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The causes of cat nail splintering can range from the shedding of old layers to complex issues like fungal infections. Here, our emergency and specialty veterinarians in Halifax share some of the common causes of cat nail splitting and what to do about it.

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Your Cat's Nail Health

All cats regularly shed the outer layer of their nails. They speed up this shedding process by scratching at objects to pull away the old layer, revealing the shiny new layer underneath. Many cats can keep their nails nice and short with consistent scratching, while others scratch less and may require more frequent nail trimming.

While this nail-shedding process is completely natural, brittle nails and splitting or splintering can indicate issues with their nails or health.

What causes splitting nails in cats?

Seeing their cat's nails look dry and brittle can be very concerning for pet parents. While the cause can simply be shedding, other possible reasons may require a closer look, such as:

  • Broken Nails: One of the most urgent causes is a broken nail. This will require an examination by your primary care veterinarian to treat the nail injury and determine the cause.
  • Health Issues: Certain health issues can result in symptoms like paw licking, limping, pain, and more. Your licensed veterinarian will need to perform a physical exam to determine the condition behind these symptoms.
  • Disorders: Two nail disorders can cause issues for your cat. These include onychorrhexis (a medical term for brittle nails) and onychomadesis (which means the nails are peeling excessively). Both require an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment plan.
  • Age: As your cat gets older, they may begin to experience brittle nails, which are sometimes caused by age-related conditions like arthritis. If your cat's joints are causing them real pain, they may spend less time attempting to scratch to help clear away the old layer of their healthy nail.
  • Nail Clippers: The nail clippers you use can affect the health of your cat's nails. When cat nail clippers are used incorrectly or are dull, they can cause your cat's nails to start splintering.
  • Shedding: As mentioned above, nail shedding is a natural process. This can lead to nail splits, allowing the old layer to pull away and the fresh nail to emerge.
  • Chronic Nail Biting: Grooming routine isn't limited to the fur; your cat will also clean their nails. Unfortunately, issues like anxiety, thyroid conditions, and fungal infections can lead to excessive nail biting. 

How to Treat Split Cat Nails

While there may be instances where the split nail is natural and does not need further care, other cases may require you to tend to the area.

If your cat's nail (or nail layer) is still attached, then you should leave it in place and not attempt to remove it. If the nail is gone and/or the affected area is bleeding, hold a piece of gauze to the nail and apply firm pressure until the bleeding stops.

You should reach out to your primary care veterinarian to schedule an examination for your feline friend. You can also ask about temporary care to help relieve your cat's physical discomfort.

If your cat frequently experiences split nails, then you should schedule a checkup to rule out any underlying health conditions. If your cat is experiencing a suspected complex condition or requires advanced diagnostics, then they may be referred to our veterinary specialists at Coastal Care Veterinary Emergency & Referral Hospital for in-depth care and diagnostics.

How to Prevent Splitting Nails

Keeping your cat's nails trimmed is one of the easiest ways to help prevent splitting. You should also ensure that they are eating a complete and well-balanced diet and have access to proper scratching material, like a cat scratching post.

By having at least one scratch post for each cat and following proper nail-trimming techniques, you can help keep your cat's nails strong and healthy.

How to Safely Trim Your Cat's Nails

Enlist a friend or family member to help you with this task; having a second pair of hands can go a long way toward making your nail-trimming session a success.

A simple method of trimming your cat's nails is to place your kitty on top of a slick surface, such as a counter. You can then gently press on each toe and extract the toenail. Only trim off the sharp tip of the nail, ensuring that you don't trim too far down. If you cut into the quick (the dark centre of the nail), it can cause severe bleeding and signs of pain for your cat. Cutting the quick will cause the blood to flow into their nail.

It may take some time for your cat to get used to regular nail trimming, so you will need to be patient. There are different tools and methods for trimming, and your primary care veterinarian can provide advice on what might work for your furry friend. You may also want to consider having their nails trimmed by a professional groomer to save you time and energy.

When to Visit Your Veterinarian

If you notice concerning signs like excessive paw licking, crying or whining, limping, pain, etc, you should reach out to your primary care veterinarian to schedule an examination.

Some of these symptoms can point to potentially serious underlying issues like viral infections and medical conditions, some of which may require immediate or complex care.

In some cases, an underlying internal condition may be causing the nail issues. If this is the case for your cat, your vet may refer you to our specialty veterinary hospital in Halifax for further veterinary care.

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 degenerative condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your cat is showing signs of a complex internal condition, ask your primary care veterinarian for a referral to Coastal Care Veterinary Emergency & Referral Hospital. We are here to help care for pets across Halifax, including the neighbourhoods of Dartmouth and Clayton Park.

Why are my cat's nails splitting?

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Our specialists are pleased to accept new patients by referral from primary care veterinarians. Our emergency service welcomes all clients – 24/7/365. 

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