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How to Trim Your Indoor Cat’s Claws – Easy DIY Method

Updated on April 17, 2014

You and Your Kitty

The holding position for claw trimming.
The holding position for claw trimming. | Source

Cat owners need not pay a veterinarian to do claw trimming. It is easy to do at home, following these guidelines.

Training the Cat ASAP is Important

I have 2 wonderful feline family members. Both are boy rescue cats: one joined me right after weaning at age 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 are 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. This routine helps to establish the practice as just a part of life as an indoor 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/her.

On the other hand, the one-year-old has been a smidge 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 did not trim his nails.

The 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 has since changed.

The moral of these stories: Start claw trimming immediately on kittens.

Timing the Trim is Important

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.

The 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. Our older cat has thick nails, so I use a bigger clipper on him – his claw tips could not fit into a regular one.

Nail Clippers

Observe that nail clippers are available in varying sizes.
Observe that nail clippers are available in varying sizes. | Source

The "Hold" for Trimming

I am right-handed. I put the cat on my lap with its back against my chest and abdomen, holding it firmly with my left arm. This arm is the primary restraint of the human straight-jacket which you have become. 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 finger one at a time to make the claw come out. I also use that left hand to put the joint and 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.

I do not mind that the little tops go flying when I clip. That is the least of my immediate concerns. I will vacuum later.

The Place to Trim on the Claw

The pink claws of pink-nosed cats are easier to see through for blood vessels. Dark-claws require some sharp looking and a little guessing. Obviously, try to err in favor of taking too little instead of too much. However, do not fear that your cat will bleed to death or hate you forever after. If you do cut her, she will quickly heal.

The Dotted Line Marks the Spot

The place to trim on a cat claw.
The place to trim on a cat claw. | Source

Considerations for Non-Cooperating Cats

I am content with getting one leg at a time if the cat is not cooperating. Or, if I can’t get to the “last” claw 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.

Steps to DIY Cat Claw Trimming

  1. Choose a time when your cat is quiet.

    2. Have the clippers in your hand before grabbing your cat.

    3. Sit.

    4. Position your cat on your lap with its back against you.

    5. Hold cat firmly and use the hand of your restraining arm to hold its paw and gently squeeze pad one at a time.

  2. 6. Clip claw and do not worry about the mess.

  3. 7. The faster you can work, the better chance of getting all 4 legs done at one sitting.

Photos, diagrams, and text copyright 2012 Maren E. Morgan.


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    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks, Dolores. I didn't explicitly mention patience, but that certainly is a part of the procedure.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Trimming a cat's claws is not my favorite job. I hated trimming baby finger nails too. Always afraid that I'd slip and hurt them. Your instructions are wonderful. With cats, as well as any pet or small child, patience is the key.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      pixiecat2002, every time money is saved - that is a good thing.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      AliciaC - two people would make for easier trim if the "holder" person is good about maintaining a firm grip. For my one-person method, it becomes harder for the cat's left legs because my left arm is no longer across its middle - it is holding a left paw. But, in the end, the job gets done.

    • pixiecat2002 profile image

      pixiecat2002 5 years ago

      Thanks for the tip. It saves money to do it at home.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for these instructions, Maren Morgan. Trimming our cats' claws has always been a two-person job in my family - one person to hold and the other person to clip. I appreciate the one-person instructions very much!