Our feline friends use their claws for a lot more than scratching. Nails help them climb and helps them keep their balance. Unfortunately, the nail beds of cats' claws can become painfully infected for reasons including trauma, disease and contact with fungi or bacteria, all of which require veterinary care.
The easiest way for your kitty's nail bed to become infected is for the nail itself to be damaged. Those sharp claws can get caught in a variety of things, including carpet and upholstery, resulting in a ripped or broken nail. After such a trauma, the nail bed can become infected as bacteria enter the damaged area, making it swollen, red and pus-filled.
An infection of the nail bed is technically known as paronychia. You'll notice a kitty with such an infection will have trouble walking and may cry out in pain if you touch the area. Bacterial infections resulting from trauma to the nail usually affect only the soft tissue of the damaged nail and not the other nails on the same paw. These nail bed infections require veterinary care to heal them, possibly including the use of antibiotics.
Fungal infections such as ringworm can cause nail bed infections, typically in more than one of your kitty's toes. These infections result in crusty, greasy infections of the nail beds, according to the Manhattan Cat Specialists. Sometimes this is the only symptom of a ringworm infection in your kitty at all. To treat such an infection, your vet will prescribe antifungal medications, possibly including oral medications, shampoos or soaks. Take precautions when handling your furry friend if he has been diagnosed with a fungal infection of the nail. Some of these infections, like ringworm, are contagious to people and can pass through direct contact with his skin or through a scratch.
If you notice that your furry buddy is experiencing pain or swelling in one or more of his nails, bring him to the vet for a checkup. Your vet will check the nail bed for signs of injury, bacterial infection or fungal infection. He'll take a swab and culture of the area to determine the cause of the infection so he can prescribe the proper medication to treat it. Oral or topical antibiotics can treat bacteria-based nail bed infections. The vet will give you instructions on how to apply any medications, which may require the use of a bandage over the foot to prevent your kitty from licking and biting at the infection. You may also need to use an Elizabethan collar to protect the area.
In some cases, an underlying medical condition, such as the feline leukemia virus or the feline immunodeficiency virus, could be suppressing your kitty's immune system and opening him up to infections of the nail bed. This is especially true for infections that affect several nails on one or more of his paws. Your vet will likely test your kitty with a blood test to rule out such a possibility.
Keep your kitty indoors so he doesn't come into contact with yucky bacteria or fungi that can lead to nail bed infections, especially if any of his claws have been injured.
Note that nail bed infections are a possible complication from claw removal surgery, according to the Animalhouse Veterinary Clinic. Unless this procedure is required for your furry friend's health, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals strongly recommends against declawing kitties due to such infections and other illnesses that can result.
- petMD: Claw and Nail Disorders in Cats
- VetInfo: Nail and Foot Problems
- International Veterinary Information Service: Proceeding of the NAVC North American Veterinary Conference -- Jan. 8-12, 2005, Orlando, Florida
- petMD: Ringworm in Cats
- VetInfo: Cat Toe Infection Treatment
- San Francisco SPCA: Paws and Claws
- Manhattan Cat Specialists: Ringworm
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Position Statement on Declawing Cats
- Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images