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Torn Toenail Injuries in Cats

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Toenail problems in cats are common and fortunately, are rarely life threatening. The most common problem that affects the toenail is a torn or broken nail. You might not even notice a torn nail until you see blood or your cat begins to limp or cry. As there is a significant blood supply to the base of the nail, bleeding is common.

Nails often get snagged on fabric or carpet fibers, and in an attempt to dislodge the attached material, your cat might pull away, tearing the nail in the process. If left untreated, a torn nail can bleed intermittently and become infected, not to mention the pain and irritation for your cat.

Veterinary Care

Veterinary care can reduce the potential for infection and provide easy removal of the torn nail. Diagnosis is based on examination of the nail. Your veterinarian will note a fracture of the nail and bleeding. Depending on the extent of the tear, rapid removal of the nail just above the tear is usually sufficient. Unfortunately, this can be painful.

Usually, your veterinarian will clip the nail with nail trimmers and then apply a temporary bandage to stop any additional bleeding. Based on the depth of the tear and severity of the injury, your pet will probably need to take antibiotics.

Home Care

If you try to treat your cat at home, remember: a torn nail is painful for your cat and you should take care to avoid getting bit. The following steps are important:

  • Initially, you will have to stop the bleeding. You can use silver nitrate or styptic pencils. If you don't have either of these, try cornstarch or flour. When placed on a bleeding nail, these generally stop the bleeding.

  • Removing the loose nail is the most difficult part of caring for the torn nail. Most often, you can just pull the loose piece of nail off very quickly. If the nail doesn't come off easily, you can try to use a pet nail trimmer and remove the nail at the level of the break. Remember, this will probably hurt your cat for a second. If the tear in the nail is high up and near the base of the nail, don't attempt to remove it with trimmers. If the nail isn't easily pulled off, see your veterinarian for treatment. The last bone of each toe is very close to the beginning of the nail. Without experience, you may end up hurting your cat more than you realize.

  • If you manage to remove the damaged part of the nail, gently wash the area with warm water to remove any debris lodged between the nail and the toe or leg. Then apply a temporary bandage if necessary for bleeding. Take care not to wrap the bandage too tight so circulation will not be damaged. Leave it in place for 12 to 24 hours.

  • If you do not feel comfortable taking care of a torn nail, call your veterinarian. Leaving a torn nail to heal on its own (which will not happen) or allowing the nail to grow out is not a recommended option. This causes persistent irritation and repeated breaks.

    Preventative Care

    The best preventative care is to trim your pets nails on a frequent basis. Overgrown nails are most commonly torn or broken. Despite trimming nails, torn nails can occur. Stopping the initial bleeding is important. Removal of the remaining piece of broken nail is also key to healing.

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