Why Do Cats Bite Their Nails

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You’ve seen it yourself. Your cat sits down, spreads its hind toes, and then fastidiously nibbly each claw in succession. 

With each bite, your cat may make a noise as the claw is released. 

The behavior makes many cat parents wonder:

Why do cats bite their nails? And should you worry about it?

I’ve been parenting my two cats for over a decade, and I’ve seen my kitties biting and chewing their nails several times. While most times, the behavior is nothing more than normal grooming, other times, it might mean something else.

Read on to learn:

Reasons Why Cats Bite Their Nail

A cat biting, chewing, and pulling its claws is usually no cause for concern. It is usually a normal grooming routine. However, excessive biting can signal an underlying issue.

While cats chew their nails for hundreds of reasons, we want to focus only on the most probable ones behind your cat’s behavior.

1. Normal Grooming

The most common reason cats bite their nails is because it’s their grooming routine. Unlike human nails, feline claws grow in layers, with the newest layers on the bottom.

The outside layer peels, cracks, or sheds away when it grows old. Your kitty might decide to speed up the process by pulling the nail out and chewing it. That way, it’ll expose the newer, sharper layers of the claw.

Alternatively, you’ll catch your feline biting its nails when removing trapped debris or dirt from nails. Since feline paws are always in direct contact with the floor, cats easily get dust, dirt, and other debris stuck in their claws.

Sometimes, a simple lick can do the trick and remove stubborn debris. But most of the time, you’ll see your cat tugging or pulling its claw to dislodge any trapped residual debris in its nail.

All these grooming routines describe why nail biting or pulling shouldn’t be a cause of concern. 

However, cats might bite nails for other reasons than grooming.

Behavioral issues

Cats are meticulous groomers and can turn grooming into an obsessive behavior of excessive scratching or pulling on their claws. There is a fine line between normal and excessive nail biting.

If the following behavioral change accompanies your cat’s nail-biting, it might be a sign of distress:

  • Excessive meowing
  • Sudden spraying
  • Hidding
  • Peeing and pooping outside the litter box

Some behaviors that can trigger excessive nail biting and chewing in felines include:

2. Loneliness

If your kitty is an indoor cat, it’s more susceptible to loneliness and boredom. Since cats are social animals, they can have stress and anxiety when they feel lonely or isolated.

Excessive grooming and nail-biting can be a coping mechanism for dealing with stress and anxiety caused by loneliness. Your cat might also bite and chew its nails when lonely to seek attention. Even negative attention can be rewarding when a cat is lonely, as it provides interaction.

If you think your cat is biting its nails because of loneliness, clock in more playtime with it. Most cats enjoy short play sessions of 10-15 minutes every day.

Alternatively, you can provide an enriched home environment to keep your kitty busy when you aren’t around to play with it. You can get a cat window watcher and hang it by your window to let your cat watch birds and other creatures outside.

You can also get foraging toys to challenge your kitty’s intelligence. Puzzle toys with hidden treat compartments, such as Nina Ottoson from Catstages, can be a great choice for a beginner cat. 

Toys that provide physical and mental stimulation can also work great. Some of the best options include:

3. Introduction to a New Environment

Introducing your cat to a new environment can trigger nail biting due to the stress and anxiety associated with change. Cats are creatures of habit. Your kitty can be sensitive to environmental changes and manifest anxiety through nail biting.

Environmental changes disrupt your cat’s comfort. New environments present problems like unfamiliarity with the location of food, water, litter boxes, and safe hiding places. Your kitty might show stress dealing with all this stress by chewing or removing nails.

You’ll most likely see this behavior in your cat if you:

  • Rearranged furniture
  • Recently relocated to a new home
  • Brought new people or pets into your household

All the above situations disrupt your cat’s sense of familiarity and can trigger overgrooming.

Moreover, new environments have unfamiliar scents. Cats, being very territorial creatures, will want to spread their scent everywhere to create familiarity. Your cat may bite their nails to help scent the area and create a sense of territory and security.

4. The presence of other animals

The presence of other animals in your cat’s territory can trigger social and environmental stress that can cause your cat to start biting its nails. When your cat is in the presence of an unfamiliar animal, it can develop social stress and switch to biting its nails.

The same applies to introducing a new animal into your cat’s territory. A new animal will trigger territorial disputes that might weigh on your cat, reducing it to bite nails as a coping mechanism.

If your cat perceives the presence of the other animal as a threat, it might become fearful and aggressive. Its emotional response can lead to stress-related behavior like nail biting.

To address nail bitting that stems from the presence of other animals, you can:

  • Introduce the new pet gradually: That means preparing a separate space for the new animal to stay as it acclimates to the new environment. 

After some time, do a visual introduction. You can use a baby gate or partly cracked door to allow the animals to see each other without direct access. Allow full access when the two are used to each other.

  • Provide separate resources: Ensure your cat and the new animal have separate access to food, water, a litter box, and a resting place to minimize resource competition.
  • Enrich your cat’s environment: Offer toys, scratching posts, and other environmental enrichment to stimulate your cat physically and mentally. The engagement helps reduce stress and redirect their energy away from nail biting.

5. Changing The Cat’s Food

Even if the new food is more high-quality than what you’ve been feeding your kitty and is appropriate for its nutritional needs, the change might stress cats. Felines are creatures of habit, and alterations to their diet routine can induce stress-related nail biting.

What’s more, cats are very picky. Your kitty might have developed a strong preference for the taste, texture, and smell of their previous diet. If the new food you’re presenting doesn’t meet your feline’s taste expectations, it might get stressed and take it out on their nails.

The trigger isn’t only linked to a change in the food type but portion size, too. No question. Some circumstances will warrant a change in food portions. For instance, when:

  • You want to manage your cat’s weight
  • You note your cat is overeating
  • The cat starts to age

However, your cat is hardwired to be cautious about changes in food supply. Your cat can perceive a sudden portion reduction as a potential threat of scarcity and start showing stress-related nail-biting.


Pica is a condition where cats eat non-food items such as paper, fabric, plastic, and even their hair. The condition is always associated with excessive grooming which goes beyond fur, extending to nails.

Sometimes, Pica is related to underlying medical issues such as gastrointestinal problems or nutrient deficiencies. The medical issues can lead to skin irritation, itching, or discomfort. When Pica affects your cat’s paws, it can be prompted to bite its nails to alleviate the irritation.

Medical problems

Sometimes, excessive nail chewing might indicate an underlying medical issue. If you see your cat frequently biting and chewing its nails, it might be communicating that something is amiss.

You might want to check on its paws to rule out the possibility of health issues. Some medical conditions that can trigger your cat to bite its nail include:

7. Pemphigus

Pemphigus is a common autoimmune skin disease in cats. The condition causes the immune system to attack the skin, forming:

  • Blisters
  • Ulcers
  • Pain
  • Discomfort
  • Sores
  • Itching and scratching
  • Crusts and scabs
  • Redness and inflammation in the affected areas

If a cat develops pemphigus on or around their nails, the pain and discomfort can lead to nail-biting to relieve the itching or irritation. 

8. Parasites Such As Ringworms, Mange Mites, or Fleas

Parasitic infestations such as ringworm, mange mites (e.g., demodectic mange), or fleas can cause skin irritation, itching, and discomfort. 

When these parasites affect the paws or nails, cats may resort to nail biting to relieve the itching and pain. The behavior will be a self-soothing response to irritation caused by the parasites.

9. Other Infections – Bacterial/Fungal Infections Affecting Paws/Nails

Bacterial or fungal infections that affect the paws or nails can lead to inflammation, pain, and itching. Your cat can respond to the discomfort of these infections by licking the paws.

However, when the irritation is unbearable, your kitty will bite its nails to alleviate the discomfort caused by these infections.

10. Breed-Specific Health Conditions (e.g., Persian Cats & Overgrown Nails)

Some cat breeds, such as Persians, are more prone to certain health conditions, including overgrown nails. If a cat’s nails become excessively long and curl into the paw pads, it can cause discomfort.

The discomfort can lead to nail biting.

11. Thick, Brittle Nails (In Older Cats)

Older cats may develop changes in the texture and strength of their nails. 

Thick, brittle nails can become more prone to splitting or cracking, which may cause discomfort. Cats may bite their nails to address this discomfort.

12. Autoimmune Diseases (e.g., Pododermatitis)

Autoimmune diseases can affect the paws and pads, leading to inflammation and swelling, a condition known as pododermatitis. 

The discomfort associated with pododermatitis can cause cats to bite their nails to soothe the affected areas.

How to Help Your Cat Reduce Abnormal Nail Chewing

If your kitty is engaging in normal grooming behavior and you notice no signs of health issues, there isn’t a need for concern about its nail-biting behavior. Most nailing biting cases in cats are normal.

However, if you note signs of health problems, visit a veterinarian to diagnose and treat the issue. 

And for all behavioral nail-biting, you can intervene to adjust your cat’s behavior by adopting some corrective measures.

Establish A Routine

Creating a routine is one of the best ways to help your cat reduce abnormal nail biting. Cats are creatures of habit and feel most secure when they know what to expect. 

Maintain a fixed schedule for feeding and playtime to provide mental and physical stimulation to divert your cat’s attention away from nail chewing. 

Consistency will help reduce anxiety and stress, which are the major triggers for abnormal nail biting.

Reduce Stress Or Anxiety

In a multi-cat home, introduce new cats gradually, allowing them to get used to each other’s scent and presence. You can let them engage after they’re used to each other.

Even after your cat familiarizes with the new pet, provide enough resources like food, water, and litter boxes to prevent competition. Competition for resources induces stress and anxiety that can manifest as nail-biting.

Other ways to reduce anxiety and stress include using pheromone diffusers like Feliway to create a calming atmosphere. 

Cutting out the stressors and conflicts can significantly reduce the likelihood of abnormal nail chewing.

Speak To Your Vet

Consult your vet if some concerning symptoms accompany your cat’s nail-biting. Some signs that warrant a vet visit include:

  • Redness in the feet
  • Raw skin
  • Bleeding 
  • Hair loss
  • Cracked bleeding skin

The above symptoms could indicate underlying medical issues, allergies, or skin irritation that require medical attention. Nail biting in such scenarios is only a secondary sign.

Consult your vet to diagnose the problem, recommend treatment, and provide guidance on managing the behavior.

Cut Your Cat’s Nails

Regular nail trimming is an essential part of cat grooming. Trimming your cat’s nails can help prevent them from becoming overly long and potentially painful. 

Use cat-specific nail clippers and follow proper techniques to avoid injuring the nail. If you’re unsure how to trim your cat’s nails, your veterinarian or a professional groomer can demonstrate the process.

Monitor the Interaction Between Cats (To Determine if Another Cat Is Causing Your Cat’s Anxiety)

If you suspect that interactions with other cats are causing your cat’s anxiety and nail chewing, closely observe their behavior when they are together. 

Look for signs of:

  • Aggression
  • Fear
  • Tension

The signs might include hissing, growling, or avoidance. If you identify issues, consult a feline behavior specialist who can provide strategies for improving inter-cat relationships and reducing anxiety.

Provide Stimulation – Cat Trees, Toys, and Scratching Surfaces

Cats need mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and engaged to avoid stress-related nail biting. One of the best ways to stimulate your cat physically and emotionally is to make its environment more cat-friendly.

Invest in cat trees, such as The Cat Tree Tower Condo Furniture Scratch Post from Yaheetech, to mentally and physically engage your cat. Alternatively, you can get:

Scratching posts or pads satisfy your cat’s natural scratching instinct and help maintain their nails. Well-stimulated cats are less likely to engage in destructive behaviors like nail chewing.

Why Do Cats Bite Their Nails: In a Nut Shell

Cats biting their nails is a typical grooming behavior and should raise any concerns. Your cat will use its teeth to clean and maintain its claws, which usually have an out layer. Chewing their nails keeps them sharp and in good condition.

However, consult your vet if the nail biting is excessive or accompanied by behavioral changes or medical symptoms. The vet will diagnose and treat the underlying issues.


When should I be concerned about abnormal nail chewing?

You should be concerned about your cat’s abnormal nail chewing if it displays compulsive licking and biting at the claw. When that’s the case, check for signs of health problems such as:
Visible signs of pain or discomfort
Rough, cracked, or bleeding skin
Redness in the paw area
Hair loss
Change in behavior
Weight loss
Loss of appetite
If you note any symptoms of concern, consult your vet.

Does my cat have anxiety when it bites its nails?

Biting nails isn’t necessarily a sign of anxiety in cats. However, your kitty might be anxious when the behavior is accompanied by restlessness, decreased appetite, vocalization, trembling, hypervigilance, excessive grooming, and salvation.

Why do cats bite and then lick you?

Your cat can bite and lick you as a call to attention on something. It might be asking for affection or asking you to stop. Other reasons a cat can bite and then lick you include:
* Sign of affection
* Overstimulation from petting
* Your cat is telling you it wants to play
* The kitty can be stressed or anxious

Is it normal for cats to bite their tails?

Cat occasionally bite their tail, but the behavior isn’t normal when it’s too frequent. Some reasons why cats bite their tails include:
* Insect or parasite bite
* Skin irritation or allergies
* Pain or injury
* Stress or anxiety
* Compulsive behavior
* Boredom and excess energy
* Grooming behavior

About Laura Martin

I'm Laura Martin. I get excited about all things cat related. I love my two cats - Dom and Kitty. When I'm not playing with my two feline friends, you can probably find me hiking. And yes, I have a 9 to 5 job. Although if you asked me I'd rather spend my time blogging and educating other cat moms and dads about what it takes to raise a healthy cat.

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