How to trim cat nails is a very important part of the grooming process. Ideally, it should be done once every 2-3 weeks to prevent claws from getting overgrown (how often to trim your cat’s claws can really depend on the cat – like human nails, all claws can grow at different rates depending on genes, diet and more). Even though some cat owners are afraid to trim their cats’ nails at home, the technique is quite easy to learn and with enough practice, it can become part of the routine. Find out everything about trimming your cat’s claws in the following sections.
As a disambiguation, trimming a cat’s claws is not the same thing as declawing a cat. Trimming means cutting the top portion of the claw, which is a painless process similar to cutting a person’s nails. Declawing, on the other hand, is removing the claw entirely. A comprehensive article about declawing can be found here.
Why Do I Need to Trim My Cat’s Claws Anyway?
Similar to how human nails grow, cats’ claws have a rapid growth spree meant to ensure that they are ready to fight. A cat’s claws must be hard and sharp because scratching is an important part of the feline fighting technique. Household cats sharpen their claws periodically, but this is insufficient to keep them trim as well. This is why they must have their claws trimmed on a regular basis.
How To Trim Your Cat’s Nails
Before starting out, you should make sure that you understand what you have to do, find the best tools for trimming the claws, and, finally, learn the technique. Here is everything you need to know:
1. What Happens When You Clip Your Cat’s Nails
The cat nail has a long keratinous part, which keeps growing. This is the part you have to clip. The other part of the nail, which is closest to the paw also has bone and muscular tissue on the inside, as well as a lot of blood vessels. This interior portion is called the quick and it is crucial that it is not cut when trimming the nail because it will lead to heavy bleeding.
Most cats have transparent nails, which means that you can see the quick and easily avoid cutting into it. You may be tempted to place the clipper perpendicular to the cat’s quick, but it is much better to keep it at a smaller angle and to stay as far from it as possible.
It is much better to trim the claw less and to repeat the trimming process sooner than to risk cutting too deep. This is one of the common mistakes that cat owners make when trimming their cat’s claws. On the other hand, if you do cut the quick, do not panic. Use a styptic pencil or apply styptic power to stop the bleeding, or simply apply pressure to the area.
2. What Tools Should You Use To Trim Your Cat’s Nails
There is a wide variety of nail trimmers available on the market and it is up to you to find the best tools for trimming your cat’s claws depending on what feels right to you. Here are the main types of clippers you can choose from:
Human Nail Clippers
You can easily trim your cat’s claws by using a pair of standard nail clippers – many cat owners use their own nail clippers to clip their cat’s claws. While they may not the most comfortable to use, they can get the job done if you can perform the technique properly. Purchase on Amazon. In the video below, you can see one of these in use.
Pliers-Like Nail Clippers
Similar to pliers in shape, this type of cat nail clipper comes with easy-grip handles. It features two circular blades that cut through the claw at the same time. It is far easier to use than the human nail clippers because you get far better control of the cutting angle. Purchase on Amazon.
Scissor-Like Nail Clippers
This type of nail clippers has a scissor-like handle, which gives you a very good grip on the tool because it is secured by the fingers. This improves precision during the trimming process and helps prevent injuries. Purchase on Amazon. You can see an example in the clip below:
Guillotine-Like Nail Clippers
This type of nail clipper has only one blade that will cut through the nail and a rounded part that will keep the nail into place. The main advantage is that you get better control of the nail and it is easier to avoid cutting into the quick. Purchase on Amazon. You can see one of these in use in the video below:
Zen Nail Clippers
This innovative product is probably the safest cat nail clipper available on the market. It is a scissor-shaped clipper with a conical blade that cuts through the nail. The blade is made wide enough to cut through the claw, but not the quick. Purchase on Amazon. Look at the following video to see the Zen Clippers in action:
3. How To Trim Your Cat’s Claws
First, you have to make sure that your cat is sitting comfortably to avoid any additional stress. You must have access to its paws, but there are a few possible ways it can sit for this:
- place the cat belly-down on a table and place it perpendicularly to you
- sit down and take the cat into your arms with its back turned to you
It does not matter if you start with the front or the hind paws, but remember that there are 4 claws to cut on each of the hind paws and 5 claws on each of the front paws (unless your kitty is polydactyl). Here are the main steps for the cutting process:
- To start trimming, expose the claw by gently pressing on it with your fingers. Cats have retractable claws and you usually see just the tip, if anything. To trim claws properly, they have to be fully exposed. If your cat has long hair, you will also have to pull aside the hair around the claws.
- Once you can see it clearly, take a good look to determine where the quick is because that is the part you do not want to cut. Cats have transparent claws, which makes this very easy. The quick is the pink portion in the center and it will be easy to recognize.
- Avoid cutting right above the quick to prevent cutting it, but also to make sure your cat doesn’t feel pain after trimming. If the claws are cut too short, the area may be painful for a short while because the innervated parts of the quick are exposed to physical stimuli.
In the clip below, you will see that I cut my cat’s claws a little differently than suggested above – in time you will find your own method that you are comfortable with. I have cut my cat’s claws since they were kittens, so they are used to having their claws cut.
My sister, who adopted rehomed Ragdoll cats, had to cut their claws differently. This video was taken in Jan 2016:
And now in November 2018, they are much more comfortable with the process:
Keep in mind that cats can act unpredictably when their claws are trimmed. Some of them get agitated and some can even become aggressive. These simple guidelines should keep you safe while performing this maneuver:
- Wear long sleeves to avoid scratching on your arms.
- Do not have your face within the cat’s scratching reach.
- Have a towel ready in case your cat begins to bite.Always pay attention to your cat’s behavior. If it gets too scared or too agitated, take a break or stop.
How to Get the Cat Comfortable With the Trimming Process
One of the most common mistakes that cat owners make when trimming their cats’ claws is rushing into it. The cat gets scared and they become agitated or even aggressive. It is essential that the cat is allowed to accommodate with the tool. Regardless of the type of nail clippers you choose, before you actually use them, take your time and allow your cat to smell them, play with them, and get comfortable with the tool. This will make a significant difference in the process.
Then, after you finish trimming its nails, make sure to reward your cat every single time. Whether it is with kind words and affection or with actual treats, it is important that the reward is part of the reflex created around this routine process.
Another important thing is getting the cat used to having its claws trimmed from an early age. Kittens must also have their nails cut periodically. This can be done in a playful manner so that the kitten does not associate it with a stressful experience. New cat owners should be aware of this fact because it can make trimming easier for years to come.
What Happens If I Don’t Trim My Cat’s Claws?
Cats instinctively know that their claws must not get too long. They will do their best to keep them to an acceptable length. While this may be quite easy to do outdoors on abrasive surfaces such as tree bark, when household cats want to trim and sharpen their claws, they will use whatever seems most appropriate to them. This could be the sofa, an armchair, or a piece of furniture, which is why it is very important to have a cat scratcher in the house. Check out the best cat scratching posts on the market today.
However, in the vast majority of cases, this is not enough to keep claws at an acceptable length. If indoor cats do not have their claws trimmed regularly, these will become overgrown. The claws continue to grow in length and follow a rounded path, leading back to the cat’s pads. They also grow in width, getting closer and closer to the claw’s inner margins.
If the claws are left untrimmed for a longer period of time, they can cause local injuries to the cat’s pads. The physical and structural particularities of this area make it highly predisposed to infections, which means that footpad injuries often lead to complications.
Another potential consequence is limping. Injuries in this area are painful and when the cat steps on the affected paws, the pain becomes acute. This will make it avoid stepping on the paw or paws that hurt. As a result, the cat will develop a limp.
If treated in due time, this limp can be eliminated completely. However, if the footpad injuries are permitted to advance, they will affect more profound and additional tissue, and they will become chronic. In turn, this could lead to permanent locomotion issues as well.
Should You Do It Yourself or Go to the Vet?
Trimming a cat’s claws is a simple maneuver that most cat owners can perform themselves. However, it can become very complicated if the cat is agitated during the process or if the owner is scared to do it. In this case, it is much better to take the cat to the veterinarian’s office to have its claws trimmed to avoid injuries to the cat and the owner alike.
Some cats can get quite aggressive when having their nails trimmed. If the cat owner can’t control the cat properly, it is safer to take it to the vet. In some cases, the cats are not aggressive anymore when taken out of their territory and the trimming can be done quickly and effortlessly. Lastly, if you notice any changes in the color or the structure of your cat’s claws, it is best to take it to the vet.