Have you noticed that your cat’s nails are splitting? If so, you may be worried that this could be causing your kitty pain or discomfort. However, you can take a deep breath in and relax – the majority of the time this is completely normal and nothing to worry about!
Just as a snake sheds its skin, cats shed the outer layers of their claws to leave strong, sharp, and healthy nails below. This could happen by itself, but cat nail splitting when cut is also common. However, there are a few cases where you should be concerned.
In this article, I will run through why cat’s nails shed and split. I’ll also delve into when you should panic and what you can do to help keep your feline’s claws strong and healthy.
Why Are My Cat’s Nails Splitting?
Before we list the reasons as to why cat nails split, it is important to understand the usual lifecycle of your cat’s claws and why they shed. You may have noticed your cat’s nails shedding before. Maybe you found one of the outer layers of their claws – known as a claw sheath – in your carpet or on the floor. But, why does this happen?
To put things simply, cats’ claws grow in layers similar to an onion, with the blood supply to the claws running down the center. As the claws grow from the inner layers outwards, those layers on the outside get pushed further from the blood supply and will eventually shed. This is a completely normal and healthy process, important for keeping their nails sharp and healthy.
The whole cat nails shedding process happens naturally over two or three months. However, certain things can speed up the shedding. For example, cats that file their claws more frequently will shed the layers of their nails quicker. Likewise, if you regularly trim your kitty’s nails then the outermost layer will shed more quickly.
So, now we understand how cat’s nails work a little better, let’s take a look at all the reasons as to why their claws are splitting.
1. The Outer Layer is Shedding
The majority of the time, your cat’s nails will look like they are splitting in two when they are shedding the outer layer. During this cat nails shedding process, the claw will usually split in half down the middle and the two sides will come away from the layers underneath.
As mentioned, this shedding process usually takes around 3 months. During this time, the two layers will slowly peel away from each other. This can make it look like their claw is split in half, when actually their claw beneath is intact and healthy – it is just the outer sheath that is split.
In these cases, seeing your cat’s nails splitting is nothing to be concerned about. It is a healthy process and part of their natural lifecycle. However, be sure to look at your cat’s nails closely and make sure it is only the outermost part that has split. If the claw underneath has also come in two, it could be something to be worried about.
2. Your Kitty Has Broken Its Nail
Just as we can catch our fingernails on things and break them, cats can run into the same issues with their nails. This could be anything from your carpet to their scratching post or favorite toy. It’s happened to me before when my cat makes biscuits on me. Her claw has gotten stuck in my clothes or the blanket that she’s kneading.
Whatever the object may be, when your cat’s claws get stuck on this object, they will tug their paw hard to break away. As a result, their claws may split down the middle. This is especially true for cats with longer nails – the longer they are, the more likely they are to catch them on something. For this reason, it’s super important to keep your cat’s nails short with regular trimming. You may also notice your cat splitting their nails more as they age as their nails will become more brittle over time.
The break could only be minor, often just pulling away the outer layers of the nail that they are shedding or breaking into the first few layers down. While not ideal, this is unlikely to cause any major harm. Your cat will be able to file the nail down through scratching, or you may be able to trim a little of the excess nail off to help remove the sharp edge.
However, cats can occasionally break their nails deep down towards the blood vessel in the center. This blood vessel is known as the quick, and if the nail splits to hear you’ll know about it – there will be blood coming out of their nail! Try not to worry though as a broken nail isn’t a serious injury.
With that being said, because this is now an open wound, it could easily become infected which can have complications. For this reason, a split that causes your kitty’s nails to bleed does require a trip to the veterinarian. They’ll be able to properly clean and disinfect the wound to prevent infection. In some cases, they may also recommend antibiotics to help keep infections at bay.
3. Your Nail Trimmers Are Blunt
Trimming your cat’s nails is an essential part of caring for them. So you be wondering why – What happens if you don’t trim your cat’s nails? As mentioned, trimming their nails keeps them short and healthy so they are less likely to catch it on an object and cause it to split. Trimming your cat’s nails also helps to:
- Prevent in-grown claws or discomfort when walking
- Reduce the scratching damage to furniture in your home
- Reduce the risk of injury to owners and other animals
As you can see, there are a whole host of reasons why you need to keep your kitty’s nails at a good length. Unfortunately though, if you are using nail trimmers that are blunt, it can actually cause more harm than good and make their claws split.
Think about it – sharp clippers will cleanly cut the tip of the nail off. However, using blunt clippers will instead just crush the nail and cause lots of smaller breaks and splinters. This leads to an untidy finish and lots of little splits within the nail that can cause your cat discomfort. These are much more easily caught on objects too, which could make it easier for your cat to break its nail and it starts bleeding.
Fortunately for us, there is an easy solution here. All you need to do is invest in a good quality pair of sharp cat nail clippers and throw your old ones out! Using good clippers should help rather than hinder the nail shedding process and ensure your kitty has healthy sharp nails at all times.
4. You Need to Change Your Trimming Technique
If you’ve bought a shiny new pair of nail trimmers and you still notice your cat’s nails splitting when cut, you may simply need to improve your nail trimming technique. Below is my tried and tested method which I use with my cats and never have any issues. Why not give it a go yourself?
- Wait until your cat is in a relaxed mood and take them into a calming room with no distractions that’s free from other people, animals, and toys. Place your cat on your lap or next to you and start stroking them to make them feel relaxed and content.
- Start by gently massaging your cat’s paws one at a time. Most cats don’t like their paws being touched, and so they may retract them from you pretty quickly. Be patient and keep trying until your cat will happily let you hold one. You may not be able to do this on day one, it may take a few days to get past this stage.
- Once you can hold and massage your cat’s paws with no withdrawal, press gently down on their paw pad so that their nails extend outwards. Only hold this for a second before letting go and always award your cat with a treat immediately afterward to train them and teach this learned behavior.
- When your cat is happy with you extending the claws on all of their paws, you can get your sharp clipper involved. You won’t be using them on their paws just yet though! Instead, have a piece of spaghetti ready and cut this with the clipper each time you press down on the paw pad. This will get your feline accustomed to the noise of the clippers cutting through their nails.
- If your cat has no issue with this, you can then use the clippers on their claws and cut the tip of the nail off. You should only be taking off the last few millimeters at a time as cutting too low will cause their nails to bleed. You need to be using a quick, smooth, and firm motion to ensure a smooth break.
Going slow is as crucial as the steps themselves here. Staying below your kitty’s stress threshold is important to keep them feeling content and to ensure they won’t suddenly move their paw away. By doing so, you could lose control or cut the wrong portion of their claws, resulting in nasty splits, breaks, or bleeds.
It could take you a few weeks before you can comfortably cut your cat’s nails. Even when reaching the final step, go slowly and cut one claw per sitting until your cat is more comfortable. You can then build it up until you can do a whole paw and, eventually, all four paws at once.
5. They Have an Underlying Health Condition
It is completely natural, normal, and healthy for cats’ nails to shed their outer layers. However, if your cat seems to be splitting their nails constantly it could be a sign that something more serious is wrong with them or that they are in pain.
When ill or in pain, most cats will lose interest in activities they know and love, such as their instinctive love of scratching. As scratching and filing their claws will speed up the shedding process, cats that don’t scratch like they used to will shed their claws more slowly. This will make it look like their claws are splitting much more frequently.
The less a cat scratches, the longer its claws will get as well. This will make it more likely that your cat will get its nail stuck in something and cause a break. Besides, it is mostly older cats that suffer from more medical conditions, and senior felines also have more brittle nails. These two facts combined offer even more explanation as to why splitting nails could be a sign of a medical condition.
It is important to remember that cats are masters of hiding pain and illness. They don’t want to look weak and so will not let on that they are suffering. Because of this, looking out for subtle changes such as their nails splitting constantly shouldn’t be overlooked. If in doubt, take your cat to the vet who will be able to run tests, offer a diagnosis, and provide any treatment if something is wrong.
How to Keep Nail Splits to a Minimum
Although nail shedding is a natural process, keeping nail splits – especially more severe splits that can cause pain and bleeding – to a minimum is a great idea. It will avoid costly and inconvenient trips to the vets, and your cat will be happier and healthier. Here are some ideas on how you can avoid the hassle of broken nails.
1. Provide Places to Scratch
One of the best and easiest ways to keep cat nail splitting to a minimum is to provide plenty of places in your home for your cat to scratch. This will allow them to file their claws and facilitate the healthy and natural shedding process. It will also keep them short and trim, and therefore less likely to get caught on an object and break.
Scratching posts are an ideal purchase for any pet owner. These are typically covered in sisal rope or a similar alternative that is effective in filing down cat claws. The majority of cat trees also have scratching posts incorporated into the design, besides offering places for your cat to climb, hide, and lounge around as well.
You can purchase long and tall scratching posts, scratching mats, or products that have an angled textured surface that sits somewhere between horizontal and vertical. Pay attention to how your cat likes to scratch – do they extend their body up the wall? Or do they prefer raising their rear in the air and filing their nails out in front of them? Choose a product that best suits their preferred position.
Aside from your cat’s preferences, you also need to think about your home. Some cat trees are huge, which is great for big breeds such as Maine Coons, but wouldn’t work for small apartments. On the other hand, a floor-to-ceiling cat tree with a small footprint could work well in a smaller home.
You can also get inventive with what you use for scratching and don’t necessarily need to splurge on the most expensive item in the pet store. Your cat will even love sinking its claws into a simple cardboard box. It will do the same job, it will just need replacing more frequently.
2. Keep Your Cat’s Nails Short
While your cat will do their bit to file their nails and keep them short and sharp, they’ll also need a little help from their owner. This is where nail trimming comes in.
Nail trimming will help minimize nail splitting as shorter nails are less likely to get caught. It will also protect your furniture from damage and is a good alternative to stop cats from scratching leather furniture. What’s more, shorter nails also reduce the risk of pain from overgrown or ingrown nails, and minimize the likelihood of injury for you.
Regularly trimming your cat’s nails yourself really can make all the difference. But be sure to use sharp nail clippers and the step-by-step guide as detailed above. To stay on top of this, try working cat nail maintenance into your routine with the other list of jobs you need to complete, such as cleaning the litter box and feeding your cat.
If you really cannot get into the process of nail trimming or can’t quite get it right, don’t worry. You can make regular appointments with your vet and they will happily trim your cat’s nails for you. Alternatively, pet groomers are also trained in nail maintenance and may even come out to your home.
What to Do If My Cat Breaks a Nail?
Even with the above tips, broken nails that cause pain and discomfort can happen. Watch out for your kitty limping or blood coming from their paw. If you notice with of these, you should then start by checking your cat’s nails for signs of breakage to confirm it is due to a nail split and not another injury. Once confirmed, work through these steps to ease the suffering:
- If your cat is in pain, they’re likely to be more aggressive than usual. Therefore, to tend to their nail you will need someone to gently restrain them. Try wrapping your cat in a towel and cradling them so they can’t escape but also feel loved and at ease.
- Your next job is to stop the bleeding by applying pressure to the injured nail with a towel or gauze. Within five or ten minutes, the bleeding should have stopped or, if not, substantially slowed down.
- Once the bleeding has subsided, take a closer look at the nail. If you can see a small nail split at the end, you can trim this away with a pair of sharp clippers. However, in most cases with bleeding, the split will be deep and is best left to a vet. In these cases, keep your cat’s injured paw wrapped in a towel and take them to the vet immediately.
- The open wound will then also need to be protected from infection. The vet may apply an antiseptic cream to the nail before bandaging it up. Alternatively, they may administer antibiotics for more severely broken nails.
- You will then be able to take your cat home. Your vet will have likely prescribed pain medication as it will be uncomfortable for your cat to walk, so ensure you administer this. Also, keep an eye out for signs of infection and arrange a checkup with the vet in a few days. Here, they will check the healing process and that no bacteria have infected the wound.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
To summarize, cat nail splitting is normal and pretty common. Cat nails split naturally as part of their shedding process. This can look a little alarming but is actually a healthy sign. However, sometimes cat nails split deeper into the nail, which can cause bleeding, pain, and discomfort. In these cases, it’s advisable to take your cat to the vet who will prescribe pain medication and clean the wound up.
You can also help to minimize the likelihood of cat claws splitting by keeping your cat’s nails nice and trim. They can do this themselves through regular scratching. Ensure you have a scratching post or cat tree for them to use, otherwise, your furniture might get it! You also need to trim your cat’s nails frequently or hire a professional if you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself.