Do cheetahs’ claws retract?
‘[Cheetahs] have the same claw retraction mechanism as other cat species. The difference is that their claws protrude beyond the fur, and cheetah claws lack the sheaths that cover the claws of other cats.’Fiona and Mel Sunquist, Wild Cats of the World page 6.
The cheetah and flat-headed cats are sometimes described as having nonretractile claws. This is not quite true as the cheetah is:
‘the only member of the cat family with claws that cannot be sheathed’.As above
There is another anatomical quibble as Dr Morris describes it. Feline claws are usually described as ‘retractile’ indicating that they are deliberately retracted. This is incorrect as the default position is the retraction of the claws i.e. when the muscles are relaxed.
The cat has to extend the claws by tightening the special muscles which protract the claws. Therefore a cat’s claws are ‘protractile’ not ‘retractile’.
Dr Morris makes this valid and important point that as if the claws had to be retracted by a continuous effort of the muscles of the paw it would be a poor use of energy as the claws are extended (protracted) for short periods of time when there is some kind of emergency.
The answer to the question in the title is that a cheetah’s claws do retract but they protrude and are visible and lack the usual sheath that covers the claws of other cats, wild and domestic.
Video showing the protraction of feline claws:
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