Pet Nail Biting - Is This a Necessity, or Worrisome Behavior?
While most pets don't indulge in vices such as smoking or drinking, some animals share one seemingly unhealthy behavior with humankind: nail biting. Whether your pet is a chronic nail muncher, or just takes an occasional chew, here's what you should know.
Why Pets Chew Their Nails
According to Christina Shusterich, Canine Behavior Counselor and president of NY Clever K9, Inc. cats bite their nails as part of a grooming routine. They do this "in order to clean them, as well as to get rid of the older, outer sheath of the nail." This often occurs when a cat's nails are overgrown and could use a trim.
Nail chewing in dogs, however, is not normal. They may bite their nails "from itchiness due to allergies or an infection. They could also be biting out of boredom or anxiety." Excessive nail biting by either cats or dogs can be harmful, as it can "cause bleeding, irritation, and infections," says Shusterich.
Dealing With The Problem
There are several steps you may want to try to take care of excessive nail chewing.
Diagnosing the Cause: It's always good to check with the vet when your animal exhibits obsessive behavior to see if there could be an underlying medical cause. But if you think your dog or cat is bored, anxious or has simply irritated his skin so much that he can't stop working it, then there are a few things you might want to try.
Deterring the Behavior: An anti-itch spray paired with a head cone can help ease skin irritation and keep the pet from further abrading it, giving the skin time to heal. "A good over-the-counter anti-itch spray with a taste deterrent is called Lido-Med," says Shusterich.
Distracting the Pet: Bored nail biters can benefit from interactive puzzles and toys to keep their minds off their chewing. According to Shusterich, "Providing catnip for cats and hiding it in several toys can help entice them to search and play." Similarly, hiding a peanut-butter-filled Kong toy keeps dogs busy and "reduces anxiety by boosting your dog's confidence in providing a regular activity in line with his nature, and a job he is performing successfully on a daily basis."
Diminishing the Anxiety: Aerobic exercise is an essential component to reducing stress and this may also help reduce nail biting. Shusterich recommends "15 minutes of playing with your cat and 15 minutes of aerobic activity in addition to your dog's walks" to keep your pet calm throughout the day, thereby reducing their anxious impulse to gnaw on their nails.
And If Your Pet Is Still Biting?
If you haven't consulted your veterinarian yet, go ahead and call. There may be easily treatable allergies or even serious medical issues that the vet can help resolve.