How To Trim Your Cat’s Nails · The Wildest

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Claws Out: How to Trim Your Cat’s Nails

Expert tips and the best tools for getting the job done without a scratch

by Kellie Gormly
31 October 2023
Cat enjoying laying on girl's legs and being cuddled
Laura Stolfi / Stocksy

If you come towards your cat with some nail clippers, do they run for the hills? Your cat is probably not the biggest fan of at-home spa time, especially when those sharp clippers come out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve a successful nail trim. Here are some things you should know before you reach for the clippers.

Why is trimming my cat’s nails important?

There are many reasons why nail trimming for cats is important. Often, it depends on whether you have an indoor or outdoor cat and your cat’s health condition.

  • Indoor and outdoor cats need to have their nails trimmed because they can snag on surfaces and get caught. It’s also possible that your cat might lose their ability to retract their claws.

  • As an outdoor cat ages, they may be less active so their nails grow out, increasing their risk of the nails growing into a curve. If the nails start driving into their footpads, it may cause pain or infections. So, it’s important to trim their nails. If your cat is arthritic, they may not exercise enough to keep their nails short.

How often should I trim my cat’s nails?

Wondering how often you should actually trim your cat’s nails? Generally, cats’ claws need to be trimmed every two to three weeks as part of maintaining their overall health. This will protect you (and your family) from getting scratched and will prevent your furniture and other belongings from getting torn apart.

What tools do I need for trimming my cat’s nails?

There are a few different types of tools you can use to trim your cats nails. Heres what to consider for your cat-trimming tool kit.

  • The most important tool you need is a claw clipper. Choose a well-sharpened pair with a scissor cut, safety lock and nail guard – this will ensure that you only cut the white parts of your cats nails and not the pink part, which contains blood vessels.

  • There are other types of clippers that use ‘pliers or a sliding ‘guillotine blade to cut cats nails – find a pair that works best for you and your cat. Make sure whatever you use is what you’re both most comfortable with.

  • Some cat parents prefer grinders, which slowly file down claws gently.

  • You probably also want to pick up a styptic pencil or powder – these are anticoagulants that you can apply to your cat’s paws if you accidentally cut the quick of their nails, to stop the bleeding.

How do I prepare my cat for a nail trim?

Although it may not seem like there’s an easy way to cut your cat’s nails, we asked Marilyn Krieger, certified cat behaviourist at The Cat Coach, and Dr Lori M Teller, a veterinarian and professor at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, to share some pro tips. Krieger suggests preparing your cat for a claw-trimming session a few weeks in advance by regularly touching their paws.

“You can touch the paw pads and individual toes until your cat is comfortable with you handling their feet,” she says. “You work up to the actual trim by making the handling of your cat’s paws as positive and stress-free as possible.” Dr Teller adds that it’s important for your cat to get used to the sight, sound and smell of the clippers. “Leave them out for your cat to examine while they wander around the house and place a treat atop the clippers so your cat associates them with something positive,” says Dr Teller. “Then, when your cat is sitting comfortably in your lap, clip a piece of dried spaghetti, which mimics the sound of a claw being trimmed.”

What is the proper technique for trimming cat nails?

Figuring out how to trim your cats nails or cut your kittens nails can seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to. Follow these easy steps.

1. Start when your cat is a kitten, if you can

Turns out, with proper conditioning, motivation and patience, even scrappy cats can learn to tolerate a session of claw-clipping. “Ideally, you should start trimming your cat’s claws when they are a young kitten and more open to new experiences,” says Dr Teller. “Mine are fine with it because of how I’ve trained them,” adds Krieger. “The trick is to make it a positive thing and not stress them out.” But both experts agree that even senior cats can learn to sit still for a trim.

2. Pick the right moment to make the cut

This is important. When it’s time to cut your cats nails, reintroduce the clippers when your cat is in a mellow mood. “A good time is when your cat is relaxed and maybe sleepy,” recommends Krieger. She suggests that a good time would be after eating a meal or snacking on catnip. Needless to say, don’t attempt this when your cat is being playful or doing zoomies. Hold your cat’s paw and gently press the pad to make the claw pop out. Just like pulling off nail art, this requires a steady hand. FURMinator Nail Clippers’ non-slip ergonomic handle can help with that.

3. Try, try again – or trust a pro to do it properly

Don’t stress. If clipping your cat’s claws is becoming a traumatic experience, another option is filing them down with a nail grinder, such as the Dremel 7300-PT. However, the noise and vibration from a grinder may take even more getting used to. “The first few times you trim or file your cat’s nails, you may only get to do a few nails before your cat has had enough. And that’s OK; try a few more the next day,” says Dr Teller. You want to make sure your cat is calm to cut their nails: “The process should be slow and gradual. You have to keep reminding yourself, I’m on cat time.

That said, if nail cutting is not going well for either of you, invest in a cat scratching post, such as the SmartCat The Ultimate Scratching Post, to do the heavy lifting. You can also get your cats nails clipped elsewhere: go to your veterinarian or a professional groomer for upkeep.

What should I do if I accidentally cut into the quick?

No one wants to see their cats nails bleeding, but accidents happen. Try your best to trim off the white, pointy tip but be careful not to cut the pink area at the base of the claw – that’s the ‘quick and it contains blood vessels and nerves. “You have to be so careful – cats can squirm and cause accidents,” says Krieger. If you accidentally nip it, dip your cat’s toe into Bugalugs Styptic Powder for Pets, which will stop the bleeding and ease the pain.

Frequently asked questions

1. What if my cat gets anxious during nail trimming?

If your cat gets anxious, create a positive association with the nail trimmers by putting them next to their food bowl, and rewarding your cat with a treat after you clip each nail.

2. Are there alternatives to trimming my cat’s nails?

You can apply nail caps to your cat’s nails – they will act as a protective shield so you don’t have to trim their nails as often. You can also invest in scratching posts.

3. Should I consider professional grooming for my cat’s nails?

If you or your cat is uncomfortable with trimming nails at home, you can take them to a professional groomer to do it for you.


Kellie Gormly

Kellie B. Gormly is an award-winning journalist based in Pennsylvania who writes for many national publications, including The Washington Post, Woman's World, Catster, and Dogster. Kellie is a volunteer rescuer who fosters kittens and cats at her home, where she has several of her own cats and betta fish.

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