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How to Trim Your Cat's Nails
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How to Trim Your Cat's Nails

Amelia, Critter Culture Staff
Updated Sep 18, 2020

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While cats take care of most of their basic grooming needs themselves, cat owners have the responsibility of clipping their feline's nails. This is important for many reasons, including preventing damage to your furniture and yourself. Many naturally shy away from restraining their cat and getting on the wrong side of their claws. However, nail trimming doesn’t have to be stressful if it is done in the right way.

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1

Begin at an early age

close up of a man's hand holding a cats paw michellegibson / Getty Images

Kittens are much less likely to object to having their paws handled than adult cats, so get your cat used to their paws being touched at as young an age as possible.

Begin by holding their paw in your open palm before gradually moving on to gently massaging it. When your cat is comfortable with that, apply gentle pressure to each of the toes in turn so that the nails are exposed. Once you're able to do this, you can then introduce the clippers.

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Choose the right moment

A relaxed cat will be easier to handle. Rawpixel / Getty Images

Picking a good time to trim your cat’s nails makes all the difference. A happy, relaxed, and sleepy kitty will be more comfortable with it than one who is stressed, distracted, or wired from an energetic play session.

It's also not necessary to clip all claws at the same time. When you are still getting your cat used to having it done, it may only be possible to do one or two before your cat gets agitated. Let them calm down before trying again.

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Have the right tools to hand

Female veterinarian cutting young Maine Coon cats nails. DjelicS / Getty Images

The right equipment can make your life much easier. Whichever clippers you opt for, ensure that they are sharp. Blunt clippers are much more difficult to use and could damage your cat’s nails. It’s also good to have things like cotton balls within easy reach in case your cat’s claw does start to bleed. Styptic pencils are useful as they help to constrict blood vessels and quickly stop any bleeding.

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Prepare your cat

Your cat needs to be comfortable but in a position when you can reach each of their paws. Zoran_Photo / Getty Images

If your cat is comfortable with having their nails clipped, they will likely be happy to sit on your lap. Having them on their back either facing away from or towards you allows for easy access to each paw.

When your cat is less certain or a bit of a wriggler, the best thing to do is wrap them in a towel. This helps to keep them still and calm. Enlisting the help of a friend is another option. One of you can distract kitty while the other does the trimming.

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Don’t cut too much

Cut the very tip of the claw. Remains / Getty Images

The pink part of the cat’s nail is called the quick. This is where the nerves and the blood vessels are. If you cut into this part, then not only will you hurt your cat, but their nail will bleed. It’s always better to err on the side of caution. Clip the sharp, transparent, very-tip of the nail. If you are not sure where exactly to cut, a vet or professional groomer can help.

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6

If the nail starts to bleed

Owner trimming cat's nails jamesjoong / Getty Images

If you do cut too close to the quick and the nail starts to bleed, keep your cat calm and use the styptic pencil to stem the flow. If you don’t have one, then gently apply pressure using a cotton ball.

Keep in mind that if this happens, your kitty will likely be anxious about having their nails clipped in the future. You will need to take things slowly the next time to regain their trust.

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What to do if they start to stress

Your cat should be calm throughout. GK Hart/Vikki Hart / Getty Images

Even the calmest of cats get nervy sometimes. They may start to move around a lot, making your job that much more challenging. If they do this, then the best thing you can do is to let them go. When a cat is struggling, it is easier for them to get injured, and they may become panicked when you try to clip their nails in the future. Let them have some time to relax before trying again.

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8

Check the rest of the paw

Cat paws closeup PixelsEffect / Getty Images

While you have your cat in this position, check for any signs of injury on their paw pads. Minor scratches and abrasions will usually heal on their own but should be monitored for signs of infection.

Occasionally, dirt, grit, or seeds can become lodged where your cat can’t get to them. Carefully remove these with a pair of blunt tweezers, ensuring that they haven’t punctured the skin.

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9

Check their nails often

Closeup of a household cat using a scratching post IcemanJ / Getty Images

With an indoor cat or an elderly one that spends much of their time sleeping, you will likely need to trim their nails regularly. Their nails may need to be cut either every couple of weeks or once a month, depending on how quickly they grow. Providing your indoor cat with a scratching post will also help keep their nails in check.

With an outdoor cat, nail clipping is not something you really have to worry about. Rough surfaces act as a natural nail file, keeping them at an appropriate length. However, you will need to keep an eye on their dewclaw, found on the inside of the paw, as this one does not touch the ground.

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Ensure a positive experience

Calico cat standing up on hind legs, begging, picking, asking food in living room, doing trick with front paw, claws with woman hand holding treat, meat ablokhin / Getty Images

Many cats are naturally skittish about having their feet touched. Therefore, it’s essential always to make the nail clipping experience a positive one. This gets them used to having it done. Use your kitty’s favorite snacks to reward positive behavior. During early training, you should give them a treat at each stage of the process to help them feel more comfortable.

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