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Why Do Cats Bite Their Nails? 9 Reasons You Should Know

When humans bite their nails, it’s usually dismissed as a nervous tick or merely a bad habit. At worst, it is thought of as impolite or unhygienic.

Why do cats bite their nails? While it’s generally considered normal, it can sometimes be a cause for concern for reasons we’ll discuss below.

Cats chew their claws as a regular part of grooming – your cat enjoys cleanliness after all. Excessive biting can be a sign of an underlying problem, though. It could be a behavioral issue brought on by stress or anxiety.

But it could also be a medical issue, which may require a visit to your vet. Either way, you’ll want to keep an eye on such behavior, as it may lead to more significant problems if ignored.

Read on to find out why cats bite their nails and when you should be concerned.  

grey cat with paw up

Why do Cats Bite Their Nails?

Claw Biting and Chewing is Normal (Usually)

Cats love to groom. Part of that process is cleaning their paws and getting “between the toes”, as it were. Cats will chew and bite claws and toes to eliminate unwanted debris and detritus, like litter or sand. This is especially noticeable in cats that enjoy the outdoors.

white cat's claws up close

Cat claws also have a particular biological structure. They work in layers. This means that the nail’s outer layer tends to wear and fray. Cats chew their claws sometimes to help discard the outer layer of their nails. Underneath, a fresh new layer awaits with added sharpness and shine.

The biting works in tandem with other methods. Your cat may use scratching posts, outdoor tree bark, or your favorite sofa for scratching to wear down or sharpen their nails. In general, cats like to keep them sharp, keep them clean, and keep them at a healthy length.    

ginger cat claws up close

When Should You be Concerned?

It’s worth noting that you may not always notice when your cat is chewing. Your cat isn’t in view 100% of the time. And some cats like a bit of privacy when cleaning.

But if your otherwise healthy cat does not have proper facilities to claw, it may resort to excessive chewing. This is an easy problem to fix – try a high-quality scratching post or a horizontal scratching board (different strokes for different cats).

black and white cat and white scratching post

Beyond this easy fix, there are situations where nail-biting is abnormal. It may be a sign of one or more ailments that need more urgent addressing. Excessive nail-biting is usually ascribed to either a medical or a behavioral problem. So let’s look at a few common issues and possible remedies.

What Medical Issues Cause Abnormal Claw-Biting?

As with any person or animal, medical issues come in a variety of forms. With any medical issue, it’s best to let a vet advise on the best course of action. But it is worth knowing the possibilities.

Veterinarian listening to cat's heart

From infections to pre-existing conditions, your cat may be suffering from one of the below:

1. Pemphigus

Pemphigus is an autoimmune disease that affects a cat’s skin. It is classified into five different subtypes. Pemphigus foliaceus is the type most commonly associated with cats.

It manifests as irritation in sensitive areas like the face (eyelids, nostrils, ears), genital area, and yes, the paws. Lesions appear on the beds of the toenails, forming painful crusty areas. The cat will attempt to lick or clear these, resulting in excessive claw attention.

ginger cat with green eyes and tongue out up close

2. Ringworm

Feline dermatophytosis is a relatively common skin disorder. Despite its common name, it’s got nothing to do with worms. It’s a fungal infection picked up from soil. In many cases, the fungi are disposed of through routine grooming.

But when the fungus takes hold, it will affect hair and nails – substances rich in keratin. The fungus may also infect and inflame the skin. Untreated ringworm causes hair loss, scales, infected claws, and nails,  which results in excessive grooming. 

silver siberian cats grooming each other

3. Other Infections

Cats may also suffer from bacterial or yeast infections that affect their paws. Many can be triggered unexpectedly. Some breeds are also genetically predisposed to certain conditions – Persians, for example, are susceptible to a number of disorders; infections among them. Cats may also react to chemicals or detergents used on home surfaces.

white-persian-cat on side lying on ground

4. Nail Problems in Old Cats

Older cats may suffer a hormonal imbalance that results in nails that are too thick or too brittle. They may also suffer from cancerous growths and tumors.

In all cases, seek the advice of a vet. Most issues can be remedied, especially if detected early. 

grey cat eating woman's fingers

Nail Biting Due to Behavioral Problems

Stress or anxiety are the likely sources of many behavioral issues. Sometimes abject boredom or even loneliness is to blame.

Aside from over-grooming, you might also see symptoms like hair loss (or more accurately, hair-pulling) and pica – a compulsive eating disorder. Sufferers of pica (human and feline) compulsively eat non-foods like material, paper, cardboard, etc.

grey and white kitten having claws cut

Is your cat suddenly quiet or more vocal? Has it stopped eating, or does it run and hide when it didn’t before? Sometimes these other behaviors may indicate something is wrong.

In most cases, one or more of the following actions may help to alleviate the situation:

1. Reduce Stress

Cats tend to find solace in safe spaces. One of the first things you can provide is a high perch or a cat carrier that’s isolated and free from any stressor. You may also think about acquiring a pheromone diffuser to help calm a stressed feline.

Ginger cat upside down on a scratching tree why do cats chase their tails
Amazing where you can end up when you chase your tail

⇒ Getting a new kitty? Check out my guide to How to Look after a Kitten, 6 Best Kitten Wet Food Options and 8 Best Kitten Dry Food Options

2. Monitor the Interaction Between Cats

If another cat may be causing anxiety or aggression, you may have to re-introduce them. Combative cats also struggle over shared resources. Try multiple food bowls and litter trays. Cats are susceptible to each others’ smells around objects.

3 ginger american bobtail cats
american bobtail cats

3. Provide Stimulation

A bored cat is a cat that may develop behavioral issues. This is more prevalent in cats that remain indoors. In this case, you should try to provide a home environment that simulates outdoor phenomena.

High surfaces to climb and walk, cat trees, toys, and even hideaways and closed cat boxes will work here.

cute kitten playing with colourful toy

Playtime is also going to be more important to emphasize. Make sure you offer enough high-energy play with your cat, also to burn off that extra energy. Be sure to reward appropriate play, though, or you may find your cat attacking you playfully at unexpected times.

4. Maintain a Strong Routine

It sounds a little out there, but developing and sticking to a routine is as beneficial to a cat as it is to you. Start a regimen whereby you feed your cat at the same time every day. Play with your cat at the same time every day and for a set amount of time(s).

Grey tabby plays with plush mouse

5. Consult a Vet About Medication

In extreme cases, ask your vet about medication. A TCA (Tricyclic antidepressant) or SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) may work as well for a cat as it does a human.

Cats are surprisingly vulnerable to anxiety, especially when there’s a change to the environment.

Unrecognizable veterinarian cleaning ears of a cat with cotton buds why do cats bite their nails

Anxious cats can be problematic to themselves and others in the home, so it’s best to be safe rather than sorry.

Final Thoughts on Cats Biting Their Nails

There you have it. Cats biting their nails isn’t unusual. But now and then, a cat may exhibit excessive biting that needs your attention and remedy.

Hopefully, one of the fixes I’ve suggested above helps. As always, when in doubt, consult your vet. At the very least, it will cut down on your own anxious nail-biting over the issue. 

black and white cat growling

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