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Fox Claws: Sharp & Retractable

Foxes have sharp, partially retractable claws, meaning they can pull them in and out as they need them. This has several advantages, such as improved agility, climbing, and more.

Foxes are amazing animals with many traits that make them stand out from other species in the Canidae family. 

One of their most notable features is the sharp, retractable claws on each paw which they use for hunting and climbing. 

These retractable paws allow foxes to be digitigrade (walk on their toes) in order to conserve energy when traveling long distances or chasing prey. The fox’s feet are also completely fur-free, making it easier for them to travel over ice or snow without slipping.

In this article, we’ll explore more about foxes’ claws, what they’re used for, and more.

Do Foxes Have Claws?

Foxes do have claws. These are sharp and partially retractable. These are used for hunting, climbing, and added traction.

The foxes’ sharp claws on their front paws are one of their most noticeable physical traits. These claws, together with the fox’s acute senses of hearing and smell, help it to be an effective predator.

The fox claw is a by-product of evolution and just like nails, they are made of keratin. Their use case for their claws had a big impact on how their claws developed.  

A fox’s main form of defense is running away from predators but they also have sharp teeth that they will use, in combination with their claws, if cornered by something larger than themselves. 

cute desert fox

How Fox Claws Work

Foxes claws are sharp, for hunting purposes, and partially retractable, for other purposes. They’re not very long, but they’re perfect for foxes.

The foxes’ claws are well-adapted for many uses.  

Like most animals, their claws are made of keratin (like human nails). They developed quite differently from their other canid family members. 

The fox’s front feet have special muscles that allow them to extend when needed so foxes can grip surfaces better. When foxes aren’t hunting or defending themselves, their claws hide in their paws so they don’t get in the way.

fox jumping

Do Foxes Have Retractable Claws?

All foxes have retractable claws and are the only members of the Canidae family to have those kinds of claws. 

The fox’s claws are especially sharp, and the ability to retract them proves to be useful, as it helps them with:

  • Climbing
  • Digging
  • Hunting
  • Traction/Speed
  • Agility

The fox uses its paws for hunting, too – it can jump onto prey and kill it quickly by biting the neck or injuring larger animals. 

Some fox species have claws that stick out from their paws at all times.

Gray foxes use their retractable claws to gain traction as they climb and run along branches, fences, etc., but also for hunting prey like birds and rodents – the fox will catch its prey with a quick pounce, digging its front paws into the prey. The fox will then either crush or bite its prey’s neck. 

The gray fox can also climb trees with the help of its retractable claws to pounce on some squirrels in the upper branches.

Foxes are also proficient diggers and can excavate their dens quite easily given that their front claws are specially adapted for digging. 

Interestingly, when a fox is not hunting or defending itself, its retractable claws remain hidden within its paws so as not to hamper its movement.

Gray foxes have a musculoskeletal system designed for climbing trees and other vertical surfaces, which is why fox claws are sharp enough to climb those surfaces with ease. The fox’s paws also contain special muscles that allow the claws to extend when they need extra grip on a surface or object.

Related: Can Foxes Climb Trees?

Young red fox walking on tree trunk

How Sharp Are Fox Claws?

Fox claws are quite sharp. Being made of keratin makes them formidable and strong but they are rarely used for fighting off enemies. 

These claws are strong enough to help support foxes as they climb on trees as in the case of the gray fox. Because of their semi-retractable nature, they can quickly grab or release the bark of trees.

How Long Are Fox Claws?

The length of fox claws depends on the size of the individual fox. The cape fox’s claws average about 15 mm in length around the curve[1]. There are also online retailers of trinkets and charms that sell gray wolf replica claws that average around 19 to 20 mm in length.[2]

Why Do Foxes Have Retractable Claws

Foxes have retractable claws because it provides them with an advantage when moving around. They adapted to this over many years. It also helps them walk on their toes.

Foxes are very opportunistic animals and their ability to survive in almost any kind of habitat has caused their bodies to evolve adaptations that help them, such as retractable claws. 

Their ability to retract their claws helps the foxes keep their claws sharp because there is less friction against the ground when walking. There’s also minimal contact with other surfaces that may chip off or dull their claws when moving around.[3]

Foxes Are Digitigrade (Walk on Their Toes)

Foxes are digitigrade, meaning they walk on their toes. The pressure on their paws is mostly on the metatarsals (the bones on their toes) because this is the only part touching the ground when they walk.

The retractability of claws in digitigrades helps them move more efficiently because they don’t get caught or tangled in grass or other objects that can slow them down.[4]

fox standing

Claws of Different Species

The different fox species have adapted well into their chosen environment. 

They’ve adapted so much that their body parts, like their claws, have adapted to their respective environment as well.

Species Claws
Arctic Fox More curved to walk on ice
Red Fox Sharp claws for hunting
Gray fox Sharp and retractable claws for climbing
Swift Fox  Evolved for digging and catching small prey

Arctic Fox Claws

The claws of the arctic fox have a specific shape. As the claws of polar bears, they’re more curved, as this provides them with a better grip on ice and slippery surfaces.

Their claws are also a little shorter, as they’re used for moving on ice.

Arctic Fox

Red Fox Claws

Red foxes have sharp and retractable claws that are used for multiple purposes.  A fox’s claws protect them from prey animals running away while also helping them catch food to eat. Foxes can use their claws to dig holes in the ground, helping them create dens for their babies.

red fox claws

Gray Fox Claws

The gray fox is the species under Canidae that is most known for climbing trees. Their ability to climb trees is aided by their retractable claws and wrists that rotate. 

Climbing trees help them avoid predators, catch prey, rest, or forage for fruits. Some populations of gray foxes in Latin America have claws that are more curved or sharper than those found in their North American counterparts.

Gray Fox Claws

Swift Fox Claws

Swift foxes are the smaller relatives of the red fox that is found in grasslands. Their main use of their claws is for catching their prey in the grasslands as well as digging their dens. 

Their claws allow them to be efficient in digging so they can create new ones or repurpose and modify a smaller animal’s den.

Conclusion

Foxes have sharp, partially retractable claws. They aren’t very long, often ranging from 0.5-1 inch. They’re used for digging, climbing, and to provide traction when moving on slippery or soft surfaces.

FAQs

What Kind of Claws Does a Fox Have?

Foxes have partially retractable claws.

Do Foxes Have Nails or Claws?

Foxes have claws that are made out of keratin. Nails are similarly made of keratin, so an argument can be made that claws and nails are the same things – the only difference is size, strength, and sharpness.

Do Foxes Have Sharp Claws?

Yes, foxes have very sharp claws, as they’re used to grip, hunt, and more.

About Dennis Stapleton

Dennis Stapleton has a passion for animals, especially dogs, and their relatives. He’s intrigued by their social structure and loves to write and teach about the world's most popular pet animal.