What to Do When Your Cat Is Sick: BROKEN CLAWS (TOENAILS)

The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care

What to Do When Your Cat Is Sick: BROKEN CLAWS (TOENAILS)

In general, cats have few problems with their claws because they keep them retracted when not in use and maintain them by self-grooming and claw-conditioning behaviors. Occasionally cats’ claws become frayed and/or broken during a fight or when they are running and/or climbing to avoid pursuit. Frayed claws need no special attention since the frayed nail layer will be removed in the cat’s normal claw-sharpening routine, revealing the undamaged nail beneath. For broken claws, on the other hand, any weakened pieces, which still remain partially attached at the base, may need to be removed.


Before removing the claw, guard yourself against injury from your cat by using appropriate restraint. If you don’t feel entirely safe, enlist a veterinarian to help you. To remove the broken nail extend the claw, grasp it with your fingertips, a pair of tweezers, or small needle-nosed pliers and give a quick, hard jerk. The broken part usually comes off readily, and any pain associated with its removal is of very short duration when you use this technique. Bleeding is usually minimal and stops entirely within five minutes. If any bleeding is so severe as to require a pressure bandage, your cat could have a blood-clotting disorder, and you should consult your veterinarian. If the claw doesn’t come off, you will have to leave it in place until it drops off or have your veterinarian remove it. Broken claws that are dirty and/or expose a lot of raw tissue at the nail base occasionally become infected.

Should you suspect your cat’s claw injury is serious or if you see signs of infection such as reddening of the skin at the base of the nail and/or sticky discharge in the area, consult your veterinarian for more advice. Broken nails followed by nail bed infections (paronychia) need treatment which may include systemic antibiotics and disinfectant soaks.