MadSci Network: General Biology

Re: Why do cats stretch out their hind claws when you lift them?

Date: Mon Jul 6 14:54:03 1998
Posted By: Andrea Bixler, staff (postdoctoral associate), biology, UM-St. Louis
Area of science: General Biology
ID: 897575848.Gb

You must be very observant (or else you've been scratched a lot).  After
receiving your question, I went home and picked up my cats several times.  
They do indeed stretch out their hind claws, but I had never noticed 
before.  I have noticed that when I pick up small rodents (voles, guinea 
pigs), they stick their hind legs straight out.  Rodents don't have 
retractable claws, so they can't just extend those.  I suspect that the 
cats and other animals that do this are preparing to grab onto anything
within reach to save themselves from the large, scary predator that just
grabbed them.  (I don't mean to imply that your cats don't like you, or 
don't want to be picked up, but that they are performing a reflexive 
action.)  This could be something that evolved over millions of years and
saved many a wild cat's life in the past.  They would have used those 
extended claws to rake the predator's throat or belly or to get better 
leverage on a nearby tree-trunk to aid their escape.  Desmond Morris has a
book on cat watching (I think the title may even be Cat Watching).  You 
might look in it for more information on cats and why they do the things
they do (those things that often drive us crazy!).

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