If your cat’s nails split while you were trimming them, take a deep breath in – there’s good news. Chances are really high that there isn’t anything to be worried about at all.
Of course, as with anything, there are a few situations where nail splitting isn’t a good thing, but in the vast majority of cases, the fact that a cat’s nail split, even if this happened while you were actively trimming his or her nails, is perfectly okay and perfectly natural.
I’ll get into why that’s the case, as well as when there may be an issue in this article, but as always, if you suspect something may be wrong, do take a moment to consult with your vet.
Regular Nail Splitting in Cats & Why It’s Not a Problem
Basically, imagine your cat’s nails are a bit like a snake skin. We all know that snakes shed their skin, a really cool process which helps them get rid of an old, used up outer layer of skin to reveal a shiny, new layer of snake skin beneath. As time goes on, the new skin becomes old, and that’s then shed to reveal another new layer of skin beneath it. Think of cat nails in a similar way.
To keep their claws sharp, cats shed the old, outer layer of nails that are used up and dulled down over time with use. The old, outer layers come off in two – one on each side of the nail, and these halves each look a lot like little crescent moons. Beneath those little crescent moons, which are the old, used up outer layer of nail, is a brand new, sharp nail beneath it. In time, this new sharp nail will become used up, old, and be replaced by another new inner layer. Pretty cool, huh?
Most of the time, when you see a cat nail split when trimming your cat’s nails, what you’re seeing split is just this old, outer layer that’s nearly ready to come off and be replaced by the new inner layer anyway.
If you can confirm visually that’s what you’re seeing, and that there’s a clean, healthy looking brand new layer of nail underneath, chances are the nail splitting while you’re trimming is completely a-okay, and in little to no time, the outer layer will be ready to fall off, which it likely will do while your cat’s scratching on a post over the next few days.
Hate seeing a nail split when you’re trimming your cats nails even though you know it’s natural and perfectly fine, maybe because it’s stressful watching these nails chip off and you’re worried when you do that you may have cut uncleanly or too far? You can help increase the odds that the outer layers will fall off on their own well before you trim your cats nails by increasing the number of scratch-able surfaces you have in your house. Cats tend to remember to scratch when they see scratch-able things, like scratch posts. The more these things surround them, the more likely they are to scratch, and thus the higher the chances the outer layer of your cat’s nail that’s used up and ready to fall off will split and hit the floor well before you get to the point where you’re trimming your cat’s nails.
Cats scratch for a lot of reasons – many which help cats stay healthy and healthy. One of the biggest reasons is to help them get rid of their nails’ outer shells when they’re ready to fall off, so the more you can do to help your cat scratch, the more you’re actually helping your cat do an activity that’s stress reducing and mentally stimulating for them – keeping them happy and healthy. Again, to encourage them to scratch, all you have to do is increase the number of scratch-able surfaces around them, so they’ll see them and be reminded to scratch them up. This means adding more things like cat trees, scratch posts, scratch mats, and if you can’t stand the look of any of these cat-things, scratch approved alternatives for cats like human rugs & animal furs.
If budget is an issue, I’d recommend going for cardboard cat scratchers or small cat trees, as these are usually extremely inexpensive compared to larger trees. I say usually because there are some affordable cat trees out there in larger sizes, so do some digging before you commit.
Find it hard because you’re tight on space? I’ve been there before. Narrow, tall cat trees are a great fit if you’re living in a small apartment with cats. Floor to ceiling trees are also great, but require drilling into the ceiling, which you may not be able to do if you’re renting, or want to do regardless of if you rent or own.
If your cat loves nap spots, you can hit two loves in one by grabbing cardboard scratch beds to place around the house, in places you definitely wouldn’t be able to have a scratch post. I bought one of these and my two cats essentially take turns being in it – it’s near never empty when we’re in the living room, and that’s an incredible accomplishment seeing as how there are so many other cat beds & I have two cat trees in there – still their top pick!
Lots of options out there, so be sure to have a look.
When a Cat’s Nail Splitting Could Be a Problem
Again, when a cat’s old, outer layer of nail splits in half and falls off, and the new, exposed nail beneath looks healthy, clean, and there’s no blood showing, there should be absolutely zero issues with the fact that this old, outer layer split.
If you were trimming your cat’s nail when it began to split, and the outer layer is hanging on, there will likely be a place for dirt and debris to get in between the new layer and the old layer. Even in this case, you should still have no problem.
What could be an issue is if the new cat nail split somehow while you were trimming, or really more than just split, tore, cracked, or splintered in a way that wasn’t just the outer layer coming off. If it looks like there’s no blood, and there’s no pain (press your cat’s paw on the nail a little to test), this might be okay, but keep an eye on things to make sure the split doesn’t get worse and cause problems later.
If there does happen to be blood, if the new layer of nail that’s exposed looks like it splintered quite badly, and/or if your cat seems like he or she feels discomfort when you press down on the fingernail (if he/she pulls it away quickly when you test, this is a decent indicator), you’re going to want to get the nail checked out at a vet to be certain nothing is wrong.
If you notice your cat over-grooming (i.e. licking & biting quite a lot, more than usual) what you noticed to be a nail split, you may also want to get the nail checked out, as your cat’s paw may be in pain. Cats often don’t show pain in ways we’d expect – like crying or yelping. They’re often a lot more subtle with their behaviour, so something like over-grooming can definitely be an indicator of pain, even if there seems to be no other sign of it.
Basically the rule of thumb comes down to – if you’re even a little uncomfortable or unsure, take your cat to the vet quickly, or if you have a vet who’s happy to take a look at the problem with a quick picture snapped and sent by email, that’s a great option to. Consult your vet if you’re worried, as this is the kind of thing they absolutely can help with and that, as with all things, can get worse if it’s not looked after from the start.
Your Thoughts on Cat Nail Splits?
Have you ever seen the outer layer of a cat’s nail start to come off, though not completely, and worried there may be something wrong? Have you ever seen those crescent moon shaped outer layers near a scratch post and wondered what they were?
Ever had a cat’s nail splinter or basically do anything besides splitting to reveal a clean, new layer of nail beneath? Did the issue resolve itself? Did you need to take your cat to the vet and if so, what did the vet advise?
Love to hear about your experiences related to nail splits in the comments below!