How to Trim a Cat’s Nails

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If you have an adult cat, you may be asking: how to trim the cat’s nails? First consider why you need to start cutting his nails. Many adult cats maintain their claws perfectly well when given access to appropriate scratching posts or pads. These are items your cat will need regardless of if you clip his nails.

Cat claws are an important part being a cat for physiological and emotional reasons, and it’s vital to keep your cat’s claws intact! Starting your kittens on a nail clipping regiment when they are young will make clipping your cat’s nails an easy and enjoyable process throughout their life.

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Cats Have Claws for a Reason

A cat’s instincts are to only use claws in self-defense or when hunting. If aggressive behavior is a problem, consider researching how to help change the behavior, such as changing the cat’s environment or way you interact with the cat to make him more relaxed.

You may have been cutting your adult cat’s nails for a long time and it has only recently become a problem. If this is the case, consider an environmental (such as a change in the type of cat litter) or medical issue that could be contributing to your cat’s reluctance to having a nail trim. Are her paws injured or more sensitive than normal? Is your cat experiencing pain such as joint pain that a veterinary visit could help resolve? Or is your cat stressed by a move or a new pet or family member?

If you have recently adopted an adult cat and need to trim her nails for some reason, it should be doable by first developing a strong relationship of trust.

How to Develop a Relationship and Gain Trust with your Cat

Developing a trusting relationship with your cat or kitten is fun and rewarding. It may take some time, depending on the cat’s background and the nature of your past interactions.

Feeding animals is always a great way to develop trust. Have the person who is to trim the cat’s nails give food and treats. Consider having another family member administer medication to adult cats or perform other services that the cat will not enjoy.

Play with your cats with toys. Cats love to hunt and play. It’s very important to make sure the cat is hunting toys during play, and not your hands. Many cat owners love to wrestle and roughly handle their cats. If this works for your and your beloved animal, I’m not going to tell you to stop – but if it works for you, then you’re not likely to be reading this article! Be sure your cat gets enough movement and fun playtime to fulfill her by giving her attention during playtime with toys. Kittens need even more play time than adult cats and will love you all the more for an extra half-hour of playing with a wand toy.

Touch your cat with gentle hands only. If you need to improve your trust level with your cat, your cat needs to know that your hands are gentle, loving hands. Hands provide pets and scritches and loving touches. Hands mean purring and ear rubs. Gentle hands are vital when fostering kittens so they grow up understanding appropriate claw usage. But this mindset will help you develop a strong trusting relationship with your adult cat as well.

Touching Paws

While your cat or kitten is in a restful state and accepting pets and scritches, begin by gentle touching his paws. Slowly build up over time until you can gently squeeze each toe bean and extend each claw.

A close up on the toe pads of a cat's paw.

How to clip cat nails

When your cat is relaxed, grab a pair of cat nail clippers and gently extend one claw. Place the nail clippers around the sharp tip of the nail, staying well clear of the pink quick within the nail. Squeeze the clippers quickly and confidently to cut off the tip of the nail. Repeat this process with each claw on each paw.

A close up of a cat claw with a line indicating where to cut the claw so as to leave plenty of space between the clippers and the nail's quick.

If your cat becomes distressed by the process at any point, take a break and try again later. It is much easier to trim a calm cat’s nails than it is to restrain a volatile cat. If you do need to restrain a volatile cat to clip his nails, you’re really going to want a second person helping you. Have one person sit behind the cat, while the cat is seated or lying on a surface. Scruff the cat gently above the shoulder blades while holding the cat’s chest from underneath with the other hand. The second person gently takes each paw and trims the nails as described above. Again, be sure not to cut too much off of each nail.

Be gentle with your cat

Cutting your cat’s nails is not likely to be worth damaging your relationship with your cat. As a reminder, do not ever pick up your cat by her scruff, and do not grab your cat by the scruff as a punishment or attempt to physically punish your cat in any way. This will only hurt your cat and permanently damage your relationship with the cat. If you cannot trim your cat’s nails without you and/or your cat becoming highly stressed and anxious, seek the help of a vet or groomer. These professionals will be able to perform the nail clipping for you, and may be able to walk you through the process in person so that you can do it at home in the future.

How to cut cat nails

Kelsey Madison

Kelsey Madison is a cat lover, fostering enthusiast, part time vet tech & writer. She has fostered close to 300 animals over the last 10+ years, and currently has 3 beautiful tabby cats who love to stick their faces in her morning lattes. She is passionate about helping others develop a deeper understanding of their beloved felines and learn more about fostering.

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