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My Cat’s Nails Are Splitting, What Should I Do? Vet Approved Tips

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

cat nails

Vet approved

Dr. Lauren Demos  Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lauren Demos

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Your cat’s nails do naturally shed. However, splitting isn’t normal and can be painful. Nail splits can be highly painful, so it isn’t odd for a cat to limp or even appear lame after a small break.

Furthermore, infection is possible if the splitting gets bad. Split nails don’t always heal easily on their own and may require some intervention. This issue is particularly bad because the inside of the nail contains blood vessels, which can spread any infection throughout the rest of your cat’s body.

If your cat has a split nail, your first step should be to control the bleeding. Next, you should contact your vet for advice. They may recommend your cat is seen, or advise you on homecare options, such as removing the damaged part of the nail if you can do so easily. You also need to protect the nail bed from infection, which may require a trip to the vet—bad splits are more likely to get infected. You may need to control your cat’s pain, which your vet can also help with.

We’ll take an in-depth look at what to do if your cat’s nail splits below.

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Understanding Nail Splitting in Cats

A cat’s nails don’t split for no reason. It isn’t normal and is usually caused by something. Sometimes, this cause is trauma. Cats love to scratch things, and sometimes their nails can get stuck—when they pull away, a nail may rip. They can also jump and land incorrectly, causing damage to the nail. Even if the nail doesn’t break right away, trauma can weaken part of the nail. Then, it may break during normal activities hours or even days later.

The nails of older pets are often drier and more brittle and sometimes, even normal scratching behaviors can cause the nail to break. Similarly, longer nails are more likely to get caught and break and are also more likely to bend and weaken. Therefore, keeping your cat’s nails trimmed can help prevent splitting.

Sometimes, nutritional deficiencies are to blame, but this is rare. If your cat lacks certain nutrients, their nails may be weaker than normal and more prone to breaking. However, commercial diets should include everything your cat needs to thrive, so this problem isn’t common.

Either way, split nails require attention. You can do some of the first aid yourself, but split nails may require antibiotics to prevent infections and pain medication to keep your cat comfortable, which require a vet visit.

Cute cat sharpening claws on scratching post
Image Credit: Amelia Fox, Shutterstock

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What To Do If Your Cat Has a Split Nail

If your cat has a split nail, you should perform some basic first aid as quickly as possible. Then, depending on the severity, you can call your vet for further instructions (or an appointment, potentially).

  • Control the bleeding. If your cat is bleeding, you should control it. Minor bleeding can be controlled by using gauze and applying pressure. The bleeding should stop after 2-3 minutes. If the bleeding continues, contact your veterinarian for guidance. Note that the use of a styptic pencil or cauterizing powder can be extremely painful, so it is best to have veterinary guidance prior to use.
  • Contact your veterinarian. It is important to speak with your veterinarian to get further guidance as to what the best course of action is in this situation. They may foresee issues with a broken nail that you would otherwise be unaware of, including the potential for abnormal regrowth, which can require surgical intervention. Further, it is always good to keep a record of any medical issues that arise with your cat, and contacting your vet will ensure that a note is made in your cat’s medical record.
  • Remove the damaged portion. If you can, your vet may advise you to remove the damaged part of the nail. Any part of the damaged nail left is more likely to get hung on things, which can cause further damage.  However, you should not risk being scratched or bitten to do this.  If in doubt, take a photo to send to your vet, to get their advice on the situation.
  • Prevent infection. Your vet may recommend antibiotics of some sort to prevent infections. Antibiotic ointment, oral medication, or injections may be recommended. The nail bed is attached to bone, so preventing infections is vital.
  • Control the pain. If the split is severe, your cat may need pain medication as the claws can be extremely sensitive. Further, pain delays the healing process.

If your cat’s nail broke for an unknown reason, your vet might want to explore why the nail split. Often, trauma is to blame. Random accidents do happen. However, if your cat is displaying other symptoms or gets split nails a lot, there may be an underlying reason you need to address.

Veterinarian holding cute scottish straight cat with bandage
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

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The 3 Tips to Prevent Splitting Nails

You can take several steps to prevent your cat’s nails from splitting as often, nail splitting is completely preventable. If your cat has split their nail, now is the time to implement some preventative steps so that it doesn’t happen again.

1. Keep Your Cat’s Nails Trimmed

Longer nails are more prone to splitting, just like in humans. Therefore, overgrown nails should be trimmed regularly. You can trim your cat’s nails or take them to a professional. Many vets offer inexpensive nail clippings that may cost as little as $5.

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2. Provide a Scratching Post

Cats scratch for many reasons, but one is for nail health. It helps remove old layers of the nail and helps wear the nail down. These old layers can catch easily and may cause the nail to split if they are not removed.

Your cat should have a sturdy, usable scratching post at all times. You may even want to invest in several scratching posts. Cats have particular preferences for scratching posts, so you may want to try several options.

3. Feed a Nutritious Diet

When a cat’s nutrition isn’t the best, their nails may suffer. Therefore, if your cat’s nails are unhealthy, it may be a sign that they aren’t consuming the necessary nutrients. Consider speaking to your vet about potential deficiencies or switching to a higher-quality cat food.

cat scratching cat post
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

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Splitting nails can be extremely painful and uncomfortable for your feline. Even a small split can cause serious problems, including limping and lameness. If you notice your cat’s nail is split, you should take steps to help repair the split if possible.

Your first goal should be to stop the bleeding if there is any. Once that’s under control, clip away as much of the damaged nail as possible without causing more damage.

Minor nail splitting can be handled at home. However, if the nail is too damaged to remove all of the split portions, you will likely need to see a vet. They can provide anesthetic and remove the rest of the damaged portion. Antibiotics may also be necessary for some circumstances, especially since the nail bed is attached to the bone.

Featured Image Credit: Alonafoto, Shutterstock

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