Cats don't often break and tear their nails since their nails grow differently than human nails. Cat nails grow in layers, so damage to the nail typically results in the upper layers shedding away, leaving healthy nail layers underneath. Deep damage to a nail, however, will damage all of the nail layers, resulting in pain and bleeding.
A torn nail typically isn't a serious problem, but it needs to be managed — it can lead to infection, which can cause serious health issues if the infection allowed to spread. If your cat has torn their nail, read on to find out what you should do in order to care for it.
Stop the Bleeding
Since a cat's nails have large blood vessels running through them, they often bleed badly after they've been torn. After your cat tears a nail, your first priority is to stop the bleeding. Holding your cat gently, apply pressure to the torn nail for around ten minutes using a paper towel or clean washcloth. This reduces blood flow to the nail, making it easier for a clot to form and stop the bleeding.
Trim the Nail to Remove the Jagged Edge
After the bleeding has stopped, examine your cat's nail and check where the tear is. Tears usually leave a jagged edge behind. This edge can easily become caught in carpeting or bedding, tearing the nail again. In order to prevent re-injury, you'll need to trim off the jagged edge.
If the jagged edge is towards the tip of the nail, you can do this yourself using a pair of clippers. If most of the nail was torn off and the jagged edge is near the nail bed, you'll need to take your cat to a veterinary clinic in order to have the jagged edge removed. The base of the nail contains many blood vessels and nerve endings, so you will cause pain and bleeding if you accidentally cut into them. It's risky for you to use clippers to trim the nail around this area — it's best handled by a veterinarian.
Apply Antiseptic to the Nail
One of the biggest risks associated with a torn nail is infection since bacteria in an infected nail can migrate into the nearby bone. Bone infections can quickly become serious, so it's important to stop them from happening.
You'll need to apply antiseptic to the torn nail in order to keep it free from bacteria. The easiest way to do this is to spray the broken nail with a veterinary antiseptic that contains chlorhexidine, which is a strong disinfectant. Apply the spray twice a day until the broken nail heals completely and begins to regrow, which will take several days.
Bandage the Nail
In order to keep dirt, bacteria, and other contaminants away from your cat's broken nail, you'll need to bandage it. You can either apply a normal adhesive bandage to the torn nail or tape a piece of surgical gauze around your cat's paw. If your cat tries to lick and bite at the bandage in order to remove it, you may need to place them in a veterinary collar to stop them until the broken nail heals. Whenever you remove your cat's bandage in order to disinfect their broken nail, replace the bandage with a new one in order to avoid causing an infection by reusing a dirty bandage.
Watch for Signs of Infection
Whenever you're replacing your cat's bandage, you should also inspect the broken nail for any signs of infection. If the broken nail smells foul, if it's red and inflamed, or if there's pus leaking from the nail, take your cat to a veterinary clinic. An infected nail needs to be treated as soon as possible in order to stop the infection from spreading. A spreading infection can cause serious health problems, and your cat's limb may even need to be amputated if the infection becomes severe.
Overall, a torn nail often isn't a serious problem for cats — the most serious complication is an infection, which you'll need to watch for until the nail heals. Nails will grow back slowly, although they'll often grow in crooked or curved unusually compared to nails that have never been damaged. By keeping your cat's torn nail free from bacteria and preventing infection, you're doing your best to aid the healing process and prevent the torn nail from developing into a more serious health problem. If an infection does develop, however, make sure that you take your cat to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible for treatment.
Contact a company like South Seattle Veterinary Hospital to learn more.