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The Nail File: Understanding Your Cat's Nail Biting Habit

The Nail File: Understanding Your Cat's Nail Biting Habit

Cats are well-known for their fastidious grooming habits, and one peculiar behavior that may capture your interest is when your feline friend bites their nails. Although this behavior may appear strange, it frequently stems from a cat's innate instincts and health concerns. In this article, we will delve into the enigma of why cats indulge in nail-biting and its implications for their general welfare.

Were you aware that your cat's nails and how they care for them can reveal information about their health? Unlike humans who may bite their nails out of boredom or anxiety, cats do not have the same emotional attachment to this difficult habit to break.

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So, what does it indicate when we observe our feline friends biting their nails? 

Cat nail biting can vary from regular self-grooming to hidden injuries and infections, as well as potential underlying health issues that may go unnoticed.

Continue reading as we delve deeper into the reasons why cats bite their nails and when pet owners should be worried.

Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS, a veterinarian at Petlearnia, explains that cats do not bite their nails to shorten them like humans do. Instead, they engage in this behavior as a form of self-grooming. Some cats also use their teeth and rough tongue to remove any nail fragments that have not shed properly, and then they nibble and chew to clean any dirt or grit between their nails, ensuring they remain sharp.Do not forget to visit our website to know more

Typically, highly active indoor-only cats and kittens have well-maintained claws and do not require any additional effort to keep them in good condition. Therefore, it is uncommon to observe them biting their nails frequently.

It is not a cause for concern if you occasionally observe your senior cat chewing and pulling at their nails, as long as they do not exhibit any new or unusual behaviors.

If you have recently observed your cat engaging in daily nail biting and nail pulling, there may be underlying medical causes. Apart from regular self-grooming, aging, or issues related to mobility, there are three prevalent medical problems associated with excessive nail biting.


Occasionally, tiny foreign items may become trapped in a feline's paws or toes, including the spaces between or beneath their nails. In such cases, veterinarians may have to perform surgical procedures to extract these objects. Additionally, broken toes, which can be identified through X-ray examinations, can contribute to abnormal nail biting and pulling behaviors.

Nail bed infections in cats are commonly triggered by trauma and can worsen if cats excessively lick their feet, according to Dr. Woodnutt. Furthermore, Dr. Amber Carter, a DVM and ABVP board-certified feline practitioner, highlights that ingrown nails can also result in painful nail bed infections.

Apart from trauma and ingrown nails, infections in your cat's paws and nail beds can be caused by bacterial or fungal infections, allergies, as well as parasites such as mites and fleas. To ensure the well-being of both you and your cat, it is advisable to refrain from self-diagnosing and promptly bring your cat to a veterinarian. They will thoroughly examine the affected paw, looking for any signs of injury or discomfort.

According to Dr. Carter, nail biting and pulling can be caused by autoimmune diseases such as Pemphigus Foliaceus.

 To diagnose this condition in your cat, your veterinarian will examine the presence of pus and skin lesions in the nail bed. Additionally, nail problems in cats can also be a manifestation of certain types of cancer, particularly lung-digit syndrome. The initial indication of lung-digit syndrome is often an issue with the nails, such as swelling, inflammation, and discharge of pus. In order to assess your cat for other respiratory symptoms like coughing, a veterinarian will conduct a thorough evaluation.

Dr. Woodnutt explains that although anxiety and stress do not directly cause nail-biting, they can contribute to excessive grooming.

Excessive grooming, known as psychogenic alopecia, is often a result of anxiety or stress.

 It typically manifests on a cat's stomach, inner thighs, or flanks. The symptoms of psychogenic alopecia include red and inflamed skin, bald patches, sores, skin lesions, increased hairballs, and vomiting.

If you suspect that anxiety is causing your cat to chew their nails abnormally, it is advisable to consult your veterinarian to eliminate other potential causes.

Should I be concerned if my cat has recently started biting its nails? Occasional nail biting in cats is normal and not a cause for alarm. However, if you notice that your cat is biting its nails more than once a day, particularly on the same foot, it is advisable to investigate further. The most significant warning sign to watch out for is a change in behavior. If your cat typically does not bite or pull on its nails but suddenly starts doing so, especially if you observe them chewing or licking their paws, it could indicate an underlying issue or medical condition that is causing this change in grooming behavior.

Prompt 1: How should Nail Infections be treated?

To effectively treat nail infections, it is crucial to seek prompt medical attention, as these infections can have long healing periods. Neglecting timely treatment can result in permanent damage to your cat's foot, causing pain and distress. In severe cases, it may even lead to a bone infection, necessitating amputation.

Given these potential complications, both Dr. Woodnutt and Dr. Carter strongly discourage home remedies and instead recommend immediate veterinary intervention upon observing abnormal nail biting or chewing. Veterinarians typically prescribe oral antibiotics or topical treatments such as antibacterial washes for a duration of several weeks. Therefore, it is imperative to provide your cat with the appropriate treatment as soon as possible.

To summarize, it is important to recognize that your cat's nail-biting is typically a normal behavior driven by grooming instincts, the need to keep their claws healthy, or to cope with stress. By comprehending the underlying reasons for this behavior and taking proactive measures to encourage proper nail care, you can guarantee the overall well-being of your beloved feline companion. If you have any concerns regarding your cat's nail-biting habits, seeking advice from your veterinarian can offer valuable knowledge and personalized guidance to address your cat's specific requirements.

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