How to Trim a Cat's Nails

cat with  clippers on wooden background
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If you've had your cat since she was a kitten, you're likely a seasoned nail trimmer. But for those of you with newly adopted adult cats, you're in for a treat; or maybe not. Your cat will either be Zen or decidedly grumpy and anxious throughout this relatively quick procedure. Whether you spring for a professional pedicure at the groomer or vets or take the DIY route, your cat's nails require regular trimming every 10 days to two weeks to maintain your pet's health.

Overgrown nails can get stuck in the carpet resulting in a painful, broken nail or even grow into the paw pad. Thus, learning how to shear off the sharp tips of your cat's nails is a smart move that rewards you with an impeccably groomed kitty, scratch-free furnishings and curtains and, ultimately, an enhanced relationship with your furry sidekick.

Why do cat's nails need to be trimmed?

Highly discouraged by the ASPCA, the declawing of cats is eschewed by most people for humane reasons. But no one wants shredded furniture and threadbare rugs. The only safe and effective alternative is trimming a cat's nails regularly. It's quick and easy, and once you get the hang of it, you'll be a pro in no time. Also, don't forget the cat trees, scratching posts, trays, or pads that keep your cat entertained and quench his innate desire to scratch.

Cat at the hairdresser
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Start slow and be prepared

You may be thinking, "yikes, the last thing I want to do is trim my cat's nails." But like many things cat-related, assessing your cat's state of mind before heading in for a pedicure is vital and will make or break the deal. Then again, some cats are laid-back and up for anything. According to the ASPCA, you should ideally wait until he's had a meal and feels a little groggy and relaxed. The trimming session has the best chance for success with no distractions, so find a quiet, windowless room away from other pets and people, where you can settle into a comfortable chair with your cat sitting on your lap facing away from you.

When you first introduce nail trimmings into your cat's life, take as many preliminary sessions every other day as needed getting her used to you handling her paws before you actually trim a nail. Slowly and gently touch and caress each toe on each paw, carefully observing her body language. If her ears go back or rotate to the side aka "airplane" ears or tail tip starts flipping sideways, stop until she relaxes again. Continue handling and pressing the paws gently to expose the nails, giving a treat each time you release. Next, get her used to the sound of the clippers by cutting a piece of spaghetti as you hold her paw gently pressing and exposing the nail. When she's comfortable after a week or so with the routine, it's time to trim the tip of just one nail.

Young girl cuts the claws of a beautiful cream kitten with green eyes
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Simple steps and pro tips for trimming your cat's nails

Remember, only patience and practice will hone your nail-trimming skills. and don't trim all 18 nails (one on each of five toes on each front paw and four toes on each back paw) at the same time. Instead, trim one or two today, another couple tomorrow, and so on until they're all done. Let's get started:

  1. Cutting a cat's claws requires a steady hand and a sharp cutting tool such as specially made clippers that hold a cat's paw in place, guillotine- or plyers-style clippers, or even toenail clippers made for people. Blunt tools can break the nail and cause pain so keeping your tools well-maintained is essential. Only cut the white tip of the nail off, erring on the side of caution and cutting less than more. Have some styptic powder or stick, cornstarch, or a dry bar of soap on hand to stop bleeding in case you inadvertently cut below the quick, or pink part, of the nail which contains the blood vessels.
  2. Your cat should be sitting in your lap facing away from you just as in your practice sessions. Gently hold one of her toes in your hand, massage and press the pad to reveal the nail. Trim only the sharp, white tip of one nail, quickly release the toe and give her a treat. Forge ahead and do another nail if your cat seems unconcerned. Otherwise, stop, give another treat and continue in a day or two. Until your cat is comfortable with the trimming routine, don't trim more than a couple of nails at a time. Always end the trimming session with a special treat and lots of praise and snuggles.