Notice that strange-colored growth on your cat's nail? That's probably claw fungus. It may appear innocuous, but it's both a cause and symptom of a fungal infection. Schedule a veterinarian appointment for treatment advice and use care when trimming your cat's claws -- injured nails are more prone to infection.
The Fungus Among Us
Your cat comes into contact with a host of fungi every day. Typically they don't build up in or on your cat's claws, though. Visible fungus can be a sign of fungal infection, technically (albeit generically) called onychomycosis. It could also be a symptom of internal health problems, including immune system-related diseases.
Cause aside, fungus builds up in, on and around cat nails, often spreading to other paws and claws. In the short term it usually causes brittle nails, called onychorrhexis. Mild to severe health complications can result from fungal infections and other fungal-related conditions. It's almost always painful.
Outdoor cats may be more susceptible to catching claw fungus because of their exposure to moist environments.
Signs and Symptoms
Is your cat licking and biting his paws more than usual? When he walks, does it look like he's in pain? These symptoms are early to mid-stage indicators that he may have claw fungus.
Put your cat on your lap -- belly up or down, whichever he's more accustomed to -- and check his paws for yellow, black or green growth or crusts. Press the pad between your pointer finger and thumb to protract his claws for a closer look.
In addition to the glaring presence of fungus, your cat may show other symptoms of fungal infection, including redness or swelling around the nail or abnormal nail color. These are usually accompanied by paw pain.
Most cat nail disorders have good prognoses, claw fungus included. In addition to natural products and over-the-counter treatments, your veterinarian can prescribe stronger medicated ointment after sampling and testing the fungus. Medication to reduce inflammation may also be advised.
You may need to clear away nail debris during treatment -- remember, broken nails are more prone to infection. Wash your cat's paw in warm water and gently remove all loose material, fungus included.
In general, topical treatment clears up nail fungus. In extreme cases, when the fungal infection has a foothold deep inside the nail, it may require surgical removal. Fungi multiply quickly and are quite contagious, so isolate your cat from other pets, if possible, and use caution when handling him.
One of the easiest ways for a cat to get claw fungus is through a broken nail. This can happen naturally, but in many cases results from improper nail trimming.
Research the proper way to trim your cat's nails. Cut perpendicular to the nail or use specialty guillotine-style clippers; never use scissors. Avoid the quick of the nail -- the colored part of the nail where blood vessels and nerve endings are bundled. In cats with light-colored paws, the quick is pink -- a stark contrast to white nails. If your cat has darker nails, look for a drastic change and err on the side of caution.
If your cat's claw is bleeding, clean the wound and bandage it, if possible. Check regularly to make sure it's healing properly and contact a veterinarian if necessary.