How to Trim a Cat’s Nails — Everything You Need to Know

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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  1. Jacky Reply

    I was told by a vet that it is better not to let the cat see you cutting its nails directly. You can try cover their eyes with one hand.

    1. Dave Baker Reply

      Hi Jacky, I never cover my cat’s eyes. She’s pretty good about the whole process, and gets a couple of treats afterward to make it worth her while. But each cat is different, so do what works for you and your pet.

  2. Bad Reply

    I have two cats who will remove your head if you try to clip their nails. I started when they were kittens and even as tykes they would have nothing to do with it for some reason. I can get one nail and it is all I can get.They say I will rip your eyes out if you try to get any more and they remember for about a week before I can try again. They are not sore or hurting, the vet said they just don’t like it.  I have several who couldn’t care less and they just lay on their back and stick their feet up in the air. I have always given a treat with the nail clipping and I figured it would help. These two cats will have nothing to do with it for some reason. I have rolled them into a large beach towel, but they don’t like it either. I finally gave up and try to get the ones that are really sharp and let it go from there. I have run out of ideas to try to get the little critters to let me clip their nails.

    1. Kristine Reply

      There are nail covers you can use instead of clipping the nails, but they will need to be reapplied as the nails grow. Alternatively, you can leave the clipping for the groomer or the vet, or check out some different types of materials for scratching posts. Let us know how it goes!