As a cat owner, you know how sharp your feline’s nails can be. But when you notice those claws are splitting and cracking, it becomes a cause for concern. Split nails in cats are quite common, but they can lead to pain, infection and impact your pet’s quality of life.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the leading causes of broken and damaged nails in cats. You’ll learn ways to treat and prevent cracked claws through nutrition, nail care, caps, and when to seek veterinary attention. With the right approach, you can help your cat’s nails grow back healthy and strong.
Common Causes of Splitting and Cracked Nails in Cats
Before you can fix the problem, it’s important to understand what’s causing it. Here are some of the most frequent culprits of nail splitting in kitties:
Cats need certain vitamins and nutrients to maintain strong nails and claws. Deficiencies in amino acids like methionine and cysteine as well as vitamins A, C, D, E, and B12 can lead to weakness and splitting in the nails. Feeding a balanced, meat-based diet is crucial. Cats also need adequate calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and omega-3s for nail health. Dehydration can also have negative effects.
Trauma and Injuries
Just like us, cats can tear, crack or break a nail by getting it caught on something, intense scratching, or through trauma from a fight or fall. This damage weakens nails and makes them prone to splitting down the line. Trimming nails regularly helps minimize breaks and tears.
Bacterial or Fungal Infections
Bacterial infections like bartonellosis and fungal infections such as ringworm can get into the nail bed and cause swelling, redness, and nail deformities. The claws become brittle and chips and cracks appear. Get prompt treatment from your vet at the first signs of an infection.
Autoimmune conditions where the body attacks its own cells and tissues can sometimes manifest in the nails. Autoimmune or eosinophilic diseases cause thickening, lifting and eventual splitting of nails in cats. These disorders require specialized testing and treatment.
Feline cancers like squamous cell carcinoma, mast cell tumors, and lymphoid cancer can arise in toes and nails and erode the surrounding tissue. Tumors on the nail bed lead to distorted, thickened and split nails. Early detection and chemotherapy or radiation helps limit the damage.
As cats reach their senior years, their nails simply become more brittle and prone to cracking with age. Older kitties’ nails grow more slowly and shed layers as the protein structures weaken. Keeping senior cats’ nails trimmed helps minimize splits.
8 Tips to Fix and Prevent Splitting Nails in Cats
If your cat is suffering from cracked, painful claws, here are some of the most effective remedies:
1. Feed a Balanced, Nutritious Diet
As mentioned, nutritional deficiencies can directly impact nail health. Make sure your cat’s diet includes high-quality protein sources like chicken, fish, eggs, and organ meats. These supply methionine, cysteine, and other amino acids cats need for strong keratin.
Supplement with fatty fish like salmon, sardines or tuna for omega-3s twice a week. Omega-3s help keep nails flexible. Senior cats may also benefit from joint supplements with glucosamine.
Provide a steady supply of clean, fresh water to prevent dehydration and brittle nails. Ask your vet about multivitamin supplements if your cat has a history of deficiencies.
2. Trim Nails Regularly
Keep your cat’s nails neatly trimmed to avoid overgrown, cracked claws. Use sharp trimmers made for cats and cut just the clear, hook-shaped tip. Never cut into the pink quick or blood vessel inside, as it’s painful and will bleed. Offer treats and praise to make trims less stressful.
Aim to trim every 2-3 weeks so nails don’t catch on things and tear. File away any sharp fragments sticking out to keep them smooth. Place scratch pads and posts around your home so your cat can naturally shed outer sheaths.
3. Treat Any Infections
If you spot redness, swelling, oozing, or a foul odor around the nails, your cat may have a bacterial or fungal infection. Bartonellosis and ringworm require prescription medication from your vet, like antifungals or antibiotics. Disinfect any clipping tools after use to prevent spreading infection.
Isolate affected cats until treatment resolves the problem. Get other pets checked too. Addressing infections quickly reduces nail damage.
4. Manage Underlying Illnesses
Cats with chronic conditions like hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and diabetes are prone to nail disorders. Have your vet run blood tests if your cat has other symptoms like appetite/weight changes, increased thirst/urination, or lethargy. Treating the primary disease can improve claw health.
For autoimmune diseases, steroid therapy and immunosuppressants can minimize nail thickening and deformities alongside other treatments. Chemotherapy drugs can help certain cancers from spreading to nails.
5. Apply Moisturizing Oils
You can nourish dry, brittle nails right at home with conditioning oils. Natural oils like olive, coconut, and jojoba contain fatty acids that moisturize cracked claws. Gently rub a few drops into each nail 1-2 times daily.
Vitamin E oil is especially helpful for its antioxidant powers. File away rough edges after softening nails. Avoid using human nail polish, as cats lick it off and ingest toxins.
6. Use a Nail File to Smooth Cracks
Filing nails helps remove snags and smooth uneven splits or breaks. It’s safer than clipping alone. Use a fine emery board, glass file, or feline nail filing tool to gently buff away sharp fragments. Work in one direction across the nail to prevent further cracking.
File nails after a bath when they’re softest. Follow up with a vitamin E rub. The more you file and care for nails, the healthier they’ll grow in.
7. Try Soft Paws Nail Caps
These vinyl caps slip over the nail and protect it while it heals underneath. Apply a drop of adhesive inside each cap and slide on snugly. The caps last 4-6 weeks before shedding off with nail growth. They come in colors too!
Caps stop snagging that worsens splits and cracks. However, improper application leads to falling off. Get your vet’s guidance the first few times. Check nails weekly and reapply replacements as needed.
8. See Your Vet for Severe Cases
For nails that bleed, are very deformed, or don’t improve with home care, a vet visit is warranted. They can assess for trauma, infection, cancer or other disorders and provide appropriate treatment.
In severe cases, vets may recommend partially removing the nail bed surgically or even amputating the toe. This is a last resort for chronic injury or disease leading to intractable pain. Your vet can help you decide the best solution for your cat’s comfort and wellbeing.
Signs It’s Time to See the Vet About Nail Problems
- Nail bleeding that won’t stop
- Visible swelling, redness, or discharge
- Nail partially or fully torn off
- Abnormal nail color or texture
- Lameness, limping, or licking at nails
- Cancerous mass on nail bed
- No improvement despite home care
- Severe nail deformity impacting function
Don’t delay getting veterinary attention for any above symptoms, as they indicate an underlying disorder requires specific medical treatment.
How Are Cat’s Nail Problems Diagnosed?
Your vet will begin with a physical exam, looking closely at all the nails and surrounding tissues. They’ll note any swelling, discharge, masses, or deformities indicative of infection, trauma or cancer.
Next comes a dietary history and discussion of any illnesses your cat has been diagnosed with. Your vet may recommend:
- Fungal culture: Samples scraped from nails grow in a lab dish to identify ringworm fungi.
- Biopsy: Removing part of the abnormal nail for microscopic examination, looking for cancer cells.
- Blood tests: Check for illnesses like hyperthyroidism, kidney disease and diabetes. Also evaluates nutrients like calcium.
- Radiographs (x-rays): Help exclude fractures and bone cancer as causes of lameness or nail deformity.
- Ultrasound: Provides images of soft tissues around the nails to identify masses or inflammation. Guides biopsy.
With an accurate diagnosis, your vet can tailor treatment to resolve the underlying problem, manage any pain, and get those nails growing healthily again.
6 Home Care Tips for Cat Nail Problems
While medical issues need a vet’s care, you play a key role in protecting and nurturing your cat’s nails at home. Here are some top tips:
- Brush nails daily – This removes dirt and debris stuck inside the nail caps that can seed infection.
- Use scratching posts – Encourage normal claw conditioning versus damaging furniture scratches.
- Avoid rough play– This prevents tears and injury. Also trim nails to blunt snags.
- Give kitty “manicures” – Get your cat relaxed with treats while gently filing and rubbing in oils. Make it a soothing spa experience.
- Watch for chewing or licking – This signals pain needing medical attention. Elizabethan collars stop the behavior.
- Feed a balanced diet – Meat protein, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals all support nail regeneration.
With diligent home care and your vet’s guidance, your beloved cat’s cracked claws can get back to grabbing cat nip mice and scaling the scratching post in no time. Be patient, as it takes months for nails to fully regrow and harden. But with a proactive approach, you can help those nails emerge stronger than ever.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cat Nail Problems
Cat owners have lots of questions when it comes to their pet’s nail health. Here are answers to some commonly asked questions:
Q: Why does my older cat have more nail splits suddenly?
A: Nails grow more brittle and prone to cracking as cats age. Arthritis can also cause more limping and nail snags. Manage pain, keep nails trimmed shorter, and use soft nail caps to protect aging nails.
Q: Can infections spread from a cat’s split nail to humans or other pets?
A: Yes, ringworm fungal infections are zoonotic, meaning they can spread between species. Seek treatment promptly and isolate the infected cat during contagious phases.
Q: My cat hates nail trims. What can I do?
A: Go slowly with lots of positive reinforcement. Just do 1-2 nails per session. Apply a little coconut oil first to soften. Give tasty treats after each trim. Work up to doing a whole paw at a time.
Q: Is it safe to use human nail care products on cats?
A: No. Many human nail polishes, acrylics, and removers contain toxic chemicals. Only use grooming products specifically formulated for feline use. Avoid chemical exposure by choosing natural oils and gentle filing.
Q: How often should I trim my cat’s nails?
A: Every 2-3 weeks is ideal to prevent overgrowth and splitting. More active outdoor cats may need biweekly trims. Senior cats with slower nail growth can go 3-4 weeks between sessions. gauge your individual cat’s needs.
The Takeaway: Stop Split Nails in Their Tracks
Split, cracked and broken nails are common complaints in cats. While alarming to look at, most underlying causes can be addressed with good nutrition, diligent home care, and veterinary attention as needed. Get those nails back in top shape with trims, enrichment, treatment for illness, moisturizing oils, protective caps, and filing away rough edges. With some TLC, you’ll have your cat flashing their polished claws once again.