HEALTH & CARE

How to Cut Cat Nails: Wooing your Cat into a Blissful Session

A person triming a cat's claws
Jeremy Vaughn
Written by Jeremy Vaughn

In the wild, cats use their sharp claws to catch their prey and defend themselves. In a safe indoor environment, however, they use those nails for less productive things. To keep them from digging into your skin and tearing up your furniture, you need an extra feline related skill on how to cut cat nails so they won’t accidentally hurt you, your other pet, or perhaps even themselves.

While trimming a cat’s nails is a meticulous art that eludes many, it’s possible to go about it like a pro. It’s all about the technique and prior preparation. Also, practice does make perfect where this exercise is concerned. With the right tools and the right approach, you will be able to finish trimming your cat’s nails—all five on the front paws and four on the back paws—in ten minutes or less even if you have to do it without assistance.

A person cutting a cat nails

In this article, we explore all you should do to prepare kitty for his manicure. We will also explain why this exercise of trimming your cat’s nails is inevitable and truly necessary. We also give a step by step guide on how to skillfully go about the exercise so you can emerge from it injury-free and your cat won’t be traumatized.

Why Go Through the Trouble?

Don’t imagine that your cat will stretch out his paws and let you nip his nails away. Cats are usually very bothered about manicures. They will naturally put up a fight as you attempt to trim their claws.

You might think: Why go through the trouble? I mean, outdoor cats don’t have anyone to trim their nails for them, yet they manage pretty well. It is true that cats have a natural way of trimming their nails. Their natural urge to scratch does a good job of filling their nails and removing old claws.

A cat scratching a toy

Outdoor cats have plenty of places to do this. They rarely need help with trimming their nails. In hopes of achieving the same effect, pet owners provide scratching posts for indoor cats. Many indoor kitties easily learn to direct their urge to scratch to these posts.

However, even with scratching posts, indoor cats and elderly cats will still sport overgrown claws. The scratches on your sofas or the ones on your skin should be enough motivation for you to cut kitty’s nails. However, there are more reasons why this exercise is inevitable:

  • Your cat may injure himself. Overgrown nails are a threat to your kitty. He may end up scratching himself. Furthermore, an overgrown nail will curl inwards and injure his paw and may cause infections.

  • To take care of broken nails. Older cats will often have broken nails. Such nails can cause untold damage to your kitty, members of your household, and your furniture as well.

  • Cat scratches can cause infections in humans. A scratch by a flea-infested cat may lead to a dangerous disease known as cat scratch disease. Infections may also occur from germs lodging in the cat’s claws. This is mainly because cats dig into their litter boxes with their claws.

Having established the importance of cutting kitty’s nails, we now need to discuss the frequency at which you should take part this exercise. You should check for overgrown and broken nails in your kitty every two weeks. The good thing is that the more you do it, the easier it gets. It will eventually become a favorite bonding activity for you and your cat.

Owner trimming her Cat-Nail

But if you’re just getting started, you and your cat may not know how to proceed. Your cat won’t like it and neither will you as he starts to try to wiggle out of your grip—making it impossible for you to clip for fear of cutting into his flesh. But don’t worry. With the right preparations, every nail-cutting session will be easier to get through.

Preparing Kitty for Nail-Cutting

So you wake up one morning and notice that your feline has scratched up your expensive sofa. You check his paws and notice his zealous claws. You then grab your kitty and dive right into cutting his claws. Wrong approach!

Cutting your cat’s nails is an intricate process that requires prior preparation. To your feline, it is an unnatural happening. He will need lots of luring to yield his claws. You, on the other hand, will need tons of patience. Here are three crucial tips on how to prepare for this exercise:

Tip #1: Study Your Cat’s Paws and Nails

Ever explored the number of toes your kitty has? Cats generally have 18 toes in total—five on each front paw and four on each back paw. Some cats, however, suffer a condition known as Polydactyly and can have as many as 30 toes. Others may also have fewer than 18.

Close-up image of a cat nails

Assuming your feline falls under the majority category, you have 18 nails to contend with. You also need to orient yourself with the part of the nail that requires trimming and the part that should be avoided at all costs. Otherwise, you run the risk of injuring your cat and jeopardizing the whole trimming project.

As you study your cat’s nails, take note of the quick. This is the area that appears pink and sometimes has a red tinge. The quick is the part of the nail where blood vessels and nerves are located. While trimming his nails, always ensure you trim a few millimeters from where the quick ends. Cutting into the quick will cause pain and bleeding.

Tip #2: Habitually Handle Kitty’s Paws

Which parts of your cat do you pet? We can bet your focus is mainly on his chin, behind his ears, cheeks, and towards his tail. Ever thought of massaging his paws? While we’re sure you have been tempted once or twice to squeeze down on those pink paw pads, cats generally like to keep their feet to themselves. You may have restrained yourself because you’d like to respect their wishes, but this is actually the wrong approach. You have to get him used to it.

Before embarking on cutting your cat’s nails, first form a habit of handling his paws daily. As you cuddle with him, gently start massaging his paws. However, do not force it. If kitty resists the touch, simply stop and try the following day.

Owner cuddling with his cat

This is also the time to stock up on kitty’s treats. Whenever he allows you to handle his paws, reward him with his favorite treat. This will go a long way in encouraging him to yield his paws. Once your cat is comfortable with you handling his feet, it’s time to launch the next move! You need to practice extending your cat’s claws. You do this by gently pressing the cat’s toe between your thumb and index finger.

Your thumb should be on top of the cat’s toe and your index finger beneath it. As you press down gently, the retracted nail should slide out. As you practice this, remember not to force kitty. Only go as far as he allows. Also, when your cat finally allows you to extend his nails, reward him with a special treat coupled with verbal praises. Practice handling kitty’s paws until you sense that he has fully warmed up to the new habit.

Tip #3: Orient Kitty with the Clippers

Your main tool for this task will be a pair of cat clippers. You can get them from your local pet store. Some people swear by human nail clippers, but it would be wiser to get kitty her own special clippers since a cat’s nails are obviously structured differently.

Image of ustensils used to trim cat nails

By now you have your cat comfortable with his feet being handled and nails being extended. Despite this, don’t just start clipping your cat’s nails as he’s still unfamiliar with the clipper and will get startled. Extend one of his nails and use the clippers to cut a piece of raw spaghetti as kitty watches. Repeat the process until your feline gets used to the clippers and the sound they produce. Remember to reward your cat after this exercise too.

Tip #4: Have Your ‘Ammunition’ Ready

Having lured kitty into his new paw handling habit, consider yourself well prepared for the task ahead. It is always wise to have all the items you need ready before diving into the exercise. Here is a list of what you need:

  • A pair of cat clippers with sharp blades

  • A towel (optional)

  • A good source of lighting

  • A styptic pencil to stop bleeding just in case you cut into the quick

  • Kitty’s special treats

You can also get an extra pair of hands to assist in restraining your cat. However, if you feel confident that you and kitty can handle things on your own, go ahead and take it in your stride.

Step by Step Guide on How to Cut Your Cat’s Nails

Preparing your cat for the process is the most crucial part. It also helps boost your confidence in taking on the exercise. Having gone through the preparation process explained above, cutting your cat’s nails will be a much simpler exercise. Here are five simple steps that you should follow:

Step One: Make Kitty Comfortable

Have your cat sit on your lap facing away from you. You can also have him sit on a table or countertop. Just make sure he is comfortable. You can wrap him in a towel to restrain him. If you have someone helping you, kitty can sit on their lap and face you.

Image of a comfortable kitty

If your cat loves to have his coat brushed, your helper can brush him soothingly. This will help him perceive the exercise as another of his usual petting or grooming sessions. The room should be well lit for you to be able to cut the nails without injuring your cat. It should also be devoid of distractions and other pets.

Step Two: Massage Kitty’s Paws and Extend a Nail

By now your cat is used to his feet being handled. Massage his paw and gently get hold of one toe. Extend the nail by having your thumb on top of the toe and your index finger beneath it.

Step Three: Carefully Clip the Nails

After extending the nail, take note of the quick—the pink colored area of your cat’s nails. Place your clippers a few millimeters away from the quick. 2 mm away is a safe bet. That part of the nail should be clear white.

Image of a vet carefully clipping kitty nails

Place the clippers vertically on the nail and trim it top to bottom. Do not cut from side to side as this will exert unnecessary pressure and may split the nail. In case you accidentally cut into the quick, do not fret. Swiftly place the styptic pencil against the claw for a minute or two. The bleeding should stop immediately.

Step Four: Reward Your Cat

After successfully trimming one or two nails, pause and reward kitty with a treat. Give him verbal praises too and let him know how proud you are of him.

If kitty is really anxious at this point, he will wave his tail from side to side and glare hotly at the clipper. This shouldn’t happen if you have gotten him used to the clipper and the paw-handling beforehand, but if it does happen, you should help the kitty calm down first instead of pinning him down and trying to finish the job as quickly as possible.

A cat beeing rewarded by owner

Close the door to the room then let him loose. This way he won’t be able to run too far away, but he will be able to put some distance between himself and the clipper, which will calm him down. Give him some treats and cajole him to sit in your lap once again. Once he does, the clipping session can restart.

Step Five: Repeat the Process until All the Nails are Trimmed

Only trim as many nails as your cat will allow. In the beginning, with some of the more skittish cats, no amount of treats or cajoling may help. In this case, let time heal the wounds.

A person cutting cat nails

For first-timers, it may take a week or longer to finish working on all his nails. Be patient and do not force him. With time, you will be able to cut all his nails in one sitting. Do not forget to reward him for every successful trimming session. This will help him look forward to the exercise.

Additional Tips

Here are three bonus tips to ensure a flawless cat nail-cutting session:

Tip #1: Proper Timing is Everything.

Don’t embark on cutting your cat’s nails when kitty is most active. Instead, do it when he is exhausted from playing and well fed. This will ensure he does not easily resist your attempts. Some cat owners even cut their cat’s nails when their kitties are sound asleep.

Tip #2: Start Early

If you have kittens, start the process of cutting their nails early. You can safely trim their nails from the age of eight weeks.

exhausted little kitty laying on the floor

They will consequently grow up embracing the process as a part of their routine.

Tip #3: Don’t get a Stranger to Help

If you need help in restraining your cat as you cut his nails, it is best to ask someone your kitty is familiar with. Getting someone whom your kitty deems a stranger may make kitty anxious and jeopardize the process.

Wrap Up

Cutting a cat’s nails is one of the most daunting tasks cat owners are faced with. Many simply give up trying and spend a lot of money taking their felines to veterinarians or professional groomers to do the job.

This need not be the case. Cutting your kitty’s nails is an exercise that will demand a lot of your patience. But you cannot give up. Once you master the art, kitty and you will breeze through the exercise. As we have discussed, success in this task lies in the preparation. If you can woo your cat into trusting you with their paws, you have won the battle halfway.

A vet cutting little kitty nails

Cat owners should begin by getting their kitties used to the practice of having their feet handled, then swiftly move on to the simple process of cutting the nails. Patience and persistence are the key to success in this task.

How often do you cut your cat’s nails? Was it tough when you first started? Please share with us any additional tips that have worked for you in this exercise by placing a comment below.

About the author
Jeremy Vaughn
Jeremy Vaughn

Jeremy Vaughn is a member of Canadian Professional Pet Stylists, who lives in Winnipeg. Creating new looks for cats and other pets is his passion. Jeremy shares his house with the wife and wonderful Siamese cat.

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