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How to cut cat's nails?

Grey cat getting his nails cut advice © Shutterstock

Cutting cat nails isn't the easiest part of a grooming routine. It takes time to get used to, but you can speed up the process by reading our tips on how to cut cat nails.

By Ashley Murphy

This might not be easy, especially if your cat is a stranger to nail trimming and nail clipping. Cats paws are pretty sensitive, and so they don't like having them handled. Still, it's really important to keep their claws trimmed and even more so for indoor cats.

These guys have more opportunity to do some damage to your new furniture and fewer chances to climb trees and play outside,  both of which keep other cats nails in good shape.

But whether you've got an indoor or an outdoor cat, the following tips will save you lots of time and trouble when it comes to nail trimming time.

Tip #1: Getting them in the mood

If your cat has never had his nails trimmed, then they're going to be a bit skittish about the experience. In fact, some of them won't even let you handle their paws, never mind cutting their claws. These cats require a soft and patient approach, and you'll need to do lots of groundwork before you go anywhere near their claws. 

To begin with, just focus on getting the cat accustomed to having their paws handled.  Wait until they're nice and relaxed, then gently stroke their paws while simultaneously petting their favourite spot, and a few treats always help!

This is all about building up positive associations in your cat's mind. If your cat starts showing signs of distress, let them go and try again when they seem more relaxed. It's never a good idea to try and force a cat to do anything they don't want to.

Cats are willful creatures with independent natures. Trying to battle with them is likely to be counterproductive and stressful for both pet and owner.

Tip #2: Get a (gentle) grip

Once the cat is OK with having their paws touched, it's time to take a (gentle) grip. This makes cutting cat nails much easier; it also makes it much safer.

Start by placing your hand over the cat's paw, then (gently) flip it over, so the cat's paw is resting in the palm of your hand. Once the cat is comfortable with this, begin massaging your fingers over the top and the bottom of the paw, paying particular attention to the areas around each claw.

Again, this is all about making the cat feel as comfortable and as secure as possible. It might seem rather time-consuming, but this will save you a lot of trouble when you finally get round to cutting their claws.

Tip #3: Cutting your cats nail: assume the position

The cat should be sat on your lap and facing away from you. This is a fairly natural and common position for a cat, but it also lets you get to the front and back paws.

Cutting the nails

Now it's time to start cutting those nails. As you probably already know, cats claws are retractable. This protects them from any damage, keeping them nice and sharp for whenever your cat is ready to use them. It also makes them harder to get to, so you'll need to apply some gentle pressure to the area of the paw just above each nail. It will then automatically extend, allowing you to trim it to a suitable length. 

But before you do, look for a pinkish area at the bottom of the nail. This is called the quick. The quick contains blood vessels and loads of nerve endings. Cutting into the quick will cause your cat a considerable amount of pain and discomfort, and they won't let you anywhere near their claws for some time. Again, never cut down to the quick. Your only aim is to trim off the sharp part of the nail. 

Work slowly and take a few breaks. In fact, your cat might insist on it during the first few times. If you can only trim a few nails at a time, then get the rest later.  Over time the cat will become much more at ease, and you'll be able to trim all their nails in one quick session.

And remember to break up the experience with treats, praise, and lots of reassurance. Tell your cat that you're proud of them and that they're doing a great job.  They won't really know what you're saying, but they'll still know what you mean.

When to cut your cat nails

You want them to be nice and relaxed. Aim to do it after dinner time or during their more docile moments. It’s best to give their nails a trim once every 10-14 days, although this will vary from cat to cat.

How often do I need to trim my cat's nails? 

This depends on your cat. Every cat's nails grow at a different rate, but generally speaking, most will need a trim once every few weeks. Don't let your cats nails get too long. The longer they are, the more chance they have of splitting, breaking, or doing some serious damage to your new furniture.

If you can, start them off young. Kittens who are introduced to the nail clippers from an early age are much easier to handle as fully grown adult cats. Those who've never met the nail clipper before will require a soft and patience approach. Never rush your cat, and never push them too far out of their comfort zones.

Otherwise, those independent natures will quickly reveal their stubborn side! But don't worry, once they get used to it, trimming a cat's nails is fairly easy. It can also be a nice bonding experience between owner and pet.