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Are nail caps or claw covers for cats safe?

Are nail caps or claw covers for cats safe?


Your cat may be your “baby” but cats have at least 10 deadly weapons on the front paws alone to remind us that our sweet little darlings are really killing machines.


Outdoors, those claws would keep your cat alive: fighting enemies, making quick escapes, and bringing home the bacon.


But indoors, those scalpel-sharp nails can wreak havoc on your furniture and skin.


There’s a solution for most indoor cats that will allow them to be their cat selves AND civilized indoor citizens: nail caps.


What are nail or claw caps?


Nail caps or claw caps are brilliant in their simplicity.


They’re hollow, cat-nail-shaped horns made of vinyl that are glued to a cat’s own nails, effectively covering them with a protective sheath.


They’re painless to wear, and they allow a cat to perform all her natural cat behaviors, from scratching to stretching, while protecting your belongings and your skin.


How are claw caps put on?


If you have a cooperative cat who doesn’t mind you touching his paws, nail caps are easy to apply.


You fill the little plastic “horn” partway with the supplied glue. You squeeze the nail cap to distribute the glue from top to bottom, and then you slide the cap over a cat’s nail. The glue dries completely within minutes.


I’ve oversimplified here a bit. There are a few more details to concern yourself with, once you’re actually ready to try nail caps, and I’ll get to those in a moment.



Do claw covers interfere with retracting claws?


No. Nail or claw caps do not prevent a cat from retracting his claws.


The difference between cat claws, dog nails, and human nails


To really understand why nail caps don’t interfere with a cat’s ability to retract her claws, it’s helpful to know the difference between cat nails, human nails, and dog nails.


Human nails


Human nails lie on top of fingers and toes and are meant to be shields. They don’t actively do anything but protect.


Dog nails


Dog nails emerge from the front of the toe and are attached to the tip of the last bone on each toe.


Dog nails don’t retract. This is because dogs are long-distance travelers. Dogs use their nails for balance and traction while running.


Dog nails are thick and the ends are blunt because they get worn down every time a dog takes a step.


(Read: Can cats and dogs get along?)


Cat nails


Cat nails also emerge from the front of the toe and connect to bone. But they serve a completely different purpose than dog or human nails.


Cat nails are tools designed to catch and hold prey, and tear meat from bones. Cat claws are also useful for gripping when climbing, and for traction on the hind end when jumping off a surface.


Cat nails are also handy little switchblades when a cat needs to defend himself.


But unlike humans and dogs, it’s important for cats that their nails are only exposed when they need to use them.


Both cats and dogs are digitigrade, which means they walk on their tippy toes.[1] Nails that are exposed all the time on most tippy-toe walkers make a clickety-click sound on hard surfaces, and get dull from constant wear.


Cats are ambush hunters who need to sneak up on prey. They've got to keep noisy nails up off the ground.


Cats also need sharp nails for hunting. They have to keep them off the ground to prevent them from getting dull.


How do cat nails retract?


When a cat retract his nails, the claws aren’t going up into the paw itself. They're just in a relaxed position above the ground.


While it looks like the relaxed claw is retreating into some kind of sheath, it’s actually just resting in the fur around the toes. It’s easier to see what I’m talking about on this cute hairless Sphynx cat because his claws have nowhere to hide.


When a cat wants to extend her claws, she contracts a tendon. It’s similar to the kind of effort a human would have to make to point a toe.


But when a cat has nail caps on, it looks like the nails are stuck in the “out” position!


Spend five minutes on Instagram and you’ll probably see a dozen photos of adorable kitties in colorful nail caps, like they all just came back from the salon with a full set of gel nails.


These photos do make it look like their nails are stuck in the extended position.


But they are not. Unlike a cat’s natural nails, which may be very thin and translucent, nail caps are thicker and more colorful, and add a tiny bit of length to the nails.


So, nails with brightly colored caps on them are just more visible than a cat’s natural nails.


Are nail caps safe for cats?


In general, nail caps are extremely safe for cats, and I’ll explain why in a minute.


But I can’t speak for all brands of nail caps, and there are a lot of them out there. Nail caps may be manufactured from different materials, and may include different kinds of glue. Some may be more or less flexible than others.


Soft Paws (or Soft Claws) are the only brand of nail caps for cats that I recommend

(*This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.)


The brand that I am familiar with, and have purchased (for my dog, actually) is Soft Paws (which also goes by the name Soft Claws). This particular brand is designed by a veterinarian and made in the USA.


When I had trouble sizing the product, I called the help line and a real person answered and provided helpful advice. The company also sent me – at no additional charge – several sizes to try.


This is the kind of customer service that you get from a company that really wants to make sure that your pets are safe and comfortable.


I can’t vouch for any of the other brands on the market.


You can buy Soft Paws on their website, or on here.


Can claw caps damage a cat’s nail or nail bed?


If nail caps are sized correctly and applied correctly, and made of the right material, they will not cause damage to a cat’s paws or nail beds.


This is why it’s important to be able to contact the manufacturer and get advice about fitting claw caps, at least the first time.


Nail caps also need to be flexible. Soft Paws are made of a soft vinyl to prevent damage and irritation, but they’re not so soft that they wear right through.


Are claw caps and the glue used to apply them non-toxic?


Soft Paws nail caps are non-toxic even if they are swallowed. The vinyl cap will simply pass through the cat’s digestive system unharmed. They’re so tiny, there is no risk of a nail cap causing an intestinal blockage.


Even the dried glue is safe. Soft Paws uses Dermabond, or medical-grade cyanoacrylate, which is intended to be used on skin.[2] It’s often used in place of stitches for closing a surgical wound.


The ingredient in Dermabond is similar to, but not the exact same material that is in super glue or Krazy Glue. A big difference between the glue used by Soft Paws for nail caps, and super glue, is that surgical glue is manufactured and tested to meet quality and biocompatibility standards.[3]


Once the glue dries, which happens very quickly, it becomes chemically inert.[4]  This means that the material is extremely stable and non-reactive, and even safe if your cat swallows it.


Can cats get nail infections from claw caps, like humans who wear acrylic nails?


No. Acrylic nails, which are a beauty product for humans, require filing of the nail surface for application, and harsh chemicals for removal. This one-two punch can weaken nails and cause nail-bed infections in some people who enjoy wearing acrylic nails.


By contrast, nail caps and the medical glue used to apply them do not weaken cats’ nails, and do not damage the nail bed. There is no filing involved. Most cat nail caps actually come off on their own, during the naturally shedding of the outer layer of the cat’s claws.


How do you make sure you’re applying nail caps correctly?


I just finished telling you how safe claw caps are. But, nail caps are only safe if they’re applied correctly.


Here’s what you have to get right:


Trim the cat’s nails properly first

Don’t apply nail caps to untrimmed nails.


Trim the nails a little bit longer than you might normally trim them: just past the top of where the nail “hooks.”


Dry fit the nail caps

Nail caps should slide on fairly easily, but shouldn’t be overly large. Try them on before you put glue in them.


Nail caps shouldn’t touch the nail bed. In fact, there should be a little bit of space between the cap and the nail bed. If they’re too long, use scissors to trim the wide end of the nail cap.


Use just enough, but not too much glue

Only fill the nail cap partway with glue. Then squeeze the nail cap so that the glue is evenly distributed.


You should only use enough glue to adhere the cap, but not so much that it overflows once you put the nail cap on.


Glue should not touch the cat’s fur, nail bed, or the skin around the claws.


How often do cat nail caps need to be replaced?


It’s best to replace nail caps every four to six weeks. Don’t keep nail caps on longer than six to eight weeks.[5]


Because cats’ nails keep growing, nail caps that stay on longer than six weeks can become uncomfortable.


In many cases, nail caps will fall off on their own, as cats’ nails naturally grow and shed.


How do you remove claw covers?


If they don’t fall off on their own, nail caps can be removed using nail clippers. Just clip the pointy end, which will break the glue seal.


Any remaining glue should be removed, and nails trimmed, before applying a new set of claw caps.


What if a cat bites the nail caps off?


Cats are cats. Nail caps are going to be extremely interesting for some cats the first time you put them on.


Some cats will bite the nail caps off. Don’t worry if one gets swallowed (see above for safety information).


Try reapplying. Most cats will eventually leave them alone, but you may have to keep trying for a few weeks.


If, after a few weeks, your cat still won’t accept nail caps, they may not be a good solution for your kitty.


Can’t a cat just use a scratching post?


Every household with a cat in it should have at least one scratching post, but preferably several in a variety of materials, lengths, widths, and angles.


Scratching is a natural behavior that you cannot, and should not try to convince your cat to stop doing.


Having a dedicated scratching post gives cats an acceptable scratching alternative to furniture and carpets. But exposed cat nails can still do damage to skin and belongings.


Read all about why cats scratch furniture in this post.


Who should definitely try nail caps?


Some household situations just seem to call out for a solution like cat claw caps. Here are some of them:


Elderly cat guardians

Some elderly cat guardians have fragile skin that heals slowly. Nail caps can prevent skin from being inadvertently scratched.


(Cat scratches can be dangerous. Read about what to do if a cat scratches or bites you in this post.)


Cat guardians with skin/clotting disorders

Cat guardians with certain medical issues, like a skin or blood-clotting disorder, could benefit if their cat wears claw covers.


Families with young children

Children, too, may have delicate skin that needs protecting.


Households with valuables

If you have valuable antiques, furniture, or soft goods, like quilts, that need to be protected from a cat who might just be doing her cat thing, nail caps are good idea.


Hairless cats

Some cats need to be protected from themselves. Hairless Sphynx and Peterbald cats lack the protection of fur that most cats have.


Itchy cats

Some cats suffer from chronic skin issues and allergies. Nail caps can prevent serious damage from scratching.


Cats who get stuck in everything

Some cats just seem to get their claws stuck in everything: carpeting, bedding, furniture. Stuck claws can lead to toe injuries.


These cats might be more comfortable wearing something to protect their needle-like claws.


What kinds of cats should never wear nail caps? 

There are some cats who should never wear nail caps:


Cats who go outdoors

Outdoor cats need their claws to protect themselves in a fight. They need their nails so they can climb or jump their way out of danger.


Do not handicap a cat who goes outdoors (even if he comes indoors sometimes) by putting caps over their only means of self defense.


(Read all about keeping cats indoors versus outdoors in this post.)


Cats with guardians who can't commit to a schedule

You must be able to commit to a four-to-six week schedule of nail trimming and replacement of the caps.


If you know yourself, and know you’re going to forget or procrastinate, nail caps aren’t a good option for your cat.


Cats who keep biting them off

Some cats won’t leave the nail caps alone. If, after a few trial applications your cat can’t get used to claw covers, they are probably not for him.


Can you use claw covers on kittens?


Soft Paws offers a kitten-sized cap that should fit kittens up to about five pounds or five months old.


Try one on without adhesive first. If the nail cap is too long, you can trim a bit off the wider end. They should fit snugly. If they’re too loose, you’ll need to wait until the kitten is older.


What size nail caps should I buy?


Read the sizing guidelines before you buy.


Soft Paws comes in three sizes: small, medium, and large. Most adult cats, from nine to 13 pounds, wear medium.


Can I put nail caps on my cat myself?


It depends on you and your cat.


Some cats are relaxed and comfortable about having their guardian manipulate their toes. Some are not.


If you’re going to try, it might be helpful to have a second pair of hands, to either help you hold the cat, or to prep the cap with glue.


Put the cat on your lap, facing away from you, so that if the cat feels the sudden urge to back up, she will back right into you.


Some cats enjoy being swaddled in a towel. You can just remove the paw you’re working on. Press lightly on the top of the toe to express the nail.


You can also try a grooming harness, like this one by Downtown Pet Supply, which is basically a zippered bag that contains the cat. They seem to work well for some cats, but not for others.


If you don’t feel comfortable putting nail caps on yourself, you can ask your vet or a local groomer who works with cats, to help.


The National Cat Groomers Institute provides a list of certified groomers here:


Find a Cat Groomer


Do I need to put nail caps on my cat’s rear claws?


Many people just apply nail caps to their cat’s front claws, especially if they’re mostly concerned about their cat scratching furniture.


But some cats can still do damage with their back claws when they jump off furniture (or laps), and some cats scratch themselves excessively with their hind legs.


If you have one of these cats, you can put claw covers on the rear paws, too.


Can cats still scratch and stretch if they’re wearing claw covers?


Cats can still perform all of their natural cat behaviors and movements while wearing claw covers. But they just won’t ruin your furniture, or accidentally scratch your skin.


If you like this post, you might also like:

Why does my cat bite his nails?


Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!


DAwn and Timmy
Dawn LaFontaine

Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.




[1] Marek, Ramona. “What Movement and Gait Tell You about Your Cat.” Fear Free Happy Homes, 31 Mar. 2021,


[2] “Soft Paws® Adhesive Refill 6 Pack.” Soft Paws Adhesive Refill 6 Pack | SmartPractice Veterinary, Accessed 5 Apr. 2024.


[3] “Complete Guide to Medical Grade Cyanoacrylate Super Glues.” Hotmelt.Com, Accessed 9 Apr. 2024.


[4] “Questions & Answers: Soft Paws for Cats.” SoftPaws.Com, Accessed 5 Apr. 2024.


[5] German, Danelle. “5 Myths You Should Know about Cat Nail Caps.” National Cat Groomers Institute, Accessed 5 Apr. 2024.


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