Do Overgrown Claws Hurt Your Cat? A Vet Explains What to Do

A cat’s claws extend from their fingerbones, but they sure can be sharp! Sharp claws are especially an issue with kittens, whose claw sheaths don’t shed as easily or with senior cats. However, you still need to watch your cat’s claws to watch to make sure they’re not too long. Overgrown claws rarely cause permanent injury. But they can be very uncomfortable and even cause pain and hurt your cat. Learn how to tell if a cat’s claws are overgrown and how to treat them.

How do I tell if my cat’s claws are overgrown?

Personally, I notice my cat’s claws are too long whenever they knead on me and it hurts. This is usually a sign it’s time to cut their claws. However, if your cats don’t get up close and personal, it’s hard to tell. You can know if claws are too long if they catch on carpet, tap against hard floors, or even when they’re not out.

Dr. Ochoa adds, “Most cats will sharpen their claws themselves and do not need to be trimmed. When you are looking at your cat’s claws, it should come to a sharp point. Cats with overgrown claws will have very thick claws that are grown close to their paw pads.”

Does it hurt my cat to have overgrown claws?

One of our veterinarians here at Cat World, Dr. Sara Ochoa, provides her insight: “If your cat’s claws are overgrown, they can grow back into their paw pads. This can cause their feet to be painful and swollen. If not treated quickly, the feet can become infected from the open sores on their toes.”

What should I do if my cat has overgrown claws? Dr. Ochoa (veterinarian) has answers

If you believe your cat’s claws are overgrown, the logical jump is to cut them. However, it can be a terrifying experience trying to figure out how to cut your cat’s claws. You hear horror stories of how cutting too deep can make them bleed. Luckily, we can walk you through the process.

Q: What should I do if my cat has overgrown claws?

Dr. Ochoa: If your cat has overgrown claws, it would be best to trim these. You can easily trim off the sharp points to make them short. Cat claws are usually very easy to trim with human nail clippers and rarely does someone cut them too short, causing them to bleed.

Q: How often should trim my cat’s claws?

Dr. Ochoa: It is best to inspect your cat’s claws every few weeks and trim them as needed. Some cats will sharpen their claws on your furniture. To help prevent this, you can trim your cat’s claws each week. Most cats will go their whole life without ever having to trim their claws.

Q: Is it necessary to trim a cat’s claws?

Dr. Ochoa: Many cats never need their claws trimmed their whole life. If you provide your cat with many places and scratching posts to sharpen their claws, you will not have to trim them. As your cat gets to be older, you need to inspect their claws more often to see if they are showing any issues. Older cats will not use scratching post if they are sick or if their joints hurt them, causing you to need to trim them at home. 

Do cats’ claws thicken with age?

Cat claws can thicken and become brittle as the cat ages due to systemic diseases, a slowing down of claw growth as well as a decrease in mobility which means the cat is less able to maintain the claws.

What to do if the cat’s claws are overgrown

Where possible, trim back the claw before it embeds in the paw pad. If the claw has already embedded, seek veterinary attention to remove the claw from the paw pad and check for signs of infection and prescribe antibiotics if necessary.

Trimming cat claws

Not all senior cats will develop thickened and overgrown claws, but if they do, it will be necessary to trim them to prevent them curling back on themselves and embedding them into the paw pad.

Some cats are happy to have their claws trimmed, others can be tricky, particularly if you have an arthritic cat. Handling the legs and feet can be painful, which will make the experience traumatic.

Cats don’t like to have their claws trimmed because they are restrained. I find the easiest way to trim claws on cats who don’t like it is to wait until they are sleeping and then gently cut one or two claws at a time. Human nail clippers can crush and splinter the claws on cats with overgrown claws, again due to their thickness and how dry and brittle they can become. It is worthwhile investing in a good quality pair of nail clippers designed for pets (or even dogs, as they tend to be stronger and sharper).

If you have problems trimming your cat’s claws, a veterinarian or pet groomer will be able to help you. It really should only take five minutes every 4-6 weeks and at a minimal cost.

Other tips for senior cats

Overgrown cat claws are common in older cats, and at its worst can lead to paw pad trauma as the overgrown claw curls into the pad. Onychauxis is a thickening of the claw associated with age, reduced exercise and grooming in senior cats exacerbate the problem. A cat is considered senior from 10-12 years of age, which is 57-65 in human years. Visits to the veterinarian should increase to every six months, even if your cat appears in good health. This can help to pick up any diseases which are known to affect older cats early.

Common age-related diseases in senior cats:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Arthritis
  • Senility
  • Gum disease
  • Cancer
  • Vision and hearing can also decline as your cat ages
  • Constipation

Many of these can be managed easily, especially if caught in the early stages which is why cats need to have baseline tests which include complete blood count, biochemical profile and urinalysis to evaluate the overall health of the cat.

Between veterinary visits, pet owners are encouraged to perform a monthly home examination if the cat is willing, which includes checking for lumps and bumps, evaluating the teeth and mucous membranes and watching for any changes which can include increased or decreased appetite, drinking and urinating more, and weight loss or gain.

How to handle cat ingrown claws

Ingrown claws most commonly occur when it isn’t naturally wearing down with activities. However, a malformed toe or misaligned claw can lead to a twisted claw, which can become ingrown.

Ingrown claws can cause the following symptoms:

  • Swelling
  • Chewing, biting, or licking the toe
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Limping
  • Bleeding

The treatment would depend on how far the claw has progressed and the severity of the wound. It’s usually best to reach out to a veterinarian because of the risk of infection. The vet will examine and clip the ingrown claw, cleaning out any wounds on the footpad. Additionally, the vet can prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection.

The best way to prevent ingrown claws is to provide plenty of surfaces for your feline friend to scratch.

 

What causes overgrown claws?

Poor Circulation

A cat’s claws has a blood supply near the end. If your cat’s claws are overgrown, poor circulation can cause it. Poor circulation is a symptom of another underlying issue, such as thyroid disease, high blood pressure, and anemia. These issues can be severe, which is why it would be best to take your cat to the veterinarian for treatment. Thyroid disease can affect the hormone levels in your feline. Additionally, poor circulation is a common symptom of heart disease, which needs to be treated immediately.

Symptoms of poor circulation include cold extremities, bluish footpads or claw beds, or greyish mouth. These can be easy to miss since it requires close contact or specifically looking at the issue areas.

Cats with poor circulation are often uncomfortable because blood often reaches the extremities last to ensure proper blood flow of the organs. It can cause decreased sensation, which increases their risk of not healing properly or knowing they are injured.

If your vet suspects poor circulation, they will conduct blood tests, scans, and a physical examination to determine the cause. For heart or thyroid issues, the most common route is medication to manage the symptoms.

Bacterial or Fungal Infections

This is an example of it’s hard to know what came first: the chicken or the egg. Overgrown claws can cause infections, but infections can affect claw growth. However, bacterial or fungal infections are closely associated with overgrown claws.

Bacterial infections can produce the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lesions and wounds

Fungal infections can produce the following symptoms:

  • Bloody discharge from nose
  • Sneezing
  • Swelling under nose
  • Cough
  • Anemia
  • Cysts

The veterinarian will pinpoint specific symptoms to determine whether a fungal or bacterial infection is more likely. They will conduct blood tests and an examination to determine white blood cell levels and other issues. If your vet suspects an infection, they can treat it with oral medications or topical ointments. Additionally, your vet may treat the claw issue while in the office.

Trauma

If your cat has an overgrown claw, it may have experienced trauma to the area. Humans injure our claw all the time: shutting them indoors, dropping something on them, and more. However, trauma to a cat’s claw is more serious because it is connected to the bone. If it experiences trauma, the claw may grow deformed or misaligned.

Signs of trauma to the claw include swelling or redness, broken or missing claw, blood, or pus. Your cat may also have pain if the paw is touched or limp.

There are steps you can take at home to treat a broken or missing claw by removing the damaged part and protecting it from infection. However, in most cases of trauma, it would be good to schedule a vet appointment to make sure there is no invisible trauma. Your vet may conduct an x-ray to ensure other parts of the paw aren’t injured.

Brittle claws

Elderly cats are more likely to suffer from brittle claws. Additionally, their claws are thicker. This requires more frequent trimming to prevent overgrowth. If you don’t trim, the layers can add up, leading to overgrown claws.

This can cause bleeding or infection. If the claws have intersected with the paw pad, it would be best to let a vet treat it, because they can prescribe antibiotics. If it hasn’t, you could treat it at home by cutting the claws more often.

However, be careful. Cutting too close to the blood supply in the claw can damage it.

Immune system illness

Cats can be born with an immunodeficiency disorder or gain it later in life. The most common immune system illnesses are autoimmune disorders. In autoimmune disorders, the immune system is hyper-defensive, attacking its own body like it would bacteria.

Autoimmune system issues can present in a variety of ways, including overgrown claws. Additionally, there are diseases such as FIP, FIV, and FPF, which are immune-deficiency diseases. Immune-deficiency diseases decrease the effectiveness of the immune system, increasing the risk of catching an illness.

Immune system illnesses are varied and have dozens of different symptoms, depending on the specific illness. If you suspect an issue, get your cat to the vet.

The most common symptoms in autoimmune disorders include:

  • Stiffness
  • Painful joints and muscles
  • Lack of appetite
  • Anemia
  • Lethargy

The most common symptoms in immune-deficiency diseases include:

  • Concurrent infections
  • Weight loss
  • Recurrent fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Lethargy

The vet will conduct possibly skin biopsies, blood work, and other tests to narrow down specific problems. Immune system issues can be complex to diagnose. However, most have treatments which will keep your cat comfortable.

High Level of Growth Hormones

High levels of growth hormones in cats is most likely caused by acromegaly. This is a syndrome caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland, which secretes an excess amount of growth hormone. It’s more common in older cats and males.

The most common sign first noticed are those associated with diabetes. Signs of diabetes can include increases urination, excessive first, increased appetite, and weight loss. These are the most outward signs because acromegaly can cause diabetes.

However, acromegaly can cause other issues within the body. As the tumor secretes growth hormone, other issues arise, such as growth of the extremities, skull, and muscles. Additionally, cats can develop an enlarged heart. These are signs as the disease develops.

To diagnose acromegaly, the veterinarian would have a CT performed in the pituitary region. This would show whether there is a tumor in the area. Those with this disease often have higher Serum IGF-1 concentrations. For a definitive diagnosis, your vet will use the results of the CT and exclude other disorders using blood tests and symptoms.

Medical conditions:

  • Diabetes, due to poor blood circulation to the claws.
  • Hyperthyroidism can lead to excessive growth and thickening of the claws.
  • Arthritis may prevent your cat from scratching (known as stropping) which removes the old/outer sheath of the claw. In fact, it is quite common for senior cats with arthritis to have difficulty with overall grooming, which includes attention to the claws.

Authors

  • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

    Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio

  • Dr Sara Ochoa, DVM

    Dr. Ochoa is a veterinarian for Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital in Whitehouse, Texas.