Posted in Feline Care, Pet care

Trimming Your Cat’s Nails

Trimming Your Cat's Nails | Photo by Tamba Budiarsana from Pexels

Trimming Your Cat’s Nails | Author: Dr. Cliff Redford, Veterinarian

Pets require regular grooming, and cats are no exception to this rule. Not only does it keep them looking good, some routines like brushing a cat’s teeth can also extend their lives by keeping them healthy. Trimming a cat’s nails is part of the regular care all cat owners can extend to their furry companions.

Cats use their claws to hunt and climb. It is part of their nature to sharpen their claws by scratching at objects. The process of scratching allows them to release pheromones to mark their territory. However, indoor cats can wreck furniture in the process! A scratching post can help maintain the nails’ sharpness to an extent.

Also, a cat’s claws are retractable and they normally sit inside the paw when they walk and go about their business. Consequently, they do not wear out like a dog’s nails. This is why we recommend you trim your cat’s nails approximately once every two weeks. If you’ve never done it before, then contact us. We can demonstrate the technique and provide useful tips on how to get started. In fact, we always cover this at your kitten’s first checkup because it is such an important component of having a feline as a pet.  

Conditioning Your Cat For Nail Trimming

Ideally, you should introduce your cat to nail trimming when they are kittens, but owners of rescue cats may not have this benefit. If your cat appears nervous every time you reach for the clippers, you may need to implement gradual conditioning to get him/her accustomed to the exercise.

It is really important to keep this activity stress-free and enjoyable for both of you. You can start by sensitizing your cat to the nail clipper itself by allowing him/her to sniff it. You might even want to establish an association with treat-time by placing a delicious morsel on top of the clipper. Next, get them used to the clipping sound by practicing on uncooked spaghetti sticks. For this, relax your cat on your lap with gentle rubs and massages. Extend the rubs to a paw and gently press the toe pad. When the nail extends, clip the spaghetti stick with the nail clipper while your cat watches. Give him/ her a treat immediately after, while continuing the positive reinforcement.

Doing this a few times will help your cat associate nail trimming with treats and loving downtime with you. You will help yourself greatly by selecting a time to do this when your cat is winding down and naturally sleepy, like just after a meal. Ensure other pets are not around and keep your cat away from distractions that occur outside the window.

Avoiding Painful Bleeding

Your cat will become gun shy about nail trimming if he/she experiences discomfort, pain or bleeding during the exercise. It is therefore important to understand the anatomy of the paw and nails before you begin. Your cat has four toes on each hind leg and five on the front ones. The fifth toe is like the human thumb and it allows your cat to climb. If your cat has light-coloured nails, then you will easily notice the pink area close to the paw. This is called the quick. It is a highly sensitive spot that holds blood vessels and nerves. Getting your clippers in this area is a surefire way of making your cat dart. Avoid cutting anywhere near the quick.

If you accidentally cause bleeding, apply styptic powder to the tip of the nail. Alternatively, you can also dab the tip of the nail on a bar of soap, flour or cornstarch.

Cat Nail Trimming Technique

To trim your cat’s nails, you can use scissor-type clippers or guillotine-type. Human nail clippers work just as well. You may want to place a folded towel or blanket on your lap to prevent getting scratched by your cat’s sharp claws in case they change their mind and try to jump off before you are done.

Clip no more than 1/16 of an inch starting at the top and continuing down, never side to side. If your cat struggles, talk to him or her calmly. You may not get through all the nails in one sitting and that is quite alright. Try not to rush through this exercise because carelessness can cause you to cut the quick. Work at a pace that’s right for both of you. Never punish your cat for not cooperating, but remember to reward them for good behaviour right after with praise and a treat.

Declawing Your Cat

We sometimes receive questions about declawing from cat owners who are at their wit’s end with the damage their cat is causing to their furniture. Our straight answer to this question is, no, we will not perform this surgery on your cat to solve this problem. Trimming your cat’s nails, as indicated above, is a far better approach to go about this unpleasantness.

Declawing is equivalent to amputating human fingers up to the knuckles. It is painful and will disrupt the natural scratching instinct present in your cat. Furthermore, it sets off alternative behaviour patterns which you will like less than the damage to your furniture. Your cat will become aggressive and bite. And he/ she will defiantly refuse to use the litter box.

Declawing was an old practice that has now gone out of style. It was never harmless to your cat and is presently only used when medically necessary to remove cancerous tumours in the paw.


Dr. Cliff Redford, DVM, Wellington Veterinary Hospital

Dr. Cliff Redford, DVM, is an experienced veterinarian and owner/operator of the Wellington Veterinary Hospital in Markham Ontario. Fondly known as Dr. Cliff to his clients, he has tended to the wellness of pets and animals for over two decades. Hands-on experience in his clinic, combined with animal advocacy and rescue missions locally and across the globe, has allowed him to curate a vast body of knowledge on animal health and welfare, including preventative counselling, soft tissue surgery, advanced dental procedures, internal medicine and emergency care.

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Dr. Redford is incredibly skilled, compassionate, and cares deeply about animals. We were so lucky to have him come to our animal rescue facility, Farmhouse Garden Animal Home, where he helped us treat our cows. We know the animals are in good hands whenever he is caring for them!

Edith Barabash

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