Chewing and biting the claws is quite normal behaviour in some cats. Many cats do this as a part of their grooming routine, chewing the claw to remove the loose outer sheath.
In some cases, the cat can develop behavioural issues that can manifest by chewing the claws. This is similar to nail biting in humans. With such behaviours, it's always a fine line between what's normal and what is excessive. Any compulsive behaviour acts as a "self-soothing" mechanism when your cat is feeling stressed, bored, lonely. It can take on many different forms including over-grooming, hair pulling, wool sucking and pica (both seen more often in Siamese than other breeds).
So, there are three possible reasons your cat is chewing his claws:
- Normal grooming.
Most often, it is normal grooming behaviour.
Get a check up:
Firstly, it is a good idea to take your cat to a veterinarian to rule out a medical reason he may be chewing his nails such as a fungal or bacterial infection. Also, have a look at the nails, are they too long? I generally recommend checking the nails once every 3-4 weeks to make sure they are not overgrown and snip off the end if required. Finally, make sure your cat has a scratching post, which they will use to get rid of any loose claw layers.
Addressing the cause of this behaviour is important if you are going to solve it. I guess you need to decide if it should be stopped. Is this the only behaviour your cat is exhibiting? Is he actually causing damage to the claws from excessive nail biting? If he is self-harming, then this will need to be treated. If he is having a chew, but it is causing him no problems, then it may be recommended that you just leave him be.
Trying to establish a cause is essential in treating these kinds of behaviours. Questions to think about include:
- Has your cat always bitten and chewed his nails?
- Does this appear to be a part of his grooming ritual?
- Is there any conflict in the home (between cats)?
- Have there been any major changes, new baby, pet, partner moved in or left home renovations?
- Has the cat's routine been changed?
- Has he lost a family member, another cat, person moved out?
- Pay careful attention to when your cat chews his claws, is there a routine, what happened just prior to the behaviour?
Getting to the bottom of the cause can help you to develop a strategy to assist your cat.
Cats need routine, try to make your cat's home life as predictable as possible. Same person feeding him at the same time. Set aside a time during the day to play with him, the best time for this is prior to his night time dinner, play, feed and then sleep.
If your cat is stressed, Feliway diffusers may help. These contain synthetic "feel good" cat pheromones which can help your cat feel calm.
Addressing any inter-cat issues, if they are present. This may involve separating fighting cats and then slowly re-introducing them.
Obviously, changes such as a new baby, partner etc., can't be changed, but making time for your cat every day, can help to reassure him.
If your cat is an indoor cat, make sure you provide him with plenty of stimulation, particularly if you are out of the house for long periods of time. There are plenty of suggestions on this page.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide if you want to stop this behaviour. My own thoughts are that as long as he is not causing any harm to the claws, then it's probably not something you really need to worry about. But if he is stressed, you should try and fix that.
I will finish with a story of my own cat, Eliot (named after the poet). She wasn't a claw chewer, but she sucked her own nipple (she had a particular one she liked). This behaviour only seemed to occur when she was happy, she'd come and snuggle up with me, I would stroke her and she would suck her nipple as she dozed off to sleep. I likened it to a baby having a dummy. As she caused no harm to herself, I left her to her own devices. I have always wondered if her behaviour, along with compulsive claw chewing could be due to being taken away from mum too early?