Saturday, September 25, 2010

How to Trim Your Cat’s Claws

By Julia Williams

Trimming a cat’s nails regularly is an important aspect of responsible pet ownership, because it can keep them from injuring themselves, other pets and you. Trimmed nails are also much kinder to your furniture, curtains and carpeting. Left untrimmed, a cat’s razor-sharp talons are capable of inflicting serious damage, both intended and accidental. Trimming your cat’s claws is not terribly difficult, but there are things I’ve learned that can make it easier, especially if your cat doesn’t like to be messed with.   

Tools for Trimming a Cat’s Claws

There are several different styles of trimmers available, so check them out at your local pet store. Some people find that regular human nail clippers work too. I have a pair of small scissor-shaped trimmers with a sliding “guillotine” blade. I prefer them to nail clippers because they’re easier to hold and don’t slip out of my hand if my cat squirms.

You’ll also need a nail file for smoothing jagged edges, and styptic powder in case you accidentally cut into the quick (more on that later). An optional accessory that’s good for feisty cats is the Klaw Kontrol Bag. It’s basically a kitty straight jacket that keeps everything except the paw you’re working on tucked inside a zippered bag. You can also burrito-wrap your cat in a towel or blanket, leaving one leg out. 

Tip #1: Condition Your Cat

The ideal time to start trimming your cat’s claws is when they’re young. Kittens become acclimated to the procedure and rarely put up a fuss as they get older. If that’s not possible, you might need to do a little “conditioning” before attempting to cut the nails. Conditioning helps your cat get used to having its paw held. When grooming or petting your cat, stroke their paw and hold it lightly in your hand. Once they’re comfortable with this, move on to massaging their paw and eventually, giving it a gentle squeeze to push out the claws. When you can get to this stage without a major freak-out, you’re ready to move on to the trimming.

Tip #2: Timing is Everything

The best time to trim a cat's claws is right after a nap, when they’re relaxed. In fact, I often sneak in with my trimmers while my cats are asleep on the bed, and usually get at least one paw done before they realize what I’m up to. Sometimes they let me do both paws and if not, I just come back later. Since cats sleep 14-18 hours a day on average, there are plenty of nail trimming opportunities.

Tip #3: Find the Right Position

The position that works best for nail trimming varies from cat to cat, and from human to human. If I’m trimming nails when they’re awake instead of half asleep as above, I usually have them on my lap facing away. Some people like to have the cat on the floor or a table, so experiment to discover what’s most comfortable for you and your cat. You can also have someone hold the cat facing you; just be sure that you hold the paw you’re trimming so you can sense if the cat is about to pull it away.

Once you’ve “assumed the position,” take your cat’s paw in your hand and use your thumb and index finger to apply gentle pressure to the joint just behind the claw. This causes the claw to extend so you can trim the sharp tip.

Tip #4: Don’t Cut the Quick

Take the time to become familiar with your cat’s claws so you can identify the quick, the pink area near the core where blood vessels and nerve endings are located. Trimming too far up the nail can cut into the quick, causing pain and bleeding. If you’re unsure where the quick starts or how to trim your cat’s nails, ask your vet or a professional groomer to show you.

Clip only about halfway between the quick and the tip of the claw, or take the safest route and just clip the very tips, what I call “taking the edge off.” You’ll need to trim more often that way, but you won’t cut the quick, unless your cat suddenly jerks its paw when you’re clipping. If you do accidentally clip the quick and it bleeds for more than a minute or two, touch a styptic pencil to the claw or apply styptic powder to help stop the bleeding. 

Tip #5: Just the Front Claws, Ma’am

The back claws of most cats don’t become razor-sharp like their front claws do, so they rarely need to be trimmed. When you’re clipping their front claws, you can simply examine the rear claws to make sure they haven’t gotten too long or too sharp, and clip when necessary.

When trimming your cat’s claws, orient the clippers so that the nail is cut from top to bottom instead of across the nail, which will help prevent splitting. Using sharp clippers also helps. Lastly, be sure to give your kitty a tasty treat when you’re done! 

Read more articles by Julia Williams


  1. I don't think I knew about the top to bottom (cutting). Thank you.

    I actaully take my cat into the shower. Not while I am showering. This is just an enclosed space. My cat is very good and "lets" me clip her claws, but some days, I just have a difficult time getting the right hold on her and it just seems ackward and by the time I am ready she is done. So I find that when she is done with my squirming, I let her go. But in the shower she doesn't have far she is able to go. I let her walk around for a bit. Then I try again. I keep this up until I have all of her claws clipped. Sometimes I can do it rather quickly and we don't do the "walk around" time but sometimes for whatever reason I can't get it. I have found that putting her down when she wants to get down is good for us both, but the shower doesn't allow her to escape. Plus the nails don't end up flying all over my carpet, they end up in the shower. Yay!

  2. Thanks for the nail trimming guidance. It does seem like an important task to help keep a cat from injuring themselves. Great post.


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