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Person trimming a cat‘s claws

The essentials

  • Trimming cat claws is a safety matter for felines — Learning how to trim cat claws properly will help protect your cat’s sensitive paw pads and feet — and keep you safe, too.
  • All cats, whether indoor or outdoor, need routine trims — Curbs and scratching posts often are not enough to keep your cat’s nails in check, so nails should be trimmed every few days or weeks.
  • You don’t need special tools — All you need for a clip is a clean pair of human nail clippers. You can always invest in other tools, but this is something that most pet owners already have in their cupboards.

Is clipping your cat’s nails an essential hygiene step or unnecessary invitation for injury? What many pet parents don’t know is that trimming cat nails is actually a matter of safety for both indoor and outdoor cats, as well as cat owners and their human families. Taking the time to do this regularly helps your pet to avoid cuts, injuries, or infections that are caused from nail overgrowth and uneven gait.

Read on to learn the best ways to keep your cat’s claws in check, minimizing your risk of hand or arm injury, and keeping your kitten happy and healthy.

Understanding your cat’s claws 

Your cat’s claws have a unique anatomy, and can be retracted or extended at any time. A cat’s claw has a hooked nail, a flat paw pad (otherwise known as a toe bean) and a tendon and elastic ligament that are both connected to the internal hinge of the claw.  These claws are designed for motion, allowing your cat to walk, swipe, “catch” and claw threats, prey, toys, or food. While they do retract when your cat walks, this retraction process can be hindered by a claw overgrowth.

Irregular grooming or a lack of a trim habit could result in walking issues, strained tendons or ligaments, and discomfort for your pet. Since cat claws grow in layers, some parts of the claw may grow faster than others. On average, owners find luck with a personalized trim routine that’s done approximately every 1-2 months.

Preparing for claw trimming

You know the importance of a regular grooming routine. Now it’s time to take a look at the best practices to prepare both you and your cat for your next trim session:

  • Find a comfortable spot — Avoid choosing a “bad” location (like the edge of a sink) that can cause discomfort or anxiety for both you or your pet. Instead, choose a firm, well-lit and comfortable piece of furniture or other area that allows you to have the range of motion you need to groom.
  • Keep styptic powder on hand — Styptic powder is a handy tool that is used in case of bleeding from too close of a cut. Even the most skilled groomers can make this mistake,so don’t panic if it happens to you. Simply sprinkle the powder on and allow the blood to clot.
  • Get your questions answered before you begin — It’s natural to feel apprehensive or unsure before your first trim. Speaking with your veterinarian first about future nail trims is a helpful way to clear up questions you might have.
  • Start from kittenhood — Nail trimming is a task that will likely become routine in your cat’s life. Starting with positive association methods while they are a kitten is helpful — both now and in the future.
  • Prepare in advance — We recommend purchasing what you need well in advance of nail trimming. Generally, you’ll want either guillotine-style, scissors-type, or nail clippers made for people, a nail file, styptic powder, and a clean towel.

👉 There are several  types of potential cat nail clippers, and find that your cat shows preference to one or needs another due to the unique shape of their claws, so it’s good to do your research to find the right fit for your feline. 

How to properly handle your cat for claw trimming 

Cats are wild creatures at heart, so it’s understandable that they might not love the process of trimming at first. However, with time and patience, it’ll be a breeze for you and your feline, and the experience can even be enjoyable for both of you. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re handling your cat for trimming:

Watch for cues

Cats have certain cues that show when they are in distress. Knowing these signs ahead of time will help to make this daunting task more pleasant for you and your cat. For example,  longer sounds of “meows” that sound like yelling indicate that your cat is upset. While this can be a sign of physical harm, it likely isn’t in this case. You can help your kitten or cat to feel better by switching positions or taking a break.

👉 More advanced cues, like spitting or growling, generally indicate that your cat is angry or upset rather than in grave “danger.” 

Hold them correctly

This looks different for every cat and environment. However, tips to follow include:

  • Staying secure — Consider a football hold, nestling your cat in your arm for extra security. Hold the paw that you’re trimming in one hand, and the tool in the other.
  • Using what’s around you — Try placing your pet on a table or countertop, allowing you your full range of motion to trim one paw at a time.
  • Phoning a friend — Sometimes, you just need four (or more) hands on deck. Feel free to recruit some help, especially for larger or more wriggly cats.

“It’s best to use an assistant, as this will make the process less of a struggle,” advises Dr. Bruce D. Armstrong, DVM. “They can help by holding the cat, soothing them or petting them, if the cat enjoys it. You might also try giving the cat a “distraction treat,” such as yogurt off of the tip of a finger.

Step-by-step guide to trim cat claws 

Ready to get started? Here’s the best way to take on the task of nail clipping with your feline friend.

1. Position your cat

You’ll do this using any of the positions above or your own unique way. No matter which way you choose, however, make sure that nothing touches your cat’s paws until the environment is safe and calm.

VET TIP: You can also use the “kitty burrito” technique for extra control, wrapping your cat in a soft blanket to slightly restrict their bodily movement. Be sure not to wrap them too tight though, or in a way that constricts their breathing.

2. Locate the “quick” of the claw

The quick looks a bit like a “tube” in your cat’s claw, and it’s the place where all of the nerves and blood vessels are stored. We want to know where this is to avoid it during the nail clipping process.

3. Trim the claws

When you do this, be sure to stop before the quick begins. You can reference the photo we’ve added above for help in finding the quick in your cat’s nail.

4. Take breaks as needed

You know your pet best. More active cat friends might want breaks between each paw — and those older in age may prefer to do it all at once. No matter what, take the time to read your cat’s cues. It will give both of you a stress-free experience.

5. Treat, treat, and treat again

You made it, and now, it’s time to share the joy with your cat! Being approached by unfamiliar objects is never easy — and you’ll want to build a positive association as your cat build’s trust with the process. Reward your cat for enduring the stressful experience with plenty of treats and positive reinforcement.

What to do if you cut the quick 

If you do end up nicking the quick, you will see blood — which is something that should be addressed quickly with styptic powder or a styptic pencil. The good news is that you can readily find both of these things at your local pet supply store or pharmacy.

If the bleeding persists, or if you notice that your cat is having difficulty walking, we recommend connecting with your vet as soon as possible. Poor posture over an extended amount of time can lead to further injury.

Maintaining cat claw health

Your cat’s claws are sensitive and should be treated with care. Here’s how cat owners can avoid long nails and keep up cat’s claw health between regular nail trims:

  • Schedule regular check-ups — Routine veterinarian visits are key for the health of your cat’s paws and nails. Have your pet checked out regularly and offer a reward or treat after. (It’s a good idea anyway for the general well-being of your furry friend!)
  • Trim claws routinely — Routine trims are essential to your cat’s health. Make time for this important part of your cat’s hygiene routine and help them avoid painful injuries or small cuts to the pad.

VET TIP: You’ll likely know it’s time for a clip if your cat’s feet are “tacky” to the surface they are walking on. You’ll be able to see or hear nail snags across blankets or carpets as they put effort into each step.

Alternatives to cat claw trims

There are two alternative options that owners might consider for their cat’s nails: nail caps and professional grooming support.

  • Go with a pro – This can be really helpful if you have a difficult or larger cat, as they have the tools needed (such as pet-safe harnesses) to keep them and the cat safe. Many professional mobile groomers do offer services for your cat’s claws.
  • Nail caps — These are often a popular option for rear claws or for indoor cats in general — but they might not be the best for your cat’s claws. Pets might bite or eat them, or errors in application can make them unsafe. Trimming is the better option for most pet parents.

Frequently asked questions

Can overgrown cat claws cause health problems?

Yes! Overgrown nails can lead to severe injuries to the paw pad. It can also lead to overextension of your cat’s ligaments and tendons.

How do you trim a cat’s claws by yourself?

First, gather the right tools (such as a “pet pair” of human nail clippers or guillotine-style cutters, as well as styptic powder. Then, use our guide to hold your cat correctly as you clip. Reward after with pets and treats!

How do you trim a cat’s nails when they don’t like it?

Go slowly, and pay attention to any possible distress cues. These can include “yelling,” hissing, spitting, or long, extended meows. Be sure to take breaks as needed, and reward with a treat to begin to build a positive association between trimming sessions.

How do you know where to cut a cat’s nails?

Consulting Google Images or your vet can be helpful as you learn how to cut your cat’s nails. They can help you to visualize the “quick,” a blood-rich tube that contains vital tissue and nerve endings in the claw.