Ouch! My Cat’s Nail Fell Off – Is It Normal?

What to Do If Your Cat’s Nail Falls Off

If your cat’s nail falls off, the first step is to assess the situation and determine if it is bleeding or if the nail bed is exposed. Approach your cat calmly and inspect the injured paw. If the nail is bleeding, apply gentle pressure with a clean cloth or paper towel to stop the bleeding. Hold for 5-10 minutes until it clots. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, if bleeding persists beyond 5-10 minutes, apply a styptic pencil, silver nitrate stick, or cauterizing powder to help constrict the blood vessels https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/first-aid-for-broken-nails.

After the bleeding stops, clean the injured paw and nail bed thoroughly with warm water and a mild soap. Be gentle around the exposed nail bed. Pat dry with a clean towel and apply a triple antibiotic ointment using a cotton swab. Then wrap the paw in a clean, dry bandage to protect it. The bandage may need to be changed daily to keep the area clean while it heals. Monitor the nail bed for signs of infection like redness, swelling, discharge or foul odor.

According to WagWalking.com, changing bandages regularly and monitoring for infection is crucial for proper healing when a nail is injured https://wagwalking.com/cat/condition/torn-toenail. Keeping the wound clean promotes healing. Contact your veterinarian if you notice signs of infection or if the nail doesn’t begin to regrow within a couple weeks.

Causes of Nail Loss in Cats

There are several potential causes for a cat’s nail to fall off, including:


Cats can lose a nail due to trauma or injury, such as getting their claw stuck in furniture or carpeting, catching it on something sharp, or injuring the nail bed. This can cause the nail to partially or fully detach. According to PetMD, trauma is one of the most common reasons for nail loss in cats [1].


Bacterial or fungal infections in the nail or nail bed are a common cause of nail loss in cats. Infections such as paronychia or onychomycosis can cause inflammation, pain, and eventual shedding of the nail. Immune system disorders can also lead to abnormal nail growth and detachment [2].


While less common, cancerous tumors on the nail, nail bed, or toe can undermine nail attachment and cause the nail to fall out. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most prevalent nail cancer in cats [1].

Incorrect Nail Trimming

Cutting a cat’s nails too short or splitting the nail while trimming can expose the quick and cause pain, bleeding, and eventual nail detachment. Using blunt trimmers or poor trimming technique leads to damage and nail loss over time.

Signs of Infection

Nail infections in cats can be caused by bacteria, yeast, or fungus. They are usually noticeable through the following signs:

– Swelling and redness of the nail bed and area surrounding the nail.

– Pus oozing from the site of the infection.

– A foul odor coming from the nail.

Infections can spread rapidly if left untreated. Therefore it’s important to look for these signs and have your cat seen by a vet if you notice them.

Some sources: https://wagwalking.com/cat/condition/claw-nail-disorder, https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/skin/c_ct_nail_nailbed_disorders

Bandaging a Nail Injury

If your cat’s nail is damaged or falls off, it’s important to properly bandage the area to protect it from infection while it heals. Use a nonstick gauze pad to lightly wrap the injured nail and toe, being careful not to wrap too tightly. The bandage should allow for air circulation to the nail bed.

Apply a small amount of antibiotic ointment to the nail bed before wrapping it with gauze. Wrap the gauze gently but securely, using medical tape or a specialized claw bandage wrap product. Avoid wrapping the bandage too tightly, as this can cut off circulation. The bandage should allow the toe to breathe while protecting the sensitive nail bed.

Change the bandage daily, inspecting the nail for signs of infection like swelling, redness, discharge or a foul odor. Keeping the nail clean and dry under the bandage will promote healing. Allowing air to reach the nail bed will also prevent bacteria from growing under the bandage. With proper home care, a lost or damaged nail can heal within a few weeks.

According to VCA Hospitals, “Control bleeding by wrapping the foot in gauze or a towel and applying pressure to the injured toe. If the bleeding does not stop in 5-10 minutes, apply a snug bandage and take your cat to your veterinarian immediately.”1

Pain Management

It’s important to manage your cat’s pain after a nail injury to keep them comfortable during recovery. There are some over-the-counter medications that can help.

For mild pain, you can try giving your cat a small dose of acetaminophen (Tylenol). Check with your vet on the appropriate dosage for your cat’s weight. Never give your cat more than one dose every 12-24 hours.

There are also topical pain relieving gels and creams made specifically for cats that you can apply directly to the injured nail bed a few times a day. These usually contain lidocaine to numb pain.

If your cat seems to be in severe pain that is not relieved by over-the-counter meds, call your vet right away. They may prescribe a stronger pain medication to keep your cat comfortable.

Make sure your cat is eating, drinking, and using the litterbox normally. Lack of appetite, dehydration, or bathroom problems can be signs your cat’s pain is not well controlled.

While medication can help, it’s also important to restrict your cat’s activity to allow the nail time to heal. Keep them resting in a safe, comfortable space with soft bedding.

Preventing Future Nail Injuries

There are a few key ways to help prevent future nail injuries in cats:

Trim nails carefully. Be very gentle when trimming your cat’s nails, taking care not to trim too short. Only trim off the sharp tip of the nail, avoiding the pink quick inside that contains nerves and blood vessels. Go slowly and check after each nail. Use a nail trimmer designed specifically for cats.

Provide scratching posts. Make sure your cat has access to sturdy vertical and horizontal scratching posts around your home. These allow them to scratch and wear down their nails naturally. Place posts near couches or carpets they like to scratch. Encourage use with treats or catnip.

Keep nails short. By trimming your cat’s nails regularly, such as every 2-3 weeks, you can maintain shorter nails that are less prone to getting caught and torn. Check nails often and look for any that are getting too long. Shorter nails are safer for playtime.

Taking these simple prevention steps can greatly reduce the chances of your cat injuring a nail in the future. Be diligent about providing scratching outlets and trimming when needed.

When to See the Vet

While minor nail injuries can often be treated at home, there are some situations where you should take your cat to see the vet right away:

  • Uncontrolled bleeding – If the nail continues bleeding heavily after 10-15 minutes of direct pressure, seek veterinary care. Uncontrolled bleeding can lead to blood loss and other complications.
  • Signs of infection – Look for redness, swelling, pus, and abnormal discharge around the nail bed. Infections require prescription antibiotics and further treatment.
  • Multiple nails affected – If your cat injures or loses more than 1-2 nails, have them examined by a vet to determine the underlying cause and rule out potential medical conditions.

According to veterinarians, prompt vet care is advised if the nail is partly or fully torn off. The sooner the injury is treated, the better the chance of the nail healing and growing back normally (Source).

Vets have specialized tools and medications to properly treat nail injuries in cats. They can provide pain control, stop bleeding, treat infection, and prevent future complications. Don’t hesitate to call your vet if your cat’s nail injury seems severe or doesn’t improve with home treatment.

Tests and Treatments

If your cat’s nail falls off and appears infected, the vet will likely run some tests to determine the cause and best treatment approach. Common exams and procedures may include:

  • Physical exam to inspect the nail bed and surrounding tissue.
  • Blood tests to check for signs of infection or other issues.
  • Bacterial culture of the nail bed to identify the type of infection.
  • X-rays to look for bone involvement or foreign objects.
  • Antibiotics if a bacterial infection is found. Common antibiotics used include amoxicillin or cephalexin.
  • Antifungal medication if a fungal infection is identified. Itraconazole is often prescribed.
  • Surgical debridement if the nail bed is severely damaged and infected tissue needs to be removed.
  • Bandage changes and cleaning the wound as needed.

Most small nail injuries heal well with antibiotics and good home care. However, more severe trauma may require partial toe amputation if the bone is infected. Your vet will discuss all treatment options and offer the best recommendation for your cat’s recovery.

Recovery Time

The recovery time for a cat losing a nail depends greatly on the severity of the injury. If the nail was partially torn or came off cleanly with no damage to the nail bed, it may only take 2-4 weeks for the nail to fully grow back. However, if the nail was completely ripped out or the nail bed was severely damaged, it could take several months for the nail to regenerate and heal completely.

According to veterinarians, most small nail injuries in cats will heal within a few weeks. The new nail starts growing from the cuticle soon after the original nail falls off or is removed. Most cats will regrow the nail within 4-6 weeks. Keeping the area clean and bandaged will help speed the healing process.

For more severe nail bed lacerations or avulsion injuries where the entire nail was forcefully ripped out, healing can take 2-3 months. The nail bed must fully regenerate and repair itself before the new nail can grow back normally. Proper wound care is essential during this time.

Within just a couple weeks, there should be visible signs of new nail growth. However, it can take 10-12 weeks for the new nail to reach full length. Consulting a vet throughout the healing process is recommended to ensure proper healing and prevent infection.

With patience and attentive home care, most cats make a full recovery after losing a nail. The new nail may have a different shape or texture at first but should restore normal function over time. Limiting activity, preventing reinjury, and managing pain are key during the healing period.

Outlook and Home Care

The outlook for a cat losing a nail is usually excellent with proper at-home care [1]. It’s important to keep the injured toe clean while it heals to prevent infection. Gently clean the toe daily with a mild antiseptic solution. Avoid getting any cleanser into the nail bed, as this can cause pain and irritation. Monitor the toe over the next several weeks as the nail starts to regrow. Signs of infection include redness, swelling, discharge, and a foul odor. Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of these signs.

Most cats recover fully after losing a nail. The nail will eventually regrow and return to normal in 4-6 weeks [2]. While the nail is regrowing, it’s a good idea to keep your cat indoors and trim the other nails to prevent further injury. You can also ask your vet about soft claw caps or temporary nail bandages to protect the sensitive nail bed as it heals. With proper home care and monitoring, your cat should make a full recovery after losing a nail.

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