Do cheetahs have retractable claws?

A lot of people think that cheetahs do not have retractable claws. They think that the claws are permanently out in order to assist the cat when running fast by gripping the ground more effectively.

Cheetah claws
Cheetah claws. Photo in public domain on Pinterest.
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This is not true. It’s also not true with respect to the serval and flat-headed cat, two other cats which are sometimes said to have non-retractable claws.

The claws on these cats are retractable and they 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.”

A further note. Claw retraction is passive by which I mean that the claws are retracted in the rest position. Attached to the last bone of each toe, the claws are held back and off the ground by a retractor ligament. In order for the cat to extend his or her claws, she contracts the “dorsal and ventral muscles of the toe; the ligament stretches, and the claw protrudes”. Therefore the claws of all cats are not strictly speaking retractable anyway but it is more accurate to describe them as PROTRUSIBLE. If you’d like to read more please click on this link.

The quotations are from the excellent book, Wild Cats of the World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist at page 6. This is a highly authoritative book on the wild cat species and it also covers information on the domestic cat. I would highly recommend it to anybody interested in the wild cat species.

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