Although a cat’s claws can cause severe damage to its prey, they can also be a sensitive part of its anatomy. Strong claws imply that the cat is in good health and signs of damage to them imply the opposite.

When we see unhealthy cat claws, we need to know why this has happened. We are going to know a little more about it to detect problems.

Symptoms of unhealthy cat claws

A cat’s claws can be affected by various disorders. In fact, many domestic cats suffer from some type of nail disorder and their owners are not sure about it. Nail disorders can occur in infections, dystrophies, or other problems. A diseased cat’s claw could be a symptom of a systemic disease or just tell us that there is a problem with the nail itself. In any case, it is important to detect and treat it to maintain the quality of life of our furry ones,

We know that a cat has diseased nails if they show any combination of the following symptoms:

  • Excessive licking of the paws.
  • Limp.
  • Pain.
  • Dificulty to walk.
  • No scratching behavior.
  • Swelling.
  • Redness
  • Deformation.
  • Cracks
  • Color change.

Here we take a look at some of the reasons why nails can be diseased.

Chipped nails

Chipped nails are the result of a painless break in the nail, the cracks of which can be parallel to the fingers or peel off layers. Multiple cracks are usually seen on the tip, but they do not usually interfere with the quality of life of the cat or its daily activities. However, this problem can be exacerbated by their normal feline behaviors, such as climbing and scratching. The problem will get worse if more than one nail is affected.

In these cases, it is best to trim the affected nail to prevent the injury from getting worse.


Cats can also suffer from onychocryptosis, which is commonly known as ingrown toenails. It occurs due to nail growth on the skin of the toe. The main problem is the development of wounds on the leg through which bacteria penetrate and cause an infection.

Cats affected by ingrown toenails will show pain, swelling, and redness. This causes lameness or lack of support in the affected limb. In this situation, you should go to the vet to trim or remove the problem nail.

Onychoclasis or brittle nails

Cats can also have brittle nails. These nails sometimes form longitudinal ridges, the same as when a nail is broken by trauma or injury. There is the possibility that cats with brittle nails suffer from a digestive disorder that prevents the correct absorption of nutrients. In these cats it has been observed that biotin treatment can help strengthen their nails. The cause of the problem must be treated with appropriate therapy. Generally, an affected cat has all or most of its nails brittle.

Onychomycosis or fungi

When talking about cat nail fungus, it refers to an infection that causes inflammation of the tissue around the nail. It is also called onychomycosis. The responsible fungus is often Trichophyton mentagrophytes.

Cats will show abnormally shaped, swollen and yellowish nails. Also, they tend to break easily. Usually no more than two nails are affected. We will see the cat licking its nails frequently, biting them and / or without holding the affected paw. The solution will be the use of antifungals to kill the fungus, in addition to keeping the legs clean.

Tumors or cysts

The areas between the cat’s toes are known as the interdigital areas. Tumors and cysts can develop in these areas around the nails, something that can be difficult for us to see if they are hidden and behind the fur. The types of tumors that can affect the legs include:

  • Melanoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Mastocytoma
  • Lymphosarcoma
  • Keratoacanthoma
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Fibrosarcoma
  • Neurofibrosarcoma

Signs associated with tumors are infections, erosions, redness, swelling, and ulceration. Treatment will consist of removing the affected tissue, always doing a chest X-ray first to see if the tumor has metastasized. It is also recommended to remove the prescapular ganglion and analyze the extracted tissue by means of a histopathological study.

Immune-mediated disease

The claws of our little felines can also be unhealthy if they are affected by autoimmune or immune-mediated diseases. These disorders include:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus.
  • Pemphigus vulgaris.
  • Pemphigus foliaceus.
  • Bullous pemphigoid.
  • Cold agglutinin disease.

Treatment will be specific to the underlying immune disorder. In any case, drugs that suppress the immune system, such as corticosteroids, are in widespread use. In many cats, the disease cannot be treated. Still, symptom management is always required to allow the cat a happy life. Observing any changes to its feet and nails is an essential part of this process.

Do you think your cat suffers from a nail problem? Contact us to request an appointment so we can take a look.