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Care Guide

About Care Guides[x] These care guides are written to help your clients understand common conditions, tests, and procedures, as well as to provide basic information about pet care. They are based on the most up-to-date, documented information, recommendations, and guidelines available in the United States at the time of writing. Pharmaceutical product licensing, availability, and usage recommendations are based on US product information. Use the Download Handout button to generate a PDF for printing or e-mailing to your clients.

Ingrown Toenails

    • Ingrown toenails are painful and can become infected. Affected pets may limp or lick the paw that hurts, but some pets don’t show any obvious signs of a problem.
    • The best way to prevent ingrown toenails is to trim your pet’s nails regularly. If you are unable to do this, ask your veterinary team about scheduling nail trim appointments for your pet.  

    What Is an Ingrown Toenail?

    An ingrown toenail occurs when a pet’s claw is allowed to overgrow. The nail becomes too long and begins to curl underneath the toe. Because the tip of the nail is relatively sharp (especially in cats), it can eventually puncture the bottom of the pet’s foot. Normally, the nail curves directly underneath and punctures the footpad. It can also curve to the side and puncture other areas of skin on the side or bottom of the foot. If a dewclaw (the claw on the side of the paw, where a person’s thumb would be) is overgrown, the nail can spiral around (sometimes making several loops) and puncture the side of the paw or the nearby footpad.

    When nails are trimmed regularly and not allowed to overgrow, they are less likely to snag, tear, or otherwise become injured during normal activities. However, pets with overgrown or ingrown toenails are more likely to sustain these types of injuries.

    The cut or puncture created by an ingrown nail is an open wound that can become infected. Walking on potentially dirty surfaces (e.g., dirt, grass, urine or feces in a litterbox) increases the risk of infection. Even if the affected nail is the dewclaw (which doesn’t usually contact the ground when a pet is walking), an ingrown toenail is still a source of pain and potential infection for your pet.

    What Causes Ingrown Toenails?

    Ingrown toenails develop when the pet’s nails are not trimmed frequently enough. Regular nail trimming is the best way to prevent this problem.

    What Are the Clinical Signs?

    The most obvious sign of an ingrown toenail is limping, but not all pets do this. If the area is painful, you may see your pet licking the paw or holding it up while at rest.

    Because the ingrown nail can puncture the skin and become infected, the paw may be red or swollen, and it may develop a bad odor or discharge.

    Some pets don’t show any obvious signs that they have an ingrown toenail. Unfortunately, this can allow the problem to progress to a deep, infected puncture wound before it is detected and treated.

    Can Ingrown Toenails Be Treated and Prevented?

    Ingrown toenails are definitely treatable. If the nail has not already punctured the skin, a simple trimming may be all that is required. If the nail has broken off, the jagged end should be trimmed to help prevent further injury.

    If an ingrown toenail has already punctured the footpad or other skin, not only will the nail need to be trimmed, but the puncture wound should be properly cleaned. Your veterinarian may recommend a bandage to keep the area clean until it can heal, and antibiotics to treat or help prevent infection.

    The best way to prevent ingrown toenails is to trim your pet’s nails regularly. Professional groomers routinely trim nails, but many pet owners only take their pets to a groomer every few months, which may not be often enough—especially if the nails grow quickly or aren’t worn down through normal walking activities.

    For many pets, nail trimming at home is much less stressful than going to a grooming salon or veterinary office. Nail trimming at home is not difficult, as long as you and your pet can get used to doing it regularly. Ideally, you should check your pet’s nails weekly and trim them as needed. This helps both of you get used to the routine of regular nail trims. Even if the nails don’t need trimming every week, checking them gets your pet used to having his paws handled, which makes nail trimming much less stressful for both of you. If you are unable to trim your pet’s nails, ask your veterinary team about scheduling nail trim appointments for your pet.