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Cat Nails Splitting? Here’s What to Do!

Cats shed the outer layers of their nails regularly. They will usually remove the outer layer by scratching on something and leaving a little claw-shaped nail behind, revealing the shiny and sharp new claw underneath!

Some cats will keep their nails relatively short and sharp by using their scratching post (or the arm of your couch!), but others will need a regular trim.

If your cat’s nails are splitting, either when you’re trimming them or naturally, there can be a few reasons:

  • The old outer layer of the claw is still attached.
  • Your cat has broken their nail on something.
  • Your clippers are blunt.
  • Regular nail splits can be a sign of ill health.

Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail and what to do in each situation.

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The old outer layer of the claw is still attached

Sometimes what looks like a split nail can actually just be a part of the old nail that’s sloughing away. If you look closely at your cat’s nails and see a healthy entire nail underneath the old layer, chances are that this isn’t a true split.

The outer old layer of your cat’s nail will fall off within the next couple of days, most likely when they’re using their scratching post.

bloody broken nail of a cat
Image Credit: Todorean Gabriel, Shutterstock

Your cat has broken their nail on something

Cats can sometimes catch their nails on things, like a soft blanket, a new scratching post, or when playing outside. Longer nails are more likely to get caught on something, and if your cat pulls away before managing to free their nail, it may split.

Sometimes this split can be fairly minor, but other times, it may affect the blood vessel within your cat’s nail, called the quick.

If your cat’s nail is split but the quick isn’t affected, you may be able to tidy things up by trimming off the excess nail. If the quick has been cut and your cat’s nail is bleeding, it’s best to speak to your vet so they can help clean and treat the wound so it doesn’t become infected. Depending on how bad the cut is, your vet may give your cat antibiotics and pain reliever. As the quick is so close to the bone, your vet will want to make sure to reduce the risk of an infection spreading.

For a minor cut, you can also apply pressure using gauze, to try to stop the bleeding. Then, apply wound powder or use a styptic pencil.

The nails of older cats are slightly more brittle, so you might find split nails to be more of an issue as your cat ages.

Your clippers are blunt

If your cat’s nails are regularly splitting as you trim them, then your clippers or trimmers may be blunt. This can cause the nail to be crushed rather than cut, resulting in untidy splits that can be painful or become infected if they affect the quick.

The solution is to invest in a new and sharp pair of nail clippers! 

trimming nails of cat
Image Credit: Yimmyphotography, Shutterstock

Regular nail splits can be a sign of ill health

If your cat is feeling unwell, they can sometimes stop taking care of themselves as much. They may not be regularly sharpening their nails on scratching posts or other rough surfaces. If your cat’s nail splits are combined with other signs that they’re not feeling well, like lack of grooming, lethargy, and a dull coat, make an appointment with your vet.

They will give your cat a full examination and may want to take blood samples for further tests.

Cats are good at hiding illness and pain, so subtle signs like split nails can be a sign that they need medical attention.

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How to trim your cat’s nails safely

If your cat’s nails are splitting when you’re trying to trim them, even with a sharp pair of clippers, you might just need to adjust your technique.

If you’re unsure how to start, it’s a great idea to ask your vet to show you how it’s done. This way, you can see how far down the nail it’s safe to trim before you get too close to the quick, as well as how much force you need to use to get a clean trim with no splits.

How to trim your cat’s nails without splitting them

Trimming a cat’s nails can be a two-person job, especially if your cat is a bit wriggly or hasn’t had their nails trimmed regularly.

We recommend swaddling your cat in a towel or blanket for the first few times. Holding your cat either next to you on the couch or in your lap means you can get a good look at what you’re doing.

Lightly press on your cat’s paw pad to extend the nail. Practice this a few times on all their feet until you can accomplish this stage without your cat feeling uncomfortable.

Once your cat is comfortable with you extending their claw out, take your cat nail clippers and trim off the last few millimeters of their nail. Push down firmly on the clippers, as a split can occur if you don’t cut smoothly and firmly.

Start just cutting one claw at a time, to get your cat used to the process. If they seem comfortable, you can carry on and do a few more.

Keeping the process quick and under your cat’s stress threshold will make it easier to get into a good routine of keeping their nails tidy.

Treats throughout the process help too, of course!

close up trimming cat nails
Image Credit: GaiBru-Photo, Shutterstock

How to tell where the quick of your cat’s nail is

The quick is where a small blood vessel flows into the nail, so you never want to cut your cat’s nails so short that you cut into this vessel. It might be small, but it sure can lead to a great deal of blood! On cats with white or clear nails, the quick is easy to see, especially in good light. You’ll see a red area at the top of your cat’s nail. This is the quick, and you always want to cut below it.

On cats with black nails, it’s almost impossible to see the quick, so you’ll have to start by trimming only a tiny amount off the end of your cat’s nails. If you have a cat with both clear and black nails, you can compare the location of the quick.

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Keeping cat nail splits to a minimum

The best way to keep your cat’s nails healthy is to provide many opportunities for them to scratch. Offering a range of scratching posts in different textures and materials can encourage them to keep their nails sharp and clean.

You can even make your own scratching post using household materials, and it might turn out to be your cat’s favorite!

Serious nail splits may need the attention of a vet, to make sure they don’t get infected. Cats whose nails split regularly may need to see the vet as well, to check for any underlying medical conditions.

Keeping your cat’s nails short is a great way to reduce the risk of them splitting, so start practicing cutting your cat’s nails until you’re both comfortable with the process.


Featured Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock