Trimming Cat Nails: An Expert Guide for Stress-Free Nail Clipping

If your kitty rips you to shreds when she makes biscuits on your lap, then it’s time to learn how to trim a cat’s nails.
Get your cat used to having her paws handled by you. By: alexyo1968

Cats have a natural tendency to climb and scratch, and they may perform many activities outdoors that keep the sharpness of their nails to a minimum.

The typical housecat, on the other hand, can sleep up to 18, sometimes 20 hours per day and do very few activities that would reduce or maintain these sharp extensions. Even if your indoor cat is declawed, the back claws could be very sharp and inflict pain when used for traction, such as leaping off of your lap.

The best way to prevent injury to you and your cat is to learn how to trim a cat’s nails.


The Sooner the Better

Start handling and pushing the paws to extend the nail as early as possible.

A kitten that is used to her paws being handled is less likely to pull away and avoid the interaction. Older cats may find issue with the introduction of clipping, but they can become accustomed to it.

The Tools

Several different tools can be used to trim the nails. Regular human fingernail clippers can be used, and there are also tools with a scissor or guillotine shape designed just for animal nail trimming. Whichever tool you choose, make sure it is sharp. A dull edge can crush the nail instead of cutting it. This can leave split, jagged nail edges and be extremely painful for the cat.

Check the manufacturer’s warranty on the blade. Some do not come with a guarantee, and others offer replacements over time or in the event of the blade becoming dull. Other important equipment to have on hand includes styptic powder and cornstarch, and some groomers even recommend a bar of soap to use on the nail in case bleeding occurs.

Getting Started

Try to find a time when the cat is calm and at ease. Gently hold a paw and press it to extend a nail. If the cat withdraws right away, try to continue this process for a few days without any clipping. Once you feel your cat has become comfortable with her paws being handled, introduce the clipping on one paw and gauge the reaction.

If the cat does not seem bothered by the clipping, proceed to other nails. If she withdraws or retract her paws after the first clipping, try to clip only one paw per day and when your pet is calm.

Cat nail quickWhat to Cut

The goal of trimming the nails is to remove the sharp edge.


The cut does not need to be far back on the nail to achieve this, and pay special attention to the “quick” of the nail. The quick will appear pink on light colored nails, and this area houses blood vessels and nerves that can cause pain and bleeding when cut.

Reviewing your own fingernails, you can see white on the edge and pink toward your cuticle. If you have ever broken or lost a nail where it affected the pink area, you know how painful that type of injury can be. It can be just as painful for your pet, so try to make sure you can see the quick and leave enough distance from the cut.

For darker or black nails, you can shine a light behind the nail or play it safe and just trim the edge off.

Video Instructions

In the short video below, veterinarian Christianne Schelling demonstrates exactly how to trim a cat’s nails.

Additional Resources

Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine offers a step-by-step guide to trimming a cat’s nails. The ASPCA also has a guide called “Nail Trimming 101.” If you find that you are still having trouble with the cat’s reaction or making safe cuts on the nails, consult your veterinarian.

With patience and practice this routine can become easy and customary for you and your cat. Your plants, furniture and skin will appreciate it too!


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