What To Know About Clipping Your Cat’s Nails

Do you trim your cat’s nails? Here’s why you should.

Tigers keep their nails sharp by scratching on tree trunks, and, like their big cousins, cats do the same! When scratching on posts, tree trunks, and even the furniture, cats are not only marking the surface with their scent but also sloughing off the old, frayed layers of their nails to expose fresh, sharp claws ready to pounce on the world.

While kitties do a good job keeping their nails in fine murder-mitten form, extra sharp claws just won’t do in a household setting. With all the soft surfaces and human skin in the house, cat claws that grow too long can cause problems for a kitty. While cats always need their claws, helping them keep their nails at a manageable length is a must. Meaning you and a pair of clippers will need to intervene to save fabric and flesh!

clipping cat's nails

Clipping cat nails may seem like a challenge, but with patience and positive reinforcement, you and your cat will be pros at nail trims in no time. This important task will help save your cat from paw injuries, resulting in nails growing too long and getting hung on soft surfaces. Plus, when cat nails are left to grow, they tend to curl into sharp daggers, which can penetrate the soft paw pad, causing pain.


Shadi J. Ireifej, DVM, DACVS of VetTriage also points out, “Nails that are too long are thought to not only be uncomfortable for the cat but also make them more prone to inappropriate behavior like scratching on doors, furniture, and other household items or surfaces.”

How Often Should You Cut Your Cat’s Nails?

While experts recommend every 10 days to 2 weeks as a reasonable basis for cat nail trims, it really depends on your cat’s claws. Dr. Ireifej suggests, “There is no specific guideline as to when to trim a cat’s nails, as each cat has a different rate of nail growth, but eventually you will be able to gauge how often it needs to be done.”

If it’s been a while since the last trim, you’ll know it’s time when your feline starts looking like their paws are stuck to the furniture or the carpet because their claws keep getting caught.

But when it comes to clipping your cat’s nails, where do you start?

trim cat nails

Nail Clippers vs. Grinders

First, you’ll need to choose whether you’ll want to use clippers or a grinder for trimming a cat’s nails.

When it comes to clippers, you can choose either scissors-style, guillotine clippers, or even human nail clippers as cat claws are small enough to fit between the blades. It depends on your preference, but the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University recommends the guillotine or human fingernail clipper as the easiest to use for trimming cat nails and using the scissors-type “if a toenail is so long that it is curling in a circle.”

Some cats could care less about getting their nails trimmed, watching nicely as they wait for the treat they know will come in the end. Other felines can be a nightmare when they see the clippers come out, fighting with all their strength to bail out. For cats who feel mortal terror at the sight or the sound of clippers, try a grinder or an emery board instead.

clipping cat's claws

Grinders will gently grind down the nail, dulling the sharp tip to a blunt length that will keep kitty from getting snagged in the couch or in your skin. But if the grinder’s sound or vibrations bothers a cat’s sensitivities, try a simple nail file instead. Just grab an emery board and give your kitty a mani!

How To Trim Your Cat’s Nails

Okay, so you’ve got the cat and the clippers, let’s get trimming!

Step One: Get Everybody Comfy

Some cats will settle right into your lap for the trim. Others may need convincing and can be bribed with love and treats. Then, there are those cats one might call difficult. And just how do you trim a cat’s nails when they don’t want you to? Very carefully!

Seriously, if your cat is difficult during nail trims, consider wrapping them in a towel or blanket to keep them gently restrained. You’ll only need one paw out of the wrapping at a time. This type of restraint can also help kitty feel calmer.

You can even enlist the help of a second person when trimming your cat’s nails—one person to hold while the other clips.

Step Two: Ready the Paw

With one of your cat’s paw in hand, select a toe, and using your thumb, gently push forward to expose the claw. You’ll notice the sharp, white tip and a pink center closer to the paw. This tiny white tip is what you will trim. It will be so small a clip, you might think you’ve nipped off nothing at all!

how to trim cat's nails

But before you set to clipping or grinding, let’s talk about the pink part inside the claw. Be certain not to cut into this extremely sensitive portion of the nail! Known as the nail’s quick, this soft tissue is rich with nerves and blood vessels and will cause pain if penetrated. Imagine cutting into your nailbed. Yes, that cringe-worthy pain you imagine is the same a cat will feel if their nail quick is nicked!

In case of an accidental cut to the nail quick, apply styptic powder to the bleeding tip. If you don’t have styptic powder, use flour, cornstarch, or even a dry bar of soap to stem the bleeding.

Step Three: Make the Clip

Alright, you’ve learned where to cut the nail and studied your clipper or grinder instructions forwards and back. Your cat is relaxed in your grip, and you’ve identified the safe zone from the quick zone in your cat’s nail. It all comes down to this. Position the blades and make the clip with quick, firm pressure! Repeat on all of those adorable little toes and feet, back paws included.

trim cat's nails


Don’t forget the dewclaws! Because dewclaws are situated on the inside of the front paws, these gripper claws can be tricky to clip. You’ll have to maneuver the dewclaw away from the paw, but be careful not to cause discomfort when stretching the claw from the paw for access.

Step Four: Love and Reward

After the nails are nice and tidy, reward your kitty with hugs, kind words, and a load of treats!

clipping cat's nails

If you don’t feel comfortable clipping your cat’s nails, schedule an appointment with the vet to have kitty’s talons trimmed. While you’re there, ask the doctor or vet tech if they’ll demonstrate how to trim a cat’s nails for you.

Tips to Help with Clipping Your Cat’s Nails

  • Don’t introduce clippers for the first time at trimming time. Leave them in places your cat can see and investigate them. Remove the mystery and make a happy fuss about them. This way, your kitty learns the clippers aren’t an instrument brought out for their torture!
  • Encourage your cat to embrace the handling of their paws with frequent paw massages. If cats are used to having their feet touched regularly, it will help the clipping cause for both you and them.
  • Choose a quiet space away from other animals for your cat nail salon. Make sure your spot offers plenty of light. Those claws are small for the seeing!

  • Try different positions if your cat is squirmy during their pedicure. Maybe kitty will like the process better laying on his side rather than being restrained in your arms.
  • Try clicker training to reinforce positive association when it comes to cutting a cat’s nails.
  • Start young. The earlier a cat experiences nail clipping, the easier of a time you’ll have as they age.
  • Trimming time should coincide with a calmer period in your cat’s day. Choose a time when your cat is usually relaxed rather than a high energy playtime. To be sure your cat feels calm for his trim, you could first engage him in a good play session.
  • Treats are a must!
  • Catnip makes everything better!

Though delicate work, trimming cat nails is one of those simple but necessary tasks that will keep you and your kitty living the good life together!


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