Ingrown Claws in Cats

Last Updated on November 13, 2021 by Julia Wilson

What is an ingrown claw?

An ingrown claw (onychocryptosis) is a common condition that occurs when a claw grows so long it curls back and embeds into the footpad resulting in inflammation, pain and infection.

What causes ingrown claws?

The claws are made up of layers similar to an onion and are continually growing. As the claw grows out, the outer layer loosens and is shed either during grooming or when the cat scratches. Pet owners may notice the remains of shed nails around the home.

Cat scratching post

Claws grow in a downward curve, this helps the cat to climb and grasp and immobilise its prey, if the claw continues to grow, it will eventually curl in on itself. Once it makes contact with the footpad, the skin will form a hard callus, if the claw continues to grow, it will eventually penetrate the skin.

  • Abnormal growth: As cats grow older, the claws often become thick and brittle due to poor circulation, hyperthyroidism, acromegaly (rare) and diabetes.
  • Decreased activity: Add to that a decrease in activity and mobility issues due to arthritis which can make grooming and stropping more difficult. These can prevent the outer layer from being shed as it naturally does, leading to a thickening of the claw.
  • Indoor cats: Cats who are indoors tend to be less active than their indoor/outdoor counterparts, which can impact how much the claws naturally wear.

Ingrown claws affect the front feet, especially the dewclaw, which doesn’t make contact with the ground, and therefore isn’t naturally worn down as the cat moves. As the hind claws are not retractable, they are constantly in contact with the ground and wear faster than the front claws.

Clinical signs

Ingrown cat claw

Most pet owners can diagnose an ingrown claw at home by carefully examining the foot.

  • Noticeably longer claw(s) which has curled back into the footpad
  • Lameness and reluctance to walk on the affected foot
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Licking of chewing the footpad
  • Discharge

If the ingrown claw is not treated, an infection can quickly develop and the area will ooze pus.

Treatment

If the claw has only just made contact with the footpad, it can be treated at home by trimming the claw. If you are unable to trim the claw at home, see a veterinarian.

When to see a veterinarian

Embedded claw: If the claw has embedded in the footpad it will be difficult to trim at home and is at risk of infection. A veterinarian will be able to administer a local anesthetic or light sedation before trimming the claw and disinfecting the area.

Infection: If the footpad is swollen and oozing, an infection has taken hold and will require a prescription for antibiotics.

Prevention

 

Trim the claws regularly to ensure they don’t curl back into the footpad. This is especially important in older cats who have reduced mobility which can make grooming difficult. When the cat grooms, he or she will also care for its claws by biting and pulling them to remove the loose outer sheath.

Claw trimming should begin during kittenhood so that the cat is used to having his or her feet handled. Start out slowly and offer the cat plenty of treats and praise. If the cat resists, trim one or two claws at a time and try again later. Stressing the cat out will only make it harder fur future claw trims. How often the claws are trimmed depends on the activity level and age of the cat. As a rule, check the claws once a month and trim them as necessary.