How to Trim Your Cat's Nails

how to trim cat nails
MakiEni's photo / Getty Images

Have you ever tried to trim your cat's nails? It may sound like a daunting task, but it is possible to do without too much difficulty. Most cats can be gradually taught how to tolerate the handling required to do a nail trim. Most cat owners can learn how to safely and easily trim their cats' nails. It all takes time and patience.

Routine nail trimming is an important part of keeping your cat healthy.

If nails are not cared for regularly, they can actually curl under and grow into the paw pads, causing swelling and infection. Although most cats keep this from happening with scratching behavior, it's still important to look at the nails periodically. In addition, long, sharp nails can cause a lot of damage to your property and your lap! Most cats need their nails trimed about every three to six weeks.

Cat Nail Trimmers

To trim tiny kitten nails, you can simply use human nail clippers. However, you will need cat nail trimmers for older kittens and adult cats. There are a few types of cat nail trimmers available at pet supply stores. Many owners prefer the scissors-style or spring-hinge nail trimmers. Others prefer the type that has a guillotine-like blade. It may take some trial and error to learn which type works best for you and your cat. 

After you purchase cat nail trimmers, practice using them on dry spaghetti so you can get the feel of how they cut.

 

Train Your Cat to Tolerate Nail Trims

Before you jump in and start trimming your cat's nails, try getting your cat accustomed to handling. This minimizes stress for your cat and can prevent bites and scratches to you.

The best time to start training your cat to accept handling is when she's a kitten.

However, you can start the process with a cat at any age. It usually takes longer for adult cats to get comfortable being handled for something like a nail trim, especially if the cat has had negative experiences in the past. Go slowly and be patient.

Start with your cat in a relaxed state, such as after a meal. With your cat in your lap, pet her on the body and make sure she is at ease. Next, gently pick up one of your cat's paws. Reward her with a delicious bite of her favorite food if she doesn't pull away. Do this for a few minutes each day, gradually adding in more paws. Next, try gently picking up a paw. Again, do a little more each day, keeping sessions to a few minutes at the most. Work your way up over time. Eventually, try gently squeezing one of her toes to get the nail extended. Remember to reward your cat for calmness. Go back a step if your cat becomes anxious or agitated. 

You are ready to move on once you get to a point where your cat will let you expose most of her claws, one at a time, without making a fuss.

Now it's time to introduce your cat to the nail trimmers. Do this during one of your calm petting sessions. Let your cat sniff and explore the trimmers without moving them at first.

Reward her for her curiosity. Gradually start to move the trimmers, rewarding for calmness. After several days of sessions, try gently touching the trimmers to your cat's paws. Then, try picking up a paw and touching the trimmers to the paw again. Remeber to keep the rewards coming. Again, take a step back if your cat gets upset.

The process of getting your cat ready for a nail trim may take weeks to months. Remember that all cats learn at their own pace. Kittens may even be ready in a few days.

How to Cut Your Cat's Nails Properly

Once your cat seems comfortable with the handling of her paws and the presence of the nail trimmers, it's time to try trimming a few nails. You may only get one nail cut the first time, and that's okay. Going too fast will not only make your cat feel stressed, it can also cause you to get bitten or scratched.

Start with a towel or blanket in your lap to catch the cut nails and keep your cat's nails from digging into your lap. Get your nail trimmers ready. Try to have styptic powder or a styptic pen (sometimes called "Kwik Stop") on hand in case you accidentally cut into the cuticle. This is used to stop bleeding and can be purchased at a pet supply store.

Choose a time when your cat is relaxed. Pick one paw to start with. Some owners prefer to start with a back foot. This is because some cats tolerate it better. Also, if your cats back nails are short, she has less traction if she tries to jump away once you get to her front nails. You may also want to partially wrap the towel around her and lean in a little to keep her in place.

Before trimming the actual nail, you should look at the nail from the side. Most cats have white nails with pink at the base. The pink part contains the cuticle, or "quick," where the nerves and blood vessels are. You do not want to cut this part or it may cause pain and bleeding. Look for the place where the pink ends and the white part begins. Gently squeeze the paw to expose the nail. Use the nail trimmers to quickly cut into the white part about one or two millimeters away from the pink part. Try to keep your cat from jumping off your lap.

Stop and praise your cat, offering a food reward. If your cat is not anxious or agitated, move on and repeat the process on the next paw.

Problems When Trimming Cat Nails

If you accidentally cut too close to the pink part of the nail, your cat may experience brief pain and have some bleeding from the nail. This is called "quicking" the nail. Apply the styptic pen or powder to the area until the bleeding stops. If your cat seems upset, the nail trim should be stopped. You can try again another day.

If your cat is too wiggly to handle for nail trims, you may need to get help from someone else. It may be easier to have one person hold your cat on a table while you focus on the nails. make sure to stop if your cat gets agitated.

If you hear growling or hissing, it's best to stop so no one gets hurt.

If you continue to have trouble getting your cat to be still for nail trims, or if you are still uncomfortable with the process, get some help from a professional. Someone at your vet's office can easily walk you through the process of trimming your cat's nails to help you become more comfortable. They may also be able to offer tips for training and handling your cat.

Some cats will never tolerate nail trims at home from you. You may always need to bring your cat to the vet or the groomer for regular nail trims.