Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How to help when your cat tears her toenail

Maggie the cat in her cat bed
Maggie in happier days (she's not feeling like a photo today).
As long as I've had cats, I've given them all a once-over each week and checked for any lumps, bumps or spots of pain. It's just become part of the weekly routine, and it's something I've stuck to with absolute devotion. This all stopped about a month ago when I had shoulder surgery. It is very hard to wrangle a squirming cat with only one arm. So, I've done what I can and given them the basics on the weekends, instead of the full treatment.

I suppose it's not surprising, then, that at least one cat would end up with a medical problem. They're not accustomed to being on their own.

On Saturday, I decided to trim the cats' nails, and I discovered that Maggie's back foot had been somehow injured. Two toes on her back feet were stuck together with matted, caked blood and I have no idea when or how that happened.

Toe injuries in cats aren't uncommon, and most of the time, you need to take a cat in for medical help with a significantly torn toe. But there are things you can do at home for mild problems.

First, you have to see what you're dealing with. And that means moving slowly and gently. I soaked Maggie's feet and slowly pried her toes apart. A fast move would have hurt her, but a slow soak helps to break up blood clots, so it hurts a little less.

Once I could see things clearly, I could act. And often, that means cutting off the jagged edges, so the nail can't get caught on anything else. Maggie's toenail seems to be torn only at the tip, so I was able to cut most of the tear away on my own.

Then, it's time to monitor for pain. Limping, licking or digging are signs that extra help might be needed. Maggie is not painful, which may be because this injury is very old and she has adjusted. But I am keeping an eye on her toe, and I'm prepared to take her in if it gets worse.

This is time-consuming work, and you'd think cats would thank you. That's not my experience. Maggie is not at all pleased with the extra attention, and I'm greeted with slaps when I reach for her toes. I think she'd prefer to be left alone. Sadly, this isn't going to happen. Even if her toe does heal perfectly, I'm restarting weekly once-overs this weekend.