How do I cut my cat's claws?
Read time: 4 min
Hardcore cat parenting isn’t always pretty. Sometimes you have to love hard, even when love bites. You have to do all you can to make sure your cat is comfortable, pain-free and healthy. And trimming your cat’s claws is a big part of that.
But how do you know when your cat’s claws are too long? Or too short? And do they even need cutting at all? Let’s discover all about how to clip your cat’s claws.
Does my cat need their claws trimmed?
Unlike dogs, cats have retractable claws. They aren’t out all the time, so they don’t wear down easily during exercise. Usually, regular scratching – for instance, with a scratching post – keeps claws in good condition. Sometimes though, cats need a little more help.
Certain cats, especially indoor and older cats, are predisposed to excessive nail length. Sometimes a claw can become so long that it curls over and grows into the pad of the toe. This is a very painful condition and requires veterinary attention.Regular nail trims are a great way to help avoid that.
How often should I cut my cat’s claws?
Older cats may require nail trims as often as every two weeks, but active cats usually require less frequent attention. Remember that it’s better to trim your cat’s claws a small amount more frequently, rather than having to cut a lot at once.
What do I need to cut my cat’s claws?
- Pet nail clippers
- Styptic powder or veterinary wound powder in case of emergencies
How to cut your cat’s claws
1. Start when they’re calm and take it slow
It’s a good idea to only try to cut your cat’s nails when they’re calm and relaxed. Start slowly, by simply touching your cat’s feet and gently extending a nail, and then rewarding them with praise or even a treat.
2. Don't do too much too soon
Once they tolerate the first step without fuss you can move onto clipping a nail. To begin with, one or two nails per session is enough. Try to keep your expectations low initially: if you push your cat so that they feel stressed or claustrophobic, they’ll resist having their nails trimmed in future.
3. Try not to restrain them if you don't have to
The aim is to be able to cut your cat’s claws without much restraint. You should be able to do it either on your own or with the help of another person to gently hold and comfort them. Some cats need to be wrapped in towels to have their nails cut, but this level of restraint is only necessary when cats are stressed by the procedure.
4. Practice makes perfect
All cats are different, but frequent, short, gentle practice sessions will help many cats learn to tolerate nail trimming while staying relatively relaxed and cooperative. Sometimes though, your cat might just be having none of it. And at that point, it’s best to take them to the vet to have that vital pedicure done professionally.
5. Focus on the front paws
Most cats have 18 toes – five on each front paw and four on each hind paw. Generally, the claws of the back fee don’t grow as long, so they may not need regular clipping.
The main focus will usually be on the front feet. The most important to look at is your cat’s dewclaw: that’s the claw slightly higher up on the edge of your cat’s paw, almost like a thumb. The dewclaw is most prone to growing excessively long, because it doesn’t make scratching contact as often as the other claws do.
6. Try not to cut the quick
Claws are made up of an outer layer of keratin and an inner layer composed of nerves and blood vessels, known as the quick. The quick can usually be seen in cats as a pink area, roughly triangular in shape, at the first part of the nail, closest to the toe.
Cutting the quick is painful and will cause bleeding, so take care to only cut beyond this point, with a safety margin of a few millimetres. If you can’t see the quick clearly, aim to cut the nail from the point where it curves downwards into a point.
If you do happen to cut the quick, the bleeding should stop within a few minutes, but it helps to apply a little styptic powder to the end of the nail if possible.
Then, first things first: forgive yourself. These things happen sometimes. And second, stop the session and offer treats, then return to step one in a week or two, giving your cat time to get over their fears.
9. Aim for top to bottom, if you can
Trimming is most efficient if the cutting blade makes contact with each nail from top to bottom, rather than side to side. When the blades make contact from the sides of the nail there’s a slightly greater risk of crushing the nail and causing discomfort.
That being said though, the best way to cut the nail is however your cat allows you to. What’s important is sharp nail clippers: blunt clippers are more likely to crush than cut the nail.
10. Associate the clip sound with good things
Sometimes, cats can be sensitive and frightened by the sound of the clipper. If they’ve had a nail cut to the quick before, they associate the sound with pain. Practice extending the claw, clipping a piece of uncooked spaghetti (it makes a similar sound), and then rewarding your cat.
11. Be patient
When it comes to trimming claws, patience is key. Cats are individuals with strong opinions. Their moods also play a role so be prepared to cut your losses if it’s not going well on a particular day. Take a deep breath, be gentle, and know you’ll get there eventually. In fact, with our advice, we’re sure you’ll nail it.
Need more tips on how to trim your cat’s claws? You can always get in touch with our free in-house vet team and our Cat Experts at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you need tips on the best clippers or you’re ready to show off your cat’s sharp new trim, come to the KatKin Club House, where the hardcore cat parents live.