavior effectively. 

In cases where your cat is diagnosed with moderate to severe anxiety, your vet may also recommend anti-anxiety medication to address the issue.

Tips to Reduce Nail Biting

Cat scratching the sofa

If you don’t notice any signs of health or behavioral problems, there is no need to be alarmed by your cat’s chewing. However, there are steps you can take to prevent and manage this behavior effectively.

Buy a Cat Scratcher

Cat scratchers are specifically designed to provide a safe outlet for your feline friend to dig his claws into and scratch. This activity helps to naturally file and maintain the length of his nails. If your cat’s nails are at a comfortable length, he’s less likely to bite his nails.

Furthermore, by providing a cat scratcher, you offer your cat a dedicated space to release pent-up energy and relieve stress, which can indirectly deter nail biting triggered by anxiety.

Keep Your Cat’s Claws Trimmed

Overgrown claws can cause discomfort and even injure your cat. Hence, it’s advisable for cats to have their claws trimmed every 2 weeks. If you’re planning to buy a nail clipper to do it yourself, be sure to first seek guidance from a professional to learn the proper technique for nail trimming. 

FAQs About Cat Nail Biting

Yes, nail-biting, when done occasionally, is considered a natural part of their grooming behavior. This behavior starts early, even in very young kittens, who learn to bite and chew on their nails by observing their mothers. As kittens grow and start grooming themselves independently, nail biting becomes a part of their grooming process. 

Therefore, this behavior is normal for cats and typically nothing to be concerned about.

If your cat's nail biting is causing discomfort or noticeable damage to their claws, or if it appears excessive or compulsive, it may be a problem. In such cases, it’s recommended to consult with a veterinarian for proper evaluation and guidance.

The time it takes to stop your cat from biting his nail can vary depending on the underlying cause and the effectiveness of the chosen interventions. Be patient and consistent in your efforts, and consult with professionals if needed.

If your cat isn't using a scratching post, try different types of scratching surfaces and textures  like scratching boards and mats to find one that appeals to him. You can also use catnip or treats to encourage him to use the scratching post!

Authors

  • Shermyn Tan

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    A happy pill is what everyone around Shermyn will describe her as. She likes getting people excited about the things she is excited about and right now, it’s two things – café-hopping and spin!

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    Bubble tea and sleeping are two of Emilia's favourite things. She also enjoys cooking and loves to experiment with new recipes for different cuisines.

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