cat ingrown nail

How often do you think about your cat’s feet? Chances are you do not think about them much except maybe in relation to when your cat uses your curtains as a trapeze or your couch as her favorite scratching post.

A cat’s paw is not only a means of mobility but intricately woven with the procurement of food from an early age.

You can picture a kitten kneading, coaxing milk from its mother. Cats often knead with pleasure and we can assume any pain inflicted on their feet would be excruciating.

A cat ingrown nail is a condition that affects single or multiple paws. It commonly creates a gaping wound prime for infection.

Awareness and prevention of cat ingrown nails are paramount for assuring the overall health of your cat. Recognition of the symptoms early ensures a fast recovery.

What are the features of a normal cat paw and nail?

The retractile claw is one of the most defining characteristics of cats. They are the only members of the animal kingdom, in fact, that can retract their claws. And cheetahs, the fastest of the family, can only partially sheath theirs.

A cat’s foot has certain features to enable its unique abilities. Their paws are round and compact as opposed to the more elongated dog’s foot. A notable exception is a cheetah, whose paws are more elongated for running.

The structure of a cat’s paw reflects its use of them to grab, swat, and pin prey, climbing, and in self-defense. They do not require them for much running other than short bursts.

A cat’s claws are attached to the ends of the phalanges like our nails. Cats can control whether to unsheathe their claws with tendons that control extension.

When a cat is at rest its claws contract into their skin pouches in a relaxed fashion. Cats protract or extend them as needed. Their claws are technically protractile, but nevertheless, the term retractile is used.

When a veterinarian performs a tendonectomy, he or she cuts the major flexor tendon so the claws permanently extend.

We only mention this to illustrate that damage to this tendon will cause the claws to grow abnormally.

According to PetPlace, A cat’s nail continuously grows like ours but is sickle-shaped with a very sharp tip.

Retraction enables cats to reduce wear and tear to the nail and maintain their structure and function. Sharpening their claws enables cats to also maintain tendon strength and condition.

What is an ingrown nail?

For people, an ingrown nail is common on the big toe. It occurs on either or both sides of the nail bed. An involuted nail is more similar to an ingrown claw for a cat, According to Wikipedia.

When a cat develops an ingrown nail, the claw grows along its curvature until it comes almost full circle and penetrates into the sensitive digital pad. Often it keeps growing until it creates a gaping wound.

The nature of a claw combined with its location predisposes ingrown nails and their wounds to nasty infections.

Your veterinarian will not close these wounds because they are dirty contaminated, meaning there is no way to make them sterile enough to suture.

Ingrown nails may be difficult to readily observe in feral, outdoor, reclusive, or long-haired cats.

According to POC, Cats intractable about the handling of their paws make detecting ingrown nails challenging. The condition can become serious in a matter of a few weeks.

What are the causes of ingrown nails in cats?

Nail problems in cats originate from a variety of sources. Anything that causes the claw to grow abnormally predisposes it to become ingrown. Dewclaws can be more problematic because they do not contact the ground.

Ingrown nails are most common in senior cats – as cats age, sometimes the outer nail layer or cuticle does not shed normally. This can cause the nail to become thickened and dysfunctional.

According to PetFul, Polydactyl cats are susceptible to ingrown nails – cats with extra toes usually experience crowding of one to three of the claws, causing issues with your cat’s ability to maintain their sharpness and structure. Often the close vicinity of the claws can interfere with a cat’s ability to sheath one or more of them.

A damaged or split nail – Injury can cause a cat’s claw to grow abnormally. Injury or surgery to the pertinent tendons will also affect claw growth and necessitates regular nail clipping.

Lack of activity – Indoor cats are much safer than their outdoor counterparts, but they require exercise and must have something to keep their claws healthy.

It is up to you to encourage your cat to use any scratching instruments and to stimulate her to engage in moderate play or other activities.

Lack of proper grooming – Regular grooming, even of short-haired cats, accomplishes two things. It allows you to examine your pet for any abnormalities. You can spot problems early when it is still easy to resolve them.

The other purpose it serves is you can incorporate nail trimming every four to six weeks. At the very least, check your cat’s paws.

What are signs your cat may have an ingrown nail?

Although a cat’s ingrown claw is much different from your ingrown toenail, it may be even more painful. However, your cat is very good at hiding discomfort.

Therefore, signs of an ingrown nail could be subtle until quite advanced.

  • Lameness – If your pet shows any abnormalities of gait, the first place you should look is his feet.
  • Lethargy or depression – This can be a result of your cat being in pain and reluctant to move around much when her feet are hurting. It could also be caused by infection or fever.
  • Lack of appetite
  • No desire to play, run, or jump – your cat may not be just lazy. Take notice of any change in behavior or normal activity level, especially if it is persistent.
  • Swelling or drainage from the feet – If you notice blood or pus where your cat is walking or laying, make sure to check his feet. However, you will not always see any indication of drainage as most cats are fastidious groomers.
  • Excessive licking or grooming of the pads.
  • Aggressive or withdrawn behavior – Cats often react with growling, withdrawal, hissing, or lashing out when they are in pain. If your cat will not tolerate examination by you then she needs a visit to the veterinarian.

How do you treat an ingrown nail in a cat?

If you discover your cat has an ingrown claw, you will need to remove the offending structure. Trimming the claw with nail trimmers will provide instantaneous relief.

Unfortunately, most cats will need professional medical attention to address ingrown nails. Your cat is not likely to tolerate you undertaking such a painful procedure at home.

You may be able to wrap him in a towel and accomplish it, but your veterinarian can determine if it is infected.

Moreover, even if not infected, the wound may be serious enough to warrant a visit to a medical clinic. Some felines require sedation for optimal treatment of the site.

Once the claw has been trimmed, your veterinarian can direct you on further care at home.

According to WikiPet, With infection and swelling, your medical professional may have you soak your cat’s foot in warm water with a weak Betadine or Chlorhexidine solution.

This addresses both the inflammation and local infection. You should aim to soak at least twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes.

It is your cat, though, so do the best you can with his tolerance level.

If your veterinarian confirms an infection, he or she may culture it to determine what type of bacteria may be growing.

Your cat will probably have to take a course of oral antibiotics and possibly even pain medications or anti-inflammatories.

What are the complications of cat ingrown nails?

The most common complication of an ingrown nail will be an infection. Bacteria travel into the wound created by the claw from the ground, the nail, the skin, and your cat’s mouth.

The proximity to the bone can lead to bone and systemic infection, resulting in a very sick cat.

Another possibility is delayed healing because your cat obsessively grooms the wound. Your veterinarian may recommend an Elizabethan-type collar so your cat’s paw can heal.

How do you prevent ingrown nails in cats?

As with most health concerns, prevention of ingrown nails is much easier than the cure.

The most effective and straightforward way to prevent ingrown nails is to make sure to keep your feline’s claws well-manicured. At least inspect them weekly to make sure they are of appropriate length and normal structure.

If you have an older cat or any cat whose claws do not fully retract, be especially vigilant about trimming her nails. Likewise, polydactyl cats will require extra attention to nail trimming.

You may find long-haired easier to maintain if you keep the fur on their feet short. Otherwise, you will need to peel back that hair on a regular basis so you can visualize issues when they begin.

Keep in mind fur can become matted between the pads and around the claw sheaths.

This is an excellent YouTube video that illustrates abnormal and normal structures of the claw.

It also has clear instructions on how to perform a nail trim. Be forewarned not all cats are not so tractable.

Cats, particularly indoor pets, need just as much attention to their feet like dogs. Just because your cat is uncooperative does not mean she gets off the hook concerning regular foot care.

Related: Trimming a Cat’s Nails Without Getting Clawed