Clip Your Cat’s Nails to Prevent Paw Pad Punctures, Infections and Swelling
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on September 12, 2018
Posted in Cat Injury
Cats are active creatures, running and pouncing on their paws at all hours of the day. The pads of their feet, made of cushioned layers of fat and keratin, are sensitive, though, and can be easily injured by scrapes and sharp objects. If you notice your cat is limping or in pain while walking, there’s a good chance something is wrong with its foot.
One common problem in older cats is pad punctures due to overgrown toenails. Your cat’s nails grow quickly and in a curved formation. Layers of toenails normally shed off as new layers grow in, which is aided by normal scratching behavior. If your cat isn’t scratching (which is common in older cats) and you aren’t trimming the nails, the layers can build up and curve, eventually puncturing the pad and causing injury.
It’s important to know the signs of paw pad punctures so you can address them quickly and help your cat get back on its feet. Additionally, quick action can help minimize the risk of infection caused by bacteria entering the wound.
Identifying paw pad injuries
Injuries to your cat’s paw are pretty easy to spot. Usually, the cat will be limping or not be as active because it hurts to stand on the injured foot. Additionally, the injured paw may swell up, be warm to the touch and excrete discharge or pus.
If you are able to inspect your cat’s paw, look for signs of an overgrown toenail. The nail will be curved around and puncturing the pad of the foot and may show signs of bleeding or infection.
Some cats will not let you touch their paws at all, let alone a paw with a painful injury. If you are not able to inspect the foot, take your cat to the vet to have its paw inspected and treated there.
Treating wounds caused by overgrown nails
Once you identify the paw injury as a result of an overgrown toenail, the nail will need to be clipped and have the overgrown section removed from the pad gently. This may need to be done by a vet under feline sedation because it will be painful for your cat.
The wound should be disinfected and dressed if there is bleeding. The vet may also prescribe your cat antibiotics to treat any infections already present in the wound. Additionally, you might want to use a bandage to protect the paw wound from bacteria in the litter box that could cause an infection.
Your cat should recover fully within two weeks as long as the puncture wound was not very severe. As it heals, your cat may have difficulty walking and limp slightly.
Prevent paw wounds by trimming your cat’s nails
The best way to prevent your cat from enduring a painful puncture wound and an ingrown toenail is by trimming its nails regularly. The idea of clipping your cat’s nails might be scary at first but can easily become a pain-free routine with time and patience.
The earlier you get your cat used to having its nails trimmed, the better—a kitten will get used to the routine much more easily than an older cat.
To begin, sit your cat on your lap in a quiet, calm area. It’s best to do this when the cat is sleepy, so it does not put up a fight.
You’ll first want to get your cat used to having its paws touched. Gently massage the paw for a few seconds and press on the paw pad to help the nails extend out. You should get the cat used to the clippers, as well. You can use a regular toenail clipper or purchase one designed specifically for pets. Allow your cat to sniff the clippers and hear the sound they make while clipping. When these routines and sensations are comfortable for your cat, you can begin actually trimming its nails.
At first, you might only be able to trim one or two nails in a sitting before your cat notices and wants to be released. It may take some time to get your cat comfortable with having its toenails clipped, so take it slow and work up from one nail to a few nails to one whole paw. Don’t try to clip all the nails at one time. Your cat will likely get agitated and may be injured in the process.
Be sure to only cut the white part of the nail. The pink part of the nail is called the quick and should never be trimmed because it has blood vessels and nerves and is extremely sensitive. If you accidently trim the quick, your cat will be in a lot of pain, so take care to stay away from the area.
Aim to trim your cat’s nails every two weeks to prevent overgrowth and wounds. If your cat refuses to get used to you trimming its nails, you may need to rely on the assistance of a groomer or your vet.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan