Cats often carry a reputation as being independent and capable of taking care of themselves. While cats might be a bit more aloof than dogs, that doesn't mean that they're 100% independent. In fact, if you keep your cat indoors all the time, it may need some help keeping its paws and claws healthy. If you've never cared for your cat's claws before and don't know what to look out for or what to do, read on.

How Claws Grow

Cats' claws bear some similarities to the way that humans' fingers and toenails do, but not entirely. When a human's nails grow out, the same length of nail continues to grow, becoming longer with more of the nail exposed beyond the nailbed. However, with cats, claws grow in layers, rather than as one continuous piece.

While long nails can get in the way of a human's day, long claws are a bit more problematic for cats. When they become overly long, they can limit mobility and even cause injuries. Your cat could be in pain without your knowledge simply from its own claws.

Potential for Injury

There are a few different ways that your cat can potentially become injured by having claws that are too long. When claws grow out past a normal length, the nail grows thicker in addition to becoming longer. As a result, when your cat punctures through something like fabric or a cat scratcher, these thicker and blunter claws can be more difficult to pull back out with the rest of the paw. This can lead to your cat getting stuck, and in extreme cases, it can lead to having part or all of their claw ripped off as they struggle to escape.

Ingrown Claws

Another way that your cat's claws can hurt it is by curving inwards and becoming an ingrown claw. When a cat's claw becomes overly long, it keeps extending in length in the curved shape that claws are known for. However, this growth doesn't stop just because the tip of the claw encounters your cat's paw. In fact, without help, claws can keep growing until they pierce the paw pads. This is not only extremely painful for your cat, but it also opens up the chance for infection. Claws are covered in anything that they've been walking around in, from dirt to cat litter. If you notice your cat's claws clicking when they walk across the floor or they're visibly limping when they walk, this problem is likely already underway.

The good news here is that regular pet care from your vet's office can help. These pet professionals can keep your cat's claws to a normal, healthy length, and remove any excess layers that shouldn't be there. If your cat is already injured, they'll treat any wounds and provide antibiotics to prevent or treat infections. Talk to a vet if you have concerns about your cat's paws.