If your kitty keeps getting infections that affect her nail beds and possibly her nails, it's time to shuffle off to the vet's -- even if you already did. An undiscovered underlying cause may be preventing effective treatment.
Infection vs. Disorder
It's important to distinguish between an infection and a nail or skin disorder. When your four-legged friend has a superficial infection, redness, swelling, bleeding and discharge are typical signs. Your kitty may run a fever and develop an abscess, too. Cats sometimes have nail and skin conditions that look like infections but require entirely different treatments. Brittle or sloughing nails, toe or claw deformities, nail discoloration, pain during walking, and other signs and symptoms have infectious circumstances and often indicate a disorder. Secondary infections can develop as a result of skin or nail disorders, too. Let a vet do the diagnosing.
If your kitty suffered trauma to her claw or toe that isn't healing properly, it's susceptible to recurring infections. Paws are particularly vulnerable since they're constantly in use and are exposed to lots of contaminants. Your furry buddy could have a splinter, a thorn, a bit of broken glass or another foreign object lodged under her nail or in her nail bed. She may have been bitten or stung by something or may have gotten a cut or laceration in the area. If a heavy object fell on her toe, her nail could have broken -- possibly right at the nail bed -- and injured the skin. This is most likely the cause when only infection recurs on one nail bed, but it could affect more than one toe; it's unlikely if more than one paw is affected, though.
Fungal infections are likely culprits in recurring feline infections. Ringworm -- the deceptively named fungal infection with no worm involvement whatsoever -- commonly affects the nails and nailbeds. It's called onychomycosis when the nails and nail bed are affected. The lesions are often hard to see on cats, sometimes making diagnosis difficult or causing pet parents to stop treatment prematurely, leaving the door open for recurrence. Then there's Malassezia pachydermatis, a yeast causing a condition called Malassezia dermatitis. It's most common in kitties with allergic skin conditions or suppressed immune systems.
Obviously, treatment is dictated by the cause of your feline companion's recurring nail bed infections, but the prognosis is usually very good once the right diagnosis is made. Antimicrobial soaks may be necessary, but often antibacterial ointments do the job. Topical antifungal agents are the go-to treatment for fungal infections. For particularly stubborn infections, oral antibiotics or antifungals might be combined with topical applications. Ask your vet about properly caring for your kitty's wound, including how to clean it, whether it should be covered and how often you should apply an antibacterial product. He may need to drain an abscess or remove a nail to allow an infection to fully heal.
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.