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Why Are My Cat's Nails Splitting?

Our feline friends tend to scratch at objects around them, but did you know that this behavior is not just caused by their playful nature? In fact, it is a way for them to remove the dead outer layer of their nails and reveal their new, sharp nails. In this article, our vets in Concord share some common causes of split nails in cats, and when this splitting or splintering can be a cause for concern.

Why are my cat's nails splitting? 

Seeing your cat's nails in any condition other than long and sharp can be concerning, but some nail changes are completely normal. However, other potential causes may require a vet's attention. Here are some causes your cat's nails may be splitting:

1. Out With the Old

Cats' nails continue to grow, and if they grow too long, the surrounding layer of the nail cracks, allowing a new nail to grow. This process occurs every two to three months, and the old layer will either fall off on its own or the cat will remove it by scratching.

2. Aging Process

As your cat ages, you may observe that they start forgetting to groom themselves and experience difficulty in using the litter box. Scratching posts may also become less important to them. This neglect of their nails can result in split ends, discomfort, overgrown nails, and increased avoidance of the scratching post.

In addition, some older cats may suffer from osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint condition that causes the normal cushion of cartilage in the joints to degrade. The bones in the joint eventually rub against each other, causing pain, reduced joint movement, and the formation of bone spurs or other changes in and around the joint. This discomfort can make it difficult for cats to keep their nails trimmed.

That's why it's vital to start introducing your cat to nail clippers as soon as possible. As they get older, they will have no problem trusting you with their paws, and they won't have to worry about the state of their nails if they stop scratching entirely.

3. Improper Tools

While both people and cats need their nails trimmed, trimming a cat's nails differs from trimming our own. Both humans and our feline friends can sustain injuries if blunt tools are used. Blunt blades can exert pressure, causing the nail to split and bleed. Untreated tears can potentially lead to infection. Therefore, ensure that your cat's nail clippers are clean at all times and replaced when they lose their sharpness.

4. Nail Chewing or Biting

Cleaning their paws and nails is part of your cat's regular daily grooming routine. If they find a split nail, they'll chew and bite it to allow the new nail room to emerge. Many potential health issues, including ringworms, can cause chronic nail biting in cats. This fungal infection causes skin irritation and dandruff. Excessive grooming is another common symptom of anxiety in cats, as is intense chewing on nails. 

5. Health Conditions

It's not necessarily bad if you find a split nail in your cat unless it happens frequently. The condition of your cat's nails can actually be an indication of its overall health. If your cat has a broken or injured limb, it may find it difficult to scratch its nails on the cat tree. Additionally, if your cat has been sedentary due to a medical condition, their nails may become untrimmed and overgrown.

Your cat's nails, coat, and skin can also reflect its nutritional status. Dietary protein is essential for developing and maintaining muscle, skin, fur, nails, tendons, ligaments, enzymes, hormones, antibodies, and more. Ensuring your cat gets enough healthy food can benefit them in all aspects of their life.

It's important to bring your senior cat to the vet for annual wellness exams and when your feline friend feels unwell. At Concord, we can offer advice on health and nutrition for your aging kitty.

6. Disorders Affecting the Nails

If your cat's nails are splitting or appear unhealthy, it's crucial to examine every inch of its claws and paws. A traumatic injury can cause nail disease; for example, your cat may have broken the nail because it got stuck to a surface it was scratching or had a bad landing. It's also possible that a fungal, bacterial, or viral infection caused nail splitting.

Several nail diseases can cause splitting, including Onycholysis, which causes the nail to separate from the underlying structures. While nail bed tumors are uncommon in cats, other types of cancer may spread to the nail bed. This is why we must monitor our cat's overall health, from the tips of their ears to the sharp tips of their nails.

How to treat split nails on cats?

Treating split nails on cats requires careful attention and may vary depending on the severity of the split. Here's a general guide:

  • Assess the split: Examine the split nail to determine the extent of the damage. If it is a minor split and there is no bleeding, you may be able to manage it at home. However, if the split is deep, bleeding, or causing significant discomfort to your cat, seek veterinary attention promptly.
  • Trim the nail: If the split is minor and there is no bleeding, you can carefully trim the loose or jagged edges of the nail using pet nail clippers or scissors designed for pets. Be extremely gentle and cautious to avoid causing further injury or pain to your cat.
  • Clean the area: If the split nail is bleeding or appears dirty, clean the area with a mild antiseptic solution or warm water and gentle soap. Pat the area dry with a clean cloth or gauze.
  • Apply styptic powder: If the split nail is bleeding, you can apply styptic powder or a styptic pencil to help stop the bleeding. These products are available at pet stores and help promote clotting.
  • Provide pain relief: If your cat appears to be in discomfort, offer pain relief by providing a comfortable resting area and avoiding activities that may aggravate the split nail.
  • Monitor for infection: Watch the split nail closely for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or discharge. If you notice any signs of infection, contact your veterinarian for further evaluation and treatment.
  • Preventive measures: To help prevent split nails in the future, ensure your cat's nails are trimmed regularly to prevent them from becoming too long and prone to splitting. Additionally, provide your cat with appropriate scratching posts or pads to help them maintain healthy nail condition.

If you are unsure how to handle a split nail on your cat or if the split is severe, it is always best to consult your veterinarian for proper evaluation and treatment. They can provide personalized advice and care to ensure your cat's comfort and well-being.

How to prevent splitting nails on cats?

To prevent splitting nails in cats, you can take a few measures to ensure nail health and minimize the risk, such as:

  • Regular timing
  • Proper technique
  • Maintain healthy diet
  • Moisturize nails and paw pad

Incorporating these preventive measures into your cat's care routine can help minimize the risk of splitting nails and maintain optimal nail health. If you notice any signs of nail damage or discomfort, consult your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

When should I visit the vet about my cat's spit nails?

If you're worried about your cat's claws or have seen more split cat nails on your pet's paws recently, keep an eye out for any behavioral changes, which usually occur when a cat is in pain. Physical discomfort can cause different reactions in different cats; some may become quiet and avoid contact, while others may begin mewing more than usual. There are obvious physical signs, such as limping, licking their paws, or keeping them tucked in at all times.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you worried about your cat's nails splitting or other issues affecting their nails? Contact our vets in Concord today to schedule an examination.

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