Protect your cat's health and the well-being of nearby humans—not to mention furniture—by keeping those claws neatly trimmed.

By Austin Cannon and Debra Steilen
August 24, 2020
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As anyone who lives with cats knows, cats like to scratch. They scratch to mark their territory, to stretch and flex their feet and bodies, and to wear down the dead outer layer of skin on their nails.  Unfortunately, all the scratching behavior can result in damaged furniture or curtains—and may even result in damage to you!

You can satisfy their need to scratch by making sure they have plenty of scratch-approved surfaces and by keeping your cat's nails in check with regular trimming. A cat's claws need to be trimmed every 10–14 days, so getting comfortable with at-home trims is a must—no one can run their cat to the groomer every time she needs a kitty mani pedi.

While it will take you—and your cat—some time to get used to the process, with a little patience it's totally possible to tackle claw trims at home. Here are a few tips on how to cut your cat's nails painlessly.

Prepare Your Cat for Nail Trims

If you're bringing home a kitten, get her used to the nail trimming process as soon as possible. Establish those good habits early on and your life will be much easier.

Regardless of your cat's age, begin by getting her used to having her paws handled. Massage her feet and play with her paws regularly, speaking softy and rewarding her with treats to reinforce just how enjoyable the experience is.

You also want to get her used to the sight and sound of the nail clippers, before you ever attempt a trim. Take the clippers out of the drawer where you keep them and let her sniff and explore, rewarding with treats to create a positive association.

Massage your cat's paw and gently push down on his toes to extend the claws in order to trim.
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The biggest difference between trimming a dog's nails and trimming a cat's is that cats possess retractable claws. When trimming a cat's nails, you'll need to gently squeeze the top and bottom of each foot to extend the claws for trimming. If she flinches or pulls away, don't fight her. Just gently stroke and continue to soothe until she's relaxed enough for another try. Pros suggest pressing down to extend one nail each day in preparation for the eventual trimming. Extend the nail, and then reward her with a treat. That way, she'll be ready when the time to actually cut the nails comes.

Get your cat used to the sound of the clippers by trimming something brittle like uncooked pasta. Clipping the uncooked noodles makes a similar sound as the actual nail. Press your cat's paws to make the claws extend before cutting the pasta, teaching her how it will eventually work. Again: treats, treats, treats!

How to Cut Overgrown Cat Claws

When you're ready for a trimming session, find a position that's comfortable for you and safe for her. Many cats do great if allowed to lie on their side or in their owner's lap. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) tells cat owners the best time for nail clipping is when your cat is relaxed, maybe even sleepy after she's eaten. That way, you won't have to figure out how to trim a squirmy's cat's nails.

Avoid trimming the pink quick, the bundle of nerves that you can see through a cat's nail.
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Before doing any clipping, examine your cat's nails and find the quick, the pink, fleshy section that runs through the center of clear or light-color nails. It's where all the nerves and blood vessels are so it's important to NOT cut into the quick to avoid causing pain and risking infection.

Clip one nail (no more than 1/16th of an inch), give her a treat, and take a break. If you do accidentally clip through the quick. dab with some styptic powder to stop the bleeding.

As she gets more comfortable with the process, you'll be able to trim more than one nail at a time. Follow each snip with a tasty snack. If she gets restless, let her leave, and plan to finish the job another day.

Choose the right tools to cut your kitty's claws. If her claws are long enough to curl into a circle, use a scissors-type clippers for the job. Otherwise, you'll find it easier to use guillotine-type clippers. In a pinch, you can can cut cat nails with human nail clippers, too.

If you can make nail trimming a calm and stress-free experience, you should be able to maintain an every-two-weeks grooming schedule that will keep your kitty happy—and your home shred-free!

A version of this article first appeared in Happy Paws Spring/Summer 2020.