Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Long In The Claw

Dr Desert Flower and I found out this last weekend, that elderly US house cats (over 15 years old or so) are prone to being "Long in the Claw" in that they stop taking much interest in sharpening their claws, and like all carotene mammalian nails, the claws continue to grow.  Think of not cutting your human nails for more than a year or so, and how long they'd get.  Well, eventually, if you're a human who does anything with your hands, and didn't sit around with "dragon lady" nails your whole day, not even able to wipe your own bottom, your nails would break off.

Far worse than what we encountered.
A feline's claws have evolved to be more robust. Capturing and holding prey, the ability to climb and escape danger as well as hunt, and defend ones self are required if the cat is going to live to maturity.  So feline nails grow & retract in a curved manner, that allows them to have the nail "out" when it is needed, and "withdrawn" when it is not needed.  Our older cat learned many years ago to not walk on bare human thighs when they are sitting on the couch, as her claws would dig into bare skin if you're wearing shorts.  She only walks on laps and DEMANDS to be petted when one is wearing pants, jeans, sweats, etc.  Jeans are her favorite, as she can get a sturdy grip on a human's thighs in denim without stabbing or raking their skin.

So last Thursday night, I was wearing jeans, for the first time in many months (typically in shorts, every day here in Arizona), and the older cat decided "time for you to pet me" when I sat on the couch to watch Big Bang Theory.  She hopped up on my lap, and wobbled a little bit.   Some of her claws dug in more than others, and she exhibited relatively little grace or stability compared to what she'd always been capable of balancing previously.  Dr Desert Flower and I investigated her paws.  To our surprise, 2 claws on each foot were CIRCULAR!  They were no long "claw shaped" and instead, were completely rounded and had begun to dig into her foot's "pad". where she normally walks.  We were surprised, shocked, and somewhat horrified that we'd neglected our pet for so long, since it was last November near Thanksgiving that we had last trimmed her claws.  Since that time, she'd pretty much lost all interest in scratching posts, and had neglected her nails. 

Our feline nail trimmer was the "guillotine" type, were you put the sharp hook inside and the trimmer CHOPS it off in a guillotine like manner.  This was completely useless for the circular nails, since they were growing INTO the pad and there was no "hook" to grasp or insert into the guillotine.  We considered using human nial clippers, but by this time, the cat's tolerance of having her paws examined by humans was up and she was getting feisty and bitey.  I called the vet and made an appointment for her on Monday (they were booked for Friday & Saturday), and fretted about these ingrown nails the rest of the day.   On Saturday, Dr Desert Flower dosed out pet with some kitty valium, and an hour later the cat lost all feline resistance, even the ability to hold her head up straight... and we began the process of trying to extract and trim her nails the best that two non-trained vets could - though an experienced engineer and a DR of biology, we could have been much worse off.
I wore gauntlet gloves that have been designated as "Dad's cat gloves" for the last 15 years or so, both to limit the allergen exposure, and the bite possibilities.   The cat put up very little resistance.  Using human open ended nail clippers, DDF was able to shear off the nails safely, and not injure the the cat's pad or the living growth area of the "meat" or the cat's claw.  The fourth extracted nail can be seen on my leg in the above photo. 
3 of the 4 extracted claws that had over-grown and were starting to stick into her foot pad.
A very small amount of blood from just one of the 4 ingrown claws came out of the pad.   We considered trying to disinfect it (with alcohol or antibiotic cream) but knowing how painful putting alcohol on an open wound is for humans, and how much it would have smelled to a cat, and how often a cat licks its paws and claws normally, we decided against putting any kind of sterilization or antibiotic creams on the paw.  DDF checked it several times throughout the day and the rest of the weekend, and it stopped bleeding in less than an hour, and has returned to "normal" by Monday.  Keep in mind also, that house cats have enzymes in their saliva that act like antibiotics, killing bacteria.  Our son, in 3rd grade, did an awesome science experiment that showed the agar plates swabbed in the cat's mouth were 100X cleaner than the human's or a dog's mouth - but he lost to a stupid volcano project, probably because his project was So Awesome, it was above the comprehension of the inadequate Indiana primary school judges and they figured DDF perhaps did it all for him (which she didn't!).

I've since marked my Outlook calendar to remind me to trim the cat's claws each week, and I spent an hour grooming the cat and generating a box of hair on Sunday afternoon  before settling down to watch an awesome football game on DVR. On Monday morning, I called and canceled the vet appointment, since DDF and I were able to carefully re-mediate the issue, and saved a $100 (or more) vet bill.

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