How to Trim Your Cat’s Claws – Easy Method
Needle Sharp Claws
One Person Can Do It
Cat owners do not need to pay a veterinarian to do claw trimming. It is easy to do at home, following these guidelines.
You and Your Kitty
Training Your Cat ASAP Is Important
I have 2 wonderful feline family members. Both are boy rescue cats: one joined me right after weaning at 6 weeks, and the other joined me around his first birthday.
The kitten has been much easier to trim for several reasons.
First, I did trimming right away and frequently. Thus, he associated claw trimming as part of the package of the good, safe home with a loving mommy who played fun games and fed him. Claw trims are as accepted by him as natural as day and night. The frequent trims were easy to manage because baby cats grow rapidly, similar to baby humans. Nails grow quickly, so they need to be trimmed often. A frequent claw trimming routine helps to establish the practice as just a part of life as a pet cat. The advantage to establishing home claw trimming with a kitten is that the little fellow (or gal) starts out so tiny that it is easy (or easier) for a human to control him or her.
On the other hand, the older one has been more difficult.
His background contributed: he had been the pet of a family which fell upon hard economic times. When they were evicted from their house for non-payment of rent, they abandoned little Skeeter outside. I feel compassion for this unknown family because although they could not afford to feed him adequately, they treated him in ways that he retained his naturally loving, friendly personality. However, they probably did not trim his nails.
The only time that this cat totally cooperated with me for claw trimming was when we first got him - plucking him from outside in the snow (Presidents’ Day weekend in January) and bringing him home. He snuggled under a blanket in my warm lap with a purr loud enough to drown out the TV. I trimmed every nail on all 4 feet without any protest - probably because Skeeter was too weak from starvation to wriggle.
That level of cooperation has changed. I know that with my independent-minded Skeeter the claw trimming will be more challenging. I may get two legs done in a trimming session, or it may occur one leg at a time with a break afterwards. Being a cat, of course he wants to show me that he is the boss. I figure that I can let him feel powerful some of the time and assert my own "Mom-Alpha-ness" other times. So, trimming one limb at a time is a good compromise and it works for us.
The moral of these stories: Start claw trimming immediately on kittens.
Timing The Trim
There are stupid times and better times to select for the feline claw trim.
Do not try it when your cat is in full running, chasing, hunting mode. It seems logical enough that it need not be mentioned, but I was stupid enough to think that if I was ready to accomplish nail trimming, that the cat could and WOULD change gears mentally to go along with my program. As they say in Brooklyn, “fuhgettaboudit.” Cats do not shift gears to cooperate with nail pedicures.
A good time is when your cat has been lying around contemplating life or slowly waking from a nap. Inertia is in your favor: a body at rest tends to remain at rest.
- After chasing or running around
- When cat is whining about something
- Right at awakening from a nap
- When cat has been sedentary, lying or sitting in one place for a while
Tool For Trimming Cat Claws
I use regular human nail clippers. Not scissors. Spring clippers. They come in more than one size. I can use a standard common human one on the younger cat. My older cat Skeeter has thick nails, so I use a bigger clipper on him – his claw tips could not fit into a regular one.
The "Hold" For Trimming
Find a place to sit which has good light. Have the clipper in your dominant hand. Then get your cat and proceed.
I am right-handed. I put the cat on my lap with its back against my chest and abdomen, holding it firmly across the belly with my left forearm. My left arm - from elbow to wrist - is the primary restraint. I am a human acting as a straight-jacket.
My right arm can do a little bit of holding the cat, but it must be free enough to position the open clipper on the tip of the nail and squeeze.
The left hand is used to hold the paw and press on each claw pad, one at a time, to make the claw come out. I also use that left hand to position the claw in a sideways position. This is an easier view for seeing the blood vessels – which you do not want to touch. With practice you will be able to press, position, hold in place, and snip fairly quickly.
I do not mind that the little claw tips go flying when I clip. That is the least of my concerns. I vacuum later.
Where To Trim On The Claw
Claws contain blood vessels near their root. You want to snip the totally dead "no-blood" tips.
The clear pink claws of pink-nosed cats are easier to look through to spot blood vessels.
Darker colored claws require some sharp looking and a little guessing.
Obviously, try to err in favor of taking too little instead of too much. However, if you do accidentally cut too far in and get a little blood, do not fear that your cat will bleed to death or hate you forever after. If you do cut her, she will squeal but quickly heal.
The Dotted Line Marks the Spot
Considerations For Non-Cooperating Cats
I am content with trimming one leg at a time if the cat is not cooperating. Or, if I can’t get to the “last” claw pad on a foot, I know I will get it the next session. With this sort of trimming strategy, I try to get it all done within 2 days. This is going it alone.
If you are a person who really has trouble with coordinating all the holding, trimming, and sending messages to your cat that I AM THE ALPHA CAT, there is an adaptation to this technique: Have a two-person tag team. One does the cat body restraint and limb holding. The other does the clipping.
Steps For DIY Cat Claw Trimming
- Choose a time when your cat is sedate and relaxed.
- Have the clippers in your hand before grabbing your cat.
- Sit in well-lit spot..
- Position your cat on your lap with its back against you.
- Hold cat firmly and use the hand of your restraining arm to hold its paw and gently squeeze pads one at a time.
- Clip claw and do not worry about the mess.
- The faster you can work, the better chance of getting all 4 legs done at one sitting.
Cats Are Great Actors
One last bit of advice: cats can put on quite a meowing show to try manipulating us. If you are efficient and firm and send thought waves that YOU provide the shelter and food, so kitty is going to give back by cooperating with the trim, the cat will give up the "performance" over time.
I help a dear friend who has an 18-pound "pot roast" of a rescue cat. I restrain the kitty and my buddy is learning to do the trimming. At first the cat did a howling and fussing act as good as any horror movie star could do. However, I kept a kind but firm hold and spoke calmly to kitty telling him he was full of baloney, but nice try. With each trimming session the kitty fussed less and less. Now he accepts it and its very efficient.
By the way, trimming is an act of kindness for a totally indoor cat. I've seen cats with untrimmed claws who frequently get "caught" in blankets because a long claw has hooked into the fabric and kitty can't get it undone. That must feel frustrating and maybe scary.
So, trim with confidence and kindness.
Photos, diagrams by Maren E. Morgan.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2012 Maren Elizabeth Morgan