The Premier Online Magazine devoted to Persian & Exotic Shorthair Cats
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The Premier Online Magazine
devoted to Persian & Exotic Shorthair Cats

Close this search box.


The Premier Online Magazine devoted
to Persian & Exotic Shorthair Cats

Close this search box.

Dirty Nails

I own four rescued cats, two Persians and two domestic shorthairs. The Persians, Callie and Abbie, I adopted as a bonded pair from a CFA Purebred Cat Breed Rescue group in May, 2006. Callie is a calico who is now almost six years old. Abbie is a red and white bicolor who is almost seven. They are the lights of my life — extremely loving, playful and glued to my side 24/7. Their junior wellness blood work came back as pristine last June and they seem to be in excellent health.

I cut their front nails about every 2 weeks and their rear nails about every 4 weeks. During a recent trimming, I ran into a situation that left me worried and confused. Callie, who normally lets me trim her nails with minimal fuss, resisted me touching her rear nails. I had just trimmed her front nails without event. I discovered that while the tips of her rear nails looked normal, the base of her nails were pretty well covered with a brown, greasy, crusty “gunk”. Some nails were worse than others.

When I tried to gently scrape some off this gunk off with my fingernail, Callie cried out (very unusual for her) as if it hurt. And though not as bad, upon closer inspection, I discovered tiny amounts of the same gunk on her front nails, too. Callie had not been licking or fussing with her paws and had been running full speed chasing her favorite balls, so I didn’t think the gunk was causing her any discomfort. The skin and fur on her toes/paws seemed normal; no hair loss, puffiness, oozing, etc. Callie’s nails are very challenging to trim. When I squeeze them out, they do not extend beyond her paw pads. Instead, the tips of her nails seem like, if left untrimmed, they would curve down and possibly into her paw pads. I wondered if this was somehow related to her current problem.

Abbie did not have issues with me trimming her nails, but I discovered she also had small amounts of this gunk on her front nails, and a bit more on her back nails, though not nearly as bad as Callie’s. The shorthaired cats’ nails were fine.

Of course, it was the weekend. I planned to make an appointment with my veterinarian first thing Monday morning. In the meantime, I started surfing the web for possible information. Could it be a nail infection? Could it be a return of Ringworm? I did discover that Callie and Abbie both had mild ringworm (without any hair loss) about two months after I adopted them, with one small lesion hiding on Callie’s cheek and several down Abbie’s back. They, along with my resident two shorthairs, were treated and all received two negative ringworm cultures in a row. Knowing it was possible, my stress level rose as I wondered if the ringworm had returned a year later.

My search on the web found very little — not even a photograph. Then, I thought to send a question to “Ask The Expert” at I have owned cats, including Persians, for 37 years and have found more useful Persian-specific information on than anywhere else. I found it curious that my Persians had this nail gunk and my shorthairs did not. Within three minutes of sending off my question, I heard back from Lee Harper, editor of

Hi Pam,
The brown gunk is not an infection but just normal dirt and skin oils that can accumulate in and around the nail sheath. Put the kitty in bath water, extend the nail and use a toothbrush and mild dish detergent to scrub the nail bed clean.

Wow! I immediately thanked Lee for her speedy response — and Callie and Abbie thanked her even more for sparing them a trip to the vet. So, off I went to give the girls a “special” pedicure.


The area around the base of the nail appears
to have a buildup of dark brown material


The brown “gunk” has been completely removed
following cleaning with soap and a toothbrush

A Few Observations

The bath alone did not remove the gunk. As suggested, I had to take a toothbrush to each individual nail, being sure to scrub each nail all the way around. The gunk looked different on various nails. On some nails the gunk was obvious. On others, there was just a thin, dark line near the base of the nail — but it was indeed “gunk”. The rear nails were much dirtier than the front nails. The gunk reminded me of the “wax” that can accumulate in a cat’s ears.

In Conclusion

This is a good case in point for regular bathing. I comb Callie daily and she has a super soft, plush coat and healthy-looking skin. Her coat isn’t greasy at all, so it was a surprise to discover she has this dirt and oil building up on her nails. That’s why I was initially thinking it was some type of infection. I suspect that the reason my Persians had it while my shorthairs didn’t is probably that dirt and oil are likely to accumulate more easily and quickly when the kitty has hairier feet.

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