Claw’s Out: How to Trim Your Cat’s Nails

A veterinarian and cat behaviorist’s pro tips for getting the job done without a scratch.

by Kellie Gormly
May 7, 2021
Cat laying down looking up out of frame

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Unless you ventured out for a pandemic mani/pedi in the parking lot of a shuttered salon, you probably mastered trimming, filing, and painting your own nails this past year. But if you think your newfound nail art skills will come in handy when you take the clippers to your cat, think again. Put down the sharp objects for a sec — we asked Marilyn Krieger, certified cat behaviorist at The Cat Coach, and Dr. Lori M. Teller, DVM, a veterinarian and professor at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, to share some pro tips.

1. Start when your cat is a kitten, if you can

Turns out, with proper conditioning, motivation, and patience, even scrappy cats can learn to tolerate a session of claw clipping. “Ideally, you should start trimming your cat’s claws when they are a young kitten and more open to new experiences,” says Dr. Teller. “Mine are fine with it because of how I’ve trained them,” adds Krieger. “The trick is to make it a positive thing and not stress them out.” But both experts agree that even senior cats can learn to sit still for a trim.

2. Desensitize your cat to the clippers

Krieger suggests preparing your cat for a claw trimming session a few weeks in advance by regularly touching their paws. “You can touch the paw pads and individual toes until your cat is comfortable with you handling their feet,” she says. “You work up to [the actual trim] by making the handling of your cat’s paws as positive and stress-free as possible.” Dr. Teller adds that it’s important for your cat to get used to the sight, sound, and smell of the clippers. “Leave them out for your cat to examine while they wander around the house, and place a treat atop the clippers so your cat associates them with something positive,” she says. “Then, when your cat is sitting comfortably in your lap, clip a piece of dried spaghetti, which mimics the sound of a claw being trimmed.”

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3. Pick the right moment to make the cut

This is important: When it’s time for a trim, reintroduce the clippers when your cat is in a mellow mood. “A good time is when your cat is relaxed and maybe sleepy,” recommends Krieger, like after eating a meal or snacking on catnip. Needless to say, don’t attempt this when your cat is feeling frisky or doing the zoomies. Hold your cat’s paw and gently press the pad to make the claw pop out. Just like pulling off calligraphy nail art, this requires a steady hand. FURMinator Nail Clippers’ non-slip ergonomic handle can help with that. Trim off the white, pointy tip but be careful not to cut the pink area at the base of the claw — that’s the ‘quick’ and it contains blood vessels and nerves. “You have to be so careful — cats can squirm and cause accidents,” Krieger cautions. If you accidentally nip it, dip your cat’s toe into Miracle Care Kwik Stop Syptic Powder, which will stop the bleeding and ease the pain.

4. Try, try again — or trust a pro to do it properly

Don’t stress. If clipping your cat’s claws is becoming a traumatic experience, another option is filing them down with a nail grinder like the Dremel 7300-PT. Why didn’t you say so earlier? The noise and vibration from a grinder may take even more getting used to. “The first few times you trim [or file] your cat’s nails, you may only get to do a few nails before your cat has had enough. And that’s okay; try a few more the next day,” adds Dr. Teller. “The process should be slow and gradual. You have to keep reminding yourself, I’m on cat time.” That said, if this is no spa day for either of you, invest in a cat scratching post like SmartCat The Ultimate Scratching Post to do the heavy lift, then turn to your veterinarian or a professional groomer for upkeep.

Btw, our editors (and their pets) picked out these products. They’re always in stock at the time we publish, but there’s a chance they’ll sell out. If you do buy through our links, we could get a kickback. (We’ve got a lot of toys to buy over here, you know?)

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Kellie Gormly

Kellie B. Gormly is an award-winning journalist based in Pennsylvania who writes for many national publications, including The Washington Post, Woman's World, Catster, and Dogster. Kellie is a volunteer rescuer who fosters kittens and cats at her home, where she has several of her own cats and betta fish.