Nail Caps for Safety and Hygiene! (Or Don't Give Up!)

Johnny moved in a little more than a year ago--September 2015--when our friend, Michelle, was looking for a permanent home for her.  Johnny had lived with Michelle since her kittenhood, but then Michelle met and fell in love with a guy plagued by chronic lung conditions--and who is allergic to cats on top of that.  For a while Johnny had been living entirely outside, but Michelle wanted to find her a new (indoor) arrangement before winter settled in.  After a trial run with another friend, which ended unhappily, Matt and I agreed to try her out.  What can I say, just like with Ginger, I am a sucker for a cat in need?
Johnny is a special cat.  (They all are, aren't they?!)  One of this things that makes Johnny so special is that she's a bit obsessive-compulsive.  She gets it in her head to start scratching and licking and just keeps going and going and going and going...until she has wounds that look both terribly painful and rather gross.  She's had this tendency since she was a kitten.  Johnny has been checked out by multiple vets.  She is healthy and happy as far as anyone can tell.  "Maybe she has allergies," was the best answer provided.  So, she ate special allergen-friendly cat food for a while...with no noticeable results.  It's a puzzler.
From my research and from observations with her, I think she is just a little developmentally different, special needs, or whathaveyou.  She is quite clumsy and uncoordinated for a cat.  She drools--a lot.  She is slightly duck footed (you, know the opposite of pigeon toed).  She has had litter box issues, off and on.  The biggest symptom that everything isn't quite "normal" is her obsessive, self-injurious behavior.  She licks and scratches (and licks and scratches and licks and scratches) at her head and neck until both are speckled with raw, angry-looking wounds.
But a lovable gal, for sure, no matter how we label her.  
She has one of the loudest purrs I've encountered and she is quick to use it.  She meows in greeting and extends her hand in a welcoming high-five.  She regularly flops over on her back in the "cockroach" to elicit belly rubs.  She adores having her armpits scratched.  She is obsessed with beer bottle caps.  If she spots one she immediately goes after it.  She picks it up in her mouth and trots off to put in in her food dish.  This is where bottle caps belong, I gather.  Matt pulls them out and scatters them again and the game repeats itself.  If Ginger and I are in love, Matt and Johnny are, too.
Still.  Something had to be done, for the sake of all parties.  She was consistently peeing on the carpet two feet from the litter box.  She left gross scabs--complete with tufts of hair--lying about on the carpet/bed/couch.  Plus, she had open wounds, leaving her exposed to infections--and she perpetually harassed them, not letting them heal.  This was no good for her, in addition to grossing out the rest of the household.  We tried a wound spray to promote healing, but it wasn't working fast enough to keep up with her compulsive scratching.  We put her in The Cone Of Shame, but that was only a stop-gap and only increased the litter box issues.
We through about giving up on Johnny a lot.  More than I'm keen to admit, even.  We took her in without knowing what a special cat she would prove to be.  It seemed like too much--like in a world full of unwanted pets we could easily find a perfectly normal cat who needed a home.  One who wouldn't bring so many challenges along with her.
"Let's give it a month," we said.  Then it became, "two months."  Then, "Okay, three months."  Then it was "Just through the winter."
In the end, we realized that there wasn't an expiration date on Johnny.  She honestly needed us to figure something out.  She didn't have loads of options.  She couldn't go back to Michelle's.  She'd already had the failed trial run before she landed with us.  She needed a home.  Period.  Johnny turns twelve this summer, which ain't no spring chicken in cat-years.  Knowing that, we just kept trying, working towards a solutions which would make us all happy.  What else could we do?  It was just the right thing.
On a whim--and not too optimistic of one--we tried nail caps.  And they changed everything.  Nail caps and a bandanna.
Now we've settled into a pattern that works, more or less.  It sure took time, but you know how it goes, the harder the struggle the sweeter the victory.  If we'd just given up this happy ending wouldn't have happened.  I’m so thankful we persisted until we found the work-arounds and solutions to Johnny's problematic behaviors.
I was totally dubious about the nail caps, thinking, "Suuuuuuuure!  I bet the cat will just lay there placid and let you put on fake nails!  Yeah, right!"  But, like I said, we were willing to try anything that might help.  The nightmare which I imagined when putting them on never came to pass.  She was remarkably cooperative.  She doesn't love it, but if we catch her when she is sleepy it is a piece of cake.  It is also much easier now since we only apply one as they fall off rather than eight all at once.

So now Johnny wears little rubbery nail covers on her back feet.  With her nails capped she cannot cause the terrible wounds.  This is an all-around win.  There aren’t scabs left behind on the carpet and furniture.  (Go, us.)  Johnny is healthier and at less risk of infection.  (Go, Johnny.)  Plus, it makes her more pleasant to pet which really only makes everyone happier.  (Go, team.)  
Marketed as a much more humane alternative to decalwing (which is like amputating the cat's fingers at the first knuckle) the caps are attached over the nail with a dab of glue.  They eventually fall off as the nail grows out and we trim the nail and replace the cap.  They're a non-chemical, non-invasive, quick, cost-effective solution.  
They come in colors and clear.  We initially picked clear and one could hardly notice that Johnny was wearing them.  When we bought our second pack we picked pink because Michelle’s hair is pink.  As an added bonus it makes it very easy to tell when they’ve grown out, fallen off, and need to be replaced.  
Johnny honestly doesn’t seem to mind them, now that she is used to it.  The first time we put them on she shook her feet and tugged at them with her teeth.  She wasn't used to how they felt and was trying to rip them off.  Now she doesn’t bat an eye when we apply a new one.  They nail caps seem targeted at people who have cats ripping up the drapes, but they work superbly well for this off-label use.
Like everything there are detractors who say nail caps hurt cat's feet or can inhibit their ability to walk or retract and extend their nails, but from my experience, Johnny is able to do everything she wants EXCEPT scratch herself to the point of blood and pain.  She walks, jumps, runs, climbs, scratches, plays, chases, eats, bathes, stalks, and all the other things cats enjoy.
The second prong in our successful campaign against head wounds involved fitting Johnny with a bandanna.  With the bandanna folded and secured around her neck she cannot keep licking at it past the point of baldness into raw, oozing wound.  I think it makes her looks cute, as well as providing a protective barrier from her sandpapery tongue.  I was worried the vet would give me a hard time about it being a choking hazard or something, but she said it was a clever solution and that a solution was what we needed.  She said many pets get abandoned because of behavioral issues and so she was just glad we'd found something that works.  
Even with all these accommodations, Johnny is clearly still itchy—she goes wild with purring and air-licking when we scratch her about the head or neck.  But at least we can help her with that without ripping her wide open, which we do several times a day.  Plus, with the toe caps she can still scratch herself, just without the razor sharp points.
It would have been simpler for Matt and I to send Johnny packing.  We could have gotten another cat.  That wouldn't have solved the underlying problem that there was a very special cat that needed a place to grow old though.  It took more work to crack that nut, but it was totally worth doing--in the small picture and the big picture.
In the small picture, we helped Johnny find a home.  In the big picture, we had the opportunity to demonstrate the kindness and empathy which I hope all beings find in this world.
I need my friends and family to show me empathy for a lot of things, too.  I’m far from perfect.  I am always late.  I often talk too much and too loudly.  I am a tightwad.  I get grumpy when my arthritis flares.  I can be too critical.  On top of all that someday I will be an old lady, maybe hard of hearing or clumsy or with bathroom problems of my own.  I’ll have uninteresting stories to tell and jokes that aren’t funny.  I want to believe that I live in a world where we take care of each other, even when it is not exactly convenient, where we find solutions to the problems we inevitably encounter when living together.  So, I try to model that if  I can.  To humans, to cats, just wherever I can. 
And I can’t recommend those nail caps enough.  Game changer.


  1. Aw, bless you guys for not giving up on her! I often think of those same things - of how someday or at some point in our own lives, we'll need the same kind of patience and empathy. Our first dog, during his last couple years of life, was very high-needs, and I'll admit some people questioned my sanity in caring for him. I knew it was only for a time, though, and I think it makes us much better people to be self-sacrificing. (Plus, I'm really empathetic and stubborn ;-)

    My kids really really want a cat, but my dad is hyper-allergic to them and having one would prevent him from visiting us...we do have just about every other pet under the sun though!


  2. Thank you Beth for sharing such a beautiful, hopeful and encouraging story. I live with a son who has serious medical issues as well as some learning related difficulties but he is the nicest teen I know, always offering to make cups of tea, checking that I or his dad are ok and he is a whizz in the kitchen :-). San xx

  3. Oh, God bless you, Beth!!! I never heard of those things! This is a wonderful story. I'm feeling teary.

  4. oh my goodness, this is so heartwarming!!!! Love that you stuck with Johnny (I'm afraid I would have given up), and your solutions are so wonderful because they work and they're CUTE.

  5. Such a sweet...sweet glad Johnny landed with you guys...

    ~Have a lovely day!


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