Nail Trimming for Cats: Step-by-Step Guide for Pet Owners

Do you remember that feeling you got as a kid when you knew you were in trouble? Getting sent to the principal’s office, waiting at the doctor’s office, getting caught in the act of some mischievous ten-year-old shenanigan—whatever it may have been. There was a sinking in your stomach, a feeling of imminent dread. You know what I’m talking about.

Imagine that, but ten times worse. That’s what your cat feels whenever he or she knows a nail trimming is on the horizon.

And you may feel that way too when you know it’s that time. You may be dreading the almost inevitable scars on your arms or the quick head jerks so that you may be able to see with two eyes another day. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, pet grooming in general doesn’t have to be a big fiasco.

There doesn’t have to be a big fight between you and your cat. So here are some ways to make nail trimming a little more enjoyable for you and your cat.


How to Prepare a Cat for Nail Trimming


  • Start them young. It would be optimal to introduce this new approach to nail clipping when your cat is young so that she learns fresh. However, this can still be done when your cat is an adult. You may have to do a little more prep work, but it can still be done.


  • Figure out the best spot in your house or apartment. Make sure that you sit far enough away from a window that may have a view to other animals. If you have other pets, keep them out. It would be wise to make sure your cat has already eaten; it would be even better if your cat is in a more relaxed and sleepy mood.


  • Get familiar with your cat’s paws. When she is sitting on your lap, make sure to talk to your cat. Show her some love. Gently touch her paws and make sure she is relaxed. If she is pulling away, don’t tightly grip her paws or try to keep them in place. Just try your best to keep in contact. Follow her paws but don’t pinch or pull them back.


  • Practice with the paws. Give one of her paw pads a soft press to make sure that her claws extend. Do this for only one of her paw pads at a time; and after each time, give her a treat. Repeat this step every day with a different nail for at least a week. You might have to do it up to two weeks depending on how rowdy your cat is, or if you are starting this routine with an older cat.


  • Do some dry runs. While you are acquainting your cat, keep in mind that you’ll want to ease her into getting used to the sight, smell, and sound of the clippers. According to the WebMD Veterinary Reference from the ASPCA, the best way to acclimate your cat to the clippers is to put a piece of uncooked spaghetti in your clippers and hold them near your cat and let her sniff them. You can put a treat on them if you feel it will help. While you massage your cat’s paw pads, hold the clippers near your cat. When her nails extend, clip the spaghetti while softly holding your cat’s paw. This way she becomes aware and used to the sound the clippers make.


  • Make sure you have the right supplies for the job. There are scissor-tight nail clippers specially designed for cats. Find one with a comfortable grip, so that the process is that much easier for you. This is something that should be dealt with delicately and with much care, so feel free to consult your veterinarian for further advice and any questions you may have.


How to Trim Your Cat’s Nails

Now to the actual trimming. With everything you have done so far, remember that you need to do this slowly and carefully. One nail at a time. Remember to talk to your cat, to massage her paws and make sure she’s comfortable before you begin. Before you clip the first nail, remember to not clip too close to the quick! And don’t cut from over the top. Clip her nails from the side, as it is more comfortable for both the cat and you.

After you clip the first nail, give her a treat. Cut only the white part of the nail, at the top. During the first session, only trim one or two nails. Never cut more than that at first. You want your cat to become as comfortable as possible. Give it a day before you try again. You can slowly work your way to doing one paw per day. And once your cat is fully comfortable, you can start trimming both of her claws in one sitting. After every session, reward your cat with a few treats! Show her that you don’t want to hurt her and that she is doing a great job!

As you get more comfortable with trimming your cat’s nails, don’t get too aggressive. There is a sensitive area on your cat’s nail that is referred to as the quick. It is the pink, larger part of the nail, right at the base where the nail meets her skin, where the nerves and blood vessels are located. Be sure to become familiar with this part of your cat’s nails, as cutting down all the way to the quick is extremely painful for your cat. Don’t try to get as close as you can to the quick, either. It’s better to cut a little less off the nail than to clip part of the quick. Since mistakes happen, it would be smart to keep a styptic powder close by so that you can quickly stop any bleeding. If you don’t have the powder, apply direct pressure.

One last thought: It’s easier said than done, but don’t be nervous! Relax, follow the precautions and steps, and your cat will work with you.

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