How do I cut my cat's claws?

As with all cat grooming, cats can sometimes need a helping paw from their people when it comes to claw trimming and maintaining healthy claws. It can be hard to know though what you’re supposed to do: are your cat’s claws too long? Too short? Should you cut them at all? Here are our top tips for healthy cat nails.

"The aim is to be able to cut your cat's claws without much restraint"

Unlike dogs, cats have retractable claws - which means 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, but of course, it’s easier said than done. Cats might love relaxing in luxury – but most of them won’t relish a pedicure. Today, we share our top tip on how to cut your cat’s nails with ease:

1. Timing is everything

It’s a good idea to only try to cut your cat’s nails when they’re calm and relaxed – after a meal is often the ideal time. 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, it’ll make them aversive to having their nails cut in the 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, 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 learn to tolerate nail trimming while staying relatively relaxed and cooperative. Sometimes though, you’ll find a cat so vehemently opposed to having its feet handled that pedicures require veterinary assistance.

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 feet do not grow as long so may not need regular clipping. The main focus will usually be on the front feet, and the dewclaw is most prone to growing excessively long, as it often does not make scratching contact as well as the other claws.

If you do happen to cut the quick, the bleeding should stop within a few minutes, but it helps to apply a little stypic powder to the end of the nail if possible. In this unfortunate scenario, first, forgive yourself (it’s not nice but it can happen) and then start the long process of gaining forgiveness from your cat! Good luck. My advice is to stop the session immediately, apologise profusely, offer treats and return to step one in a week or two!

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 cannot see the quick clearly, aim to cut the nail from the point where it curves downwards into a point.

7. Keep stypic powder on hand

If you do happen to cut the quick, the bleeding should stop within a few minutes, but it helps to apply a little stypic powder to the end of the nail. If this happens, don’t be hard on yourself, but stop the session, calm your cat, and return to step one in a week or two.

8. Small, regular trims can be helpful

Older cats may require nail trims as often as every two weeks, but active cats usually require less frequent attention. It is preferable to trim the nails a small amount more frequently than to risk accidentally cutting the quick.

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. When the blades make contact from the sides of the nail there is a slightly greater risk of crushing the nail and causing discomfort. This is great advice in theory, but in reality, vets agree that the best way to cut the nail is however the 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 quick cut before, they associate the sound with pain. Practice extending the claw; clipping a piece of uncooked spaghetti and then rewarding the cat.

When it comes to pedicures, patience is key. Cats are individuals with strong opinions, and that’s part of what we love about them. Their moods also play a role so be prepared to cut your losses (rather than any nails) 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.

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