Cats & Ingrown Nails: Spotting Them & What You Should Do

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Cat ingrown nails are rarely a problem in the wild because the friction of climbing trees works as a natural nail file for cats. Inside your home, however, our domesticated felines are more likely to need some grooming assistance. Curious if this is a problem with your cat? Take a look — what you're looking for is the cat claw growing into the pad of the foot.

When a cat's nails become overgrown and very long, the tip can grow around and into the cat's nail pad, resulting in a cat ingrown nail. This differs from a human's ingrown nail because the ingrown cat nail is actually growing out and back around into their paw pad, raising the pain factor significantly. Read on to learn more about spotting a cat claw growing into the pad and what you can do to help your kitty.

The Cause of Your Cat's Ingrown Nail

If you've ever seen your cat raised on their hind limbs, scratching furiously with their front paws, you may have wondered what causes them to do this. This natural habit is a behavior that sharpens the cat's nails and prevents them from overgrowing. In the wild, or with proper access to scratching posts and other nail-filing toys, ingrown nails generally don't occur or cause problems.

Among domesticated cats, however, an overgrowth of cat nails is a common problem, according to Merck Veterinary Manual. If your cat's nails are left untrimmed, and your cat does not have access to scratching posts, your cat's claws are at risk of curling around as they grow into and eventually puncture the paw pads.

How to Spot a Cat's Ingrown Nail

This is one condition that can be diagnosed by simply examining your cat's paw pads. The average pet parent can clearly identify a curved nail that makes contact with the paw pad itself. Before the claw damages the paw pad, you may notice your cat's nails getting caught on blankets or carpets more easily because the nails can no longer fully retract. Hearing a tapping sound as the cat walks on hard surfaces is another tell-tale sign. Intermittent bleeding and limping might also be observed because each step further damages the paw pad. Because of the pain associated with movement, affected cats may seem more lethargic or might lick or bite at their feet.

Human finger touches the paw pad of a kitten zoomed in on their claws.

A common complication with ingrown claws is an infection of the injured paw pad. Discharge from the paw pad may also occur alongside an infection and can range from somewhat transparent yellow to thick yellow-green. The nails of cats are a site where bacteria and fungus become trapped and accumulate. While this usually doesn't pose a risk to cats, once the outer layer of the paw pad is punctured, the area is ripe for an infection.

Noticing a Cat Claw Growing Into the Pad?

If you do notice that your cat has one or more nails growing into their paw pads, you will want to schedule a veterinary visit as soon as possible to address this painful condition. Each excruciating step causes further injury to the paw pads to the point where long-term damage can occur.

Your veterinarian will need to heavily sedate or anesthetize your cat to initiate treatment. This step is necessary because removing a cat ingrown nail from the paw pad is intensely painful. While clipping the nail is normally a relatively simple process, your vet will have to maneuver with extra finesse to prevent further damage to the paw. The vet will then flush the wound in the paw pad with a surgical disinfectant that is safe for living tissue. Depending on the depth and severity of the resulting wound, the surrounding paw pad tissue may need to be surgically cut away and sutured shut.

All in all, the procedure is quick and relatively simple. You and your cat may be sent home with antibiotics as well as pain medication based on the severity of the injury. Bandages on the paws and a kitty cone collar around the head to prevent paw chewing may also be necessary, and recovery time is most often around one to two weeks. With veterinary intervention, the outlook for a cat ingrown nail is great. Routine nail trimming should be maintained to prevent the nail overgrowth and paw pad injury from recurring. If you are not comfortable trimming your cat's nails yourself, your veterinarian will be happy to help.

The good news is that a cat ingrown nail is entirely preventable. While it's easiest to train your cat to tolerate nail trims from the early kitten stages, this is one at-home grooming necessity that is worth the time and patience it takes to master.

Remember, routine feline mani-pedi time is not for vanity's sake — it's an important step in the prevention of overgrown nails to make sure your feline continues to have a happy and healthy pampered life.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Laci Schaible

Dr. Laci Schaible

Dr. Laci Schaible is a small animal veterinarian, entrepreneur, author, and speaker. A graduate of Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Wake Forest University School of Law, Dr. Schaible is passionate about progressive change in the veterinary industry and serves as an advisor on a number of boards within the field.