Overgrown and Abnormal Claws in Cats

Overgrown claws in 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.

Causes of overgrown claws

Poor circulation:

  • As the cat ages, circulation decreases, which has an impact on nail growth. Poor circulation leads to decreased nutrients reaching the claw bed, which can cause abnormal claw growth.

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.

Do cat’s claws thicken with age?

Cat claws can thicken and become brittle as the cat ages due to systemic diseases, a slowing down of nail 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 nails 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 pets

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.


  • 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