Why it’s important to keep your cat’s nails groomed

Are your cat’s claws healthy? Read on for grooming tips, and find out whether or not you should declaw your cat

Why it's important to keep your cat's nails groomed

Source: Best Health magazine, March/April 2013; Images: Thinkstock

A functioning set of talons is your cat’s pride and joy, but when health problems plague their claws, it’s uncomfortable and requires prompt attention.

‘Scratching is a normal cat behaviour,’ says Dr. Elizabeth O’Brien, a veterinarian and board-certified feline practitioner at the Cat Clinic in Hamilton, Ont. To help satisfy this, O’Brien recommends scratching posts in a material such as cardboard or fabric.

How to properly trim cat nails

Cat owners should also trim the nails on all four paws every few weeks. ‘It’s best to get your feline used to it while still a kitten,’ says O’Brien. Routine care helps eliminate damage to your belongings; it also keeps their nails in good condition and alerts you to any problems. The best time to clip nails is when your cat is sleeping, or relaxed. To access each nail, gently press on each paw where the nail is located. This will pop the nail outward from the toe. Slowly snip just the tips off in a straight line. As long as you remove just the nail’s tip, you shouldn’t cut the quick and cause bleeding.

Symptoms of nail problems

Unlike dogs, a cat’s claws are usually retracted into their paws, making it difficult for an owner to spot issues. ‘Nail problems may be fairly advanced before they’re noticed, unless you’re diligent,’ says O’Brien. A cat excessively licking its feet is often the first sign that something is wrong.

Causes of nail problems

Indoor and outdoor felines are equally prone to nail injuries. ‘The most common problem I see is ingrown nails or a torn nail,’ says O’Brien. Bacterial and viral infections, cancer, allergies, ringworm, autoimmune diseases, congenital defects, trauma and arthritis can also cause nail and paw problems in cats.

What to do if you spot a problem

Consult your veterinarian to rule out serious conditions like arthritis and cancer. Tests such as X-rays, skin scrapings, biopsies and fungal cultures may be performed. Depending on the diagnosis, anti­biotic injections or pills may be prescribed. Surgery is typically used in trauma or cancer situations only.

Should you declaw your cat?

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association discourages declawing. This painful surgical procedure essentially amputates the end bone in each toe. Instead, O’Brien recommends that owners teach their cats to use scratching posts. There are also products such as soft nail caps (safe, small caps that fit over cats’ claws) and synthetic pheromones (available as sprays or plug-ins) that can helps cats with an excessive territorial scratching instinct (such products are available at various pet retailers). “They’re a humane option if your cat has destructive scratching,” says O’Brien.

This article was originally titled “Taming your cat’s claws” in the March/April 2013 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!