How To Trim Cat Nails

Key takeaway

Nail trimming is a stressful experience for cats and their pet parents. However, you can make the experience more positive and train your cat to tolerate having their nails trimmed. The key is to create a relaxing environment and reward good behavior.

As a pet parent, you must perform some essential grooming to ensure the health and wellness of your pet. These activities include cat dental care, learning how to clean cat ears, and nail trimmings. 

Cats need their nails trimmed regularly. While they can take care of many basic grooming functions, they can't cut their own nails. Unfortunately, many cats don't tolerate nail trimmings, making them unpleasant experiences for both cats and their pet parents. Cats typically have anxiety about having their nails trimmed, and many will display certain behaviors, such as meowing or restlessness.

Luckily, any cat can be trained to tolerate nail trimming, even though they'll likely never enjoy themselves. Wondering how to trim cat nails? Then, you've come to the right place. This article will discuss the importance of trimming cats' nails and how to do it. 

How Do You Know A Cat's Nails Are Too Long?

Most indoor cats should have their nails trimmed every few weeks, and you'll know when it's time to trim your cat's nails if they get stuck in the carpet, on furniture, or on other soft surfaces.1 In addition, cats with long nails can't fully retract their nails, and you may even be able to see their nails curved and grown over the paw pad. 

Cats' nails don't stop growing and if they grow long enough, they may crack or break, causing extreme pain, discomfort, or infection. Additionally, if the nails grow over the paw pad, they can cause pain and mobility issues.1

Why You Shouldn't Let Your Cat's Nails Get Too Long

Long nails can cause pain in cats, and nail trimming is an effective alternative to declawing which can contribute to behavioral and health issues in cats.2 Overgrown cat nails can become so long that they grow into the foot pad, causing pain, discomfort, and even the potential for infection. If the nails are growing into the foot pad, they'll be more difficult to trim because walking on them can cause your cat pain, making them less likely to tolerate the experience. 

If the nail grows into the foot pad, they may have mobility issues because walking hurts. Cats will compensate for this pain by changing their gait, leading to joint issues. 

In addition, when your cat's nails get too long, they can get stuck in carpet fibers or other soft materials, pulling the nail and causing pain. Even if the cat doesn't experience pain, their nails getting stuck in furniture, carpet, and your clothing can cause damage. 

Long cat nails are also dangerous to humans because they can cause deeper scratches. Even if your cat doesn't scratch you now and then, they may walk on or knead you with their paws. If their nails are too long, they could accidentally scratch you, causing injury. 

Tools For Trimming Cat Nails 

Before you can start trimming your cat's claws, you should gather all the supplies you need. Ensuring you have the right tools will prevent the prolonging of an anxiety-ridden experience for cats and pet parents. 

The tools you need to effectively trim your cat's nails are:

  • Nail trimmer or grinder: Some cats prefer grinders because they don't have to hear the clipping sound of their nails. However, some may react poorly to the sound of the grinder since it's a more constant noise. If this is your first time trimming your cat's nails, you might have to try both to determine which is easiest for you and your cat.  There is also the risk of getting fur caught in the grinder if you have a long haired cat. 
  • Treats: Treats can help make the experience more positive for your cat. When you reward them with treats throughout the process, you slowly train them to tolerate having their nails trimmed. 
  • Styptic powder: Styptic powder can be used to stop the bleeding if you accidentally trim your cat's quick. 
  • A towel: Some cats try to wiggle their way out of their pet parents' arms during nail trimmings, while others may bite and scratch to get free from their grasp. Wrapping your cat in a towel can prevent them from accidentally scratching you. 
  • Someone to help: Trimming a cat's nails is easier when you have someone to help. This helper can hold the cat while you trim and shorten the time the process takes. 

Types of cat nail clippers

Types Of Nail Clippers For Cats

There are a few different tools you may use to clip cat nails. Both are effective, but some pet parents prefer one over the other. The types of nail clippers you can use include: 

  • Guillotine-style clippers: Guillotine-style clippers have holes where you'll place the nail. Many pet parents prefer this type of clipper because they're easy to use. However, since you have to place your cat's nail in the hole, guillotine-style clippers may be more difficult if your cat is squirming. In addition, guillotine-style clippers may cause cracking due to the force placed on the nail. Nail splitting is more common in dogs but can also occur in cats. 
  • Scissor-style clippers: Scissor-style clippers are the preferred type of clipper for dogs, but they're also effective for cats. Since there's no hole you have to put your cat's claws into, they are easier to use on cats, and many groomers prefer them. 
  • Plier clippers: Plier-style nail clippers have a spring, making them ideal for thick nails. These nail clippers have the same blade type as scissor clippers with a good grip to give you more control. 
  • Nail grinders: If your cat doesn't like nail clippers, you can try a nail grinder that files the cat's nails. Unfortunately, many pets don't like the sound of the nail grinder, but they can make the experience more comfortable if your cat can learn to tolerate the sound. 

Tips for trimming cat nails

Trimming Cat Nails: Step-By-Step

After choosing the right cat nail clippers, you can gather your supplies and prepare to trim your cat's nails. Since many cats get anxious when having their nails trimmed, it's always best to ensure your cat is calm before grooming them. Learning how to cut cat nails is easy, but the process of doing it isn't. Be patient with yourself and your cat. 

1. Place Your Cat In Your Lap

Depending on the type of clippers you use, it's typically easiest to have your cat sit on your lap while you trim their nails. However, you can also trim their nails while your cat is on their side, depending on what makes your cat more comfortable. Unfortunately, some cats may need to be restrained, so you should have a helper around if you know your cat struggles through the process. 

2. Be Careful With The Quick

The quick is the pink portion of the nail that contains nerves and blood vessels.3 If you accidentally cut it, it will bleed, so you should have styptic powder nearby to quickly stop the bleeding. When trimming your cat's nails, take the paw in one hand and use your thumb to press down on the paw behind the claw so the nails extend. 

Once you see the nail, you can quickly trim it, but try not to trim too much off because you can nip the quick. 

3. Get Assistance From A Vet If You Have Difficulty

Clipping cat nails can be stressful for both of you, so you can always ask your vet for help if your cat struggles. Most veterinary clinics offer services for nail clippings for both cats and dogs in which the vet tech can clip your cat's nails for you during their appointment. Of course, depending on how fast your cat's nails grow, it may mean taking them to the vet every month for nail trimmings, which is more expensive. However, many pet parents prefer to let the vet do it to avoid the hassle at home. 

If you want to trim your cat's nails at home, but your cat is too anxious, talk to a vet about anxiety medication they only take during stressful events. Medications like trazodone and gabapentin for cats may calm your cat's nerves and allow them to slowly learn to accept nail trimmings. 

4. Cut Nails Regularly

How often you have to trim your cat's nails depends on how fast they grow. Some cats only need their front nails trimmed, while others need all their nails trimmed regularly. Outdoor cats need their nails trimmed less often because they walk on pavement, rocks, and other materials that wear down the nail faster. Monitor how fast your cat's nails grow to estimate how often they should be trimmed. What If A Cat Won't Let You Cut Their Nails?

Cat panic attacks can occur as soon as you pull out the nail clippers or later in the process when you grab their paw. Learning how to trim a cat's nails when they don't let you can be difficult. Cats are protective of their paws and nails; if they've had a bad experience having their nails clipped before, they may become even more anxious. If your cat doesn't let you clip their nails, it could be because they're too stressed. You should always trim their nails in a quiet place when they are calm and stay away from distractions like windows and other pets.3 Most cats must be trained to tolerate having their nails trimmed, so you can expect them to struggle throughout the entire process until they have learned to accept it. 

Depending on your cat's temperament, you may not be able to trim all of their nails at once. Instead, you might have to focus on training them to have their nails trimmed. Using reward-based training, any pet can learn how to tolerate nail clippings, and even though training takes time, it will be well worth it when your cat can sit through having their claws trimmed. To train your cat to tolerate nail clippings, always have treats and cat toys with you to make the experience more positive. When you successfully clip a nail, reward your cat with treats and praise before moving on to the next. If your cat struggles, you may need to clip multiple nails quickly and reward them afterward.

You can also wrap your cat in a towel to prevent them from scratching you. The towel will gently restrain them, allowing you to focus on trimming their nails. However, having a second person who can help you by keeping your cat comfortable and rewarding them with treats while you trim their nails is also helpful. 

Man trimming his cat’s nails

Final Notes

Learning how to trim a cat's nails properly takes time, especially if you have an anxious cat. While it may be tempting to avoid the experience altogether, your cats need their nails trimmed regularly to prevent pain, injury, and infection. Every cat owner should know how to trim their cat’s nails at home, since this is part of routine pet care.

Training your cat for nail clippings is key to ensuring you can properly care for them at home. Talk to a Dutch vet if you're worried about your cat's nails. We can discuss different treatment options for anxiety to make the process easier for you and your cat and address concerns about infections and injury in cats due to nail overgrowth. Try Dutch today

References

  1. "How Often Should You Trim a Cat's Nails?" PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/news/view/how-often-should-you-trim-cats-nails-37807.

  2. "How to Trim Your Cat's Nails." The Humane Society of the United States, https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/trimming-cats-claws/.

  3. "Cat Nail Clipping: How and When to Trim Your Cat's Claws." WebMD, https://pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/cat-nail-clipping-care.