Nail and Foot Problems


Extra toes on Kittens

Question: Dear Dr. Mike, We have recently adopted two kittens from friends who could not take care of them properly. They seem to be predominately Siamese but are of mixed breed. They are approximately 10 to 12 weeks old.

Both cats have extra toes on their front paws only. Does this indicate any special problems in their care? I know this is quite often caused by inbreeding but was wondering if there are other causes or if this condition is peculiar to certain breeds.

Answer: Larry-

My understanding is that extra toes are an inherited condition in most cats with them, rather than a congenital defect due to problems in the uterus. If there is a complete toe, the nail usually is no problem to trim and there are not many problems associated with this condition. Some cats have 6 toes and 7 toenails, though. The extra toenail is usually located between the last normal toe and the first extra toe and it will grow in a circle, back into the skin, if it is not clipped on a regular basis. Check the nails on all extra toes and look between the toes for extra toenails and keep all such nails clipped. Mike Richards, DVM 12/24/2000

Lost claw - what are signs of infection

Q: It's unfortunate, but, lately, our 5 year old neutered cat, Norton, has been getting into fights outside at night fairly regularly. Last week, after my husband ushered him into the house after another episode, we checked him out to discover that he had lost a claw on his outside toe of his front right paw. Concerned about the bleeding, we phoned the local vet even though it was after hours. He was quite nonchalant about it, almost suggesting that there would be little they would do for him at the vet clinic anyway, and to just watch for infection. We have been rinsing the site with a dilute betadine solution, then rinsing that off so he doesn't ingest it, and giving him supplements of vitamin A (10,000 IU), vitamin D (400 IU) and vitamin E (400 IU) once a week to help his body heal the wound. He has been acting nearly normal since the incident, but it has been a week now and I don't really see any improvement in the wound area. He still has a scab and the muscle (?) above his pad seems to still be swollen - though not hugely, it's about the size of the pad below it. Today he was getting underfoot as he often does at mealtimes, and one of us actually stepped on that paw and it did begin to bleed again. We could tell that it hurt him quite a bit at the time. We immediately rinsed it again and gave him his treats. Afterwards he found an unusual, but seemingly safe (from the other cat, the dog and us mean humans) place and stayed there, sometimes sleeping, for most of the day.

I am wondering what the most important signs of infection are. I understand that his temperature would be a good indicator, but I don't have a proper thermometer for that (and don't relish the thought of using one anally on my squirmy little friend). Do the ear thermometers for humans work for cats? What other indicators should I look for? How long should he take to heal? Is the apparent swelling more likely an abscess or the type of swelling that a sprained ankle would have? His appetite and litter habits appear to be completely normal and his behaviour, other than the day after it happened, and today has been virtually normal. His fur is still very soft and his odour has not changed for the worse at all. In my opinion he is very healthy and should be able to recover quite nicely, but I am not well versed in the appearance of infection and don't want to compromise his health at all. My apologies for my verbosity! Thank you for your very enjoyable and informative page. :) Teresa from Canada

A: Teresa- If there is any evidence of a continuing wound at this time please have Norton examined by your vet. The most common sign of infection is a wound that will not heal. Swelling, heat in the foot, bleeding and drainage of pus are all signs of infection.

A torn nail is not usually a serious problem in cats so I can understand your vet's initial advice but I think he or she would agree completely that with the progression of signs seen that treatment is in order if the signs continue.

Mike Richards, DVM

Paronychia - nail bed infection

Q: Thank you for your WONDERFUL website! What a great service you are providing for those of us who love our pets! My cat has a problem which I did not see addressed in your index. Buffer (male, appx. 6 years old), has a recurring condition: infected nails, affecting 1-3 nails on each foot -- severe inflammation and pus that make it hard for him to walk. At the same time, he gets crusty, hot areas on his ear tips and nose, and what seems to be (from your description) kitty acne on his chin. This all began about a year ago when I observed him having what seemed to be a seizure -- hind legs twitching and contracting uncontrollably. (He had been an outdoor cat and had suffered a severe wound to the tail base several months earlier.) Our vet treated him with prednisone; when that didn't work, he began cortisone shots. These shots last from 3-4 weeks, and then the symptoms return. The vet is puzzled, but suspects a problem with the immune system. I combed the local pet store and found vitamins with fatty acids in them. These seem to prolong the time between visits to the vet, but only slightly. I also bought a cortisone cream which we apply to his nose and ears. Do you think the combination of fatty acids and antihistamines, which you suggest in your FIV html, could help Buffer? He is the sweetest cat in the world, and we both would appreciate any help you can give us. Thank you! Carol

A: Carol- There are a number of possible causes of nail bed infection (paronychia). When one or two nails on the same foot are involved a bacterial infection is very likely. When more than one or two nails are involved or when the problem occurs on more than one foot it is more likely that there is an underlying problem leading to the visible nail disease. The most common underlying cause in cats is probably feline leukemia virus infection. Other possible problems include immune mediated diseases such as phemphigus, hyperthyroidism, lymphosarcoma, vasculitis and fungal infections.

Testing for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus would be a good idea. A fungal culture might be helpful. Sometimes bacteria or yeast can be seen on an impression smear from an affected toe and bacterial cultures can sometimes be helpful, too. Biopsy of an affected area is a good idea. In your cat's case it might be worthwhile to consider biopsy of one of the other affected areas since diseases like phemphigus frequently affect the face, ear tips or other areas in addition to the feet.

If cortisones are helpful it is likely that using antihistamines and fatty acids in combination may help to prolong the time between cortisone injections but that may not be the best course of action in all cases. It would be good to discuss this with your vet so that you know what he or she thinks the problem is, specifically, and to see if extending the time between cortisone injections is a good idea. If your vet has been hesitant to suggest a biopsy or other testing, that may be something to discuss as well.

Mike Richards, DVM

Last edited 02/01/05


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...