Cat Nail Clipping: How and When to Cut Cat’s Nails

Cutting your cat's nails is often a stressful experience for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be. Cat behaviorists say that every cat can be trained to tolerate and even enjoy their nail trims. Following some simple tips can help both you and your cat relax during their regular manicure sessions. 

Setting the Mood

In a perfect world, you’d start training your cat to accept nail trimming as a kitten, when they are learning how the world works. Regardless of when you’re starting, nail trimming should always take place in a calm, quiet location. Ideally, trim your cat’s nails when they are sleepy, such as after a meal.

Stay away from windows and other pets that may distract you or them. You may want to bring your cat somewhere you can comfortably sit with them in your lap. 

Make Friends With the Paw

Some cats dislike having their feet played with more than they mind the trim itself. Taking the time to make them comfortable with having their paws touched will pay off in the long run. 

Carefully hold one paw between your fingers and rub it gently for two to three seconds. If your cat moves during the process, gently follow their gesture. Then squeeze the paw so one nail extends. Release immediately and give your cat a treat. If you can, do this two or three times every day until your cat gets used to it and doesn’t seem to resist as much.

Get Acquainted With the Clipper

Unfamiliar objects can be stressful for your cat. Leave the clippers out where your cat can investigate them. You can even leave a treat on them to encourage your cat to sniff and become familiar with them. 

Some cats are afraid of the sound the clipper makes when trimming their nails. With your cat in your lap, place a piece of dry spaghetti in the clippers. Hold the clippers near their paws and gently massage one paw, then cut the noodle so it makes a cracking noise. Immediately give your cat a reward for accepting the noise and the massage.

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Time to Clip

After you’ve spent time getting your cat used to the idea, it’s time to try clipping. Put your cat in your lap, facing away from you. Take one of your cat’s paws in your hand and gently press on the pad until you see their claw clearly. If the claw needs a trim, cut only the sharp point and make sure to avoid the quick.

Once you’ve trimmed that nail, immediately release the paw and give your cat a reward if they’ve noticed what you’re doing. If your cat is relaxed and doesn’t seem to mind the trimming, move on to other nails.

Many cats will complain after you’ve trimmed two or three nails. If this happens, stop and let them go. Always reward the cat after a trim with a treat or special toy. This shows your cat that trimming isn’t stressful and leads to fun times. You may need several short sessions to get all their nails trimmed.

Never Cut to the Quick

If you look at your cat’s claws, you’ll see a darker section inside the mostly clear, hard exterior. This is called the quick. It’s where nerves and blood vessels are found. Never cut to the quick, or your cat may bleed and become uncomfortable. If you’ve ever broken a nail, you know why cats don’t like it. Instead, only trim the white part of the claw.

It’s always better to leave more claw than to cut too deep. You may want to have a styptic stick or powder on hand. You can use it to stop the bleeding if you accidentally cut too deep. You can find these products at most pet supply stores. 

Clipping Schedule

Most cats should have their claws trimmed every week and a half to two weeks. Getting into a routine will make it easier to keep your cat’s nails under control. If you’re having trouble trimming their claws, you can ask a groomer or veterinarian for advice.

The ASPCA highly discourages declawing cats.  It can lead to ongoing complications and pain. Instead, give your cats places to scratch, talk to your vet about nail covers, or trim their nails more regularly.

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What to Avoid

  • Never try to trim your cat’s nails when your cat is upset or when you’re in a bad mood. This makes the process more stressful.
  • Never rush a nail trim. You may cut too deep and nick the quick. 
  • Don’t scold or punish your cat for resisting. This will only make them avoid trimming further.
  • Don’t try to trim all your cat’s nails at once.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

ASPCA: “Position Statement on Declawing Cats.”

The Humane Society of the United States: “Trimming a Cat’s Claws.”

International Cat Care: “Trimming your cat’s claws.”

MSPCA-Angell. “How to Trim Your Pet’s Nails.”

Wisconsin Humane Society: “Cat Nail Trimming 101.”

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