How to Trim a Cat's Nails

Cat having its nails trimmed

Trimming your cat's claws should be part of his regular grooming routine. With a few instructions, some helpful tips, and a little practice, you'll be able to trim your pet's nails at home instead of relying on your vet or groomer to do it for you.

Directions for Trimming Cat Claws

The actual process for trimming nails is fairly straightforward. However, it does require practice to master this skill as well as some cooperation from your cat to accomplish it.

Supplies

  • The nail trimmer of your choice
  • Nail file, optional
  • Styptic powder, to stop any bleeding

Directions

Before you begin trimming, pour a little styptic powder into the lid of its container and keep nearby in case you cut a quick. To stop bleeding, dip the injured nail in the powder.

Claw Clipping Diagram

To trim:

  1. Hold your cat in your lap with his paws facing away from you and work on one paw at a time.
  2. With one hand, pick up the first paw and gently press the top of one toe and the corresponding pad at the bottom to expose the nail.
  3. Locate the pink center of the nail, known as the quick, and plan to trim roughly halfway between the quick and the sharp nail tip. The quick is the nail's blood supply, and you must avoid cutting it or you'll cause pain and bleeding.
  4. Holding your trimmers in your opposite hand, cut off the sharp tip of the claw. If necessary, file any rough edges smooth using light strokes.
  5. Release the paw and give your cat a small treat.
  6. Repeat the process with each claw you trim.

Watch a Trimming Demonstration Video

Reef DVMs offer a handy demonstration of a safe way to trim cat nails. Watch it several times to familiarize yourself with the process.

Conditioning Your Cat for Nail Trimming

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends taking time to condition your cat to having his paws handled before you attempt to trim his claws. This process takes time and shouldn't be rushed. You can work on one paw or even just one or two toes at a time. Move along at whatever pace your cat is willing to accept until you gain his trust.

Holding cat's paw
  1. When your cat is sitting with you, gently handle his paws. If he pulls away at first, offer him treats so he begins associating you handling his paws with a reward.
  2. Once he's not as sensitive about having his paws touched, begin lightly massaging them and feed him treats as a reward for his cooperation. Learning to accept this light pressure will prepare him for having his nails exposed.
  3. Since a cat's claws are naturally retracted most of the time, gently press each pad to expose the claw before you trim. Practice this on one toe at a time, briefly exposing the claw, looking for the location of the quick, and then letting go of the toe and giving your cat a treat. Repeat the process with each toe as you're able until your cat accepts having his nails exposed.

Selecting a Nail Trimmer

There are several types of trimmers you can use, and each one has its advantages and disadvantages.

Types of Nail Trimmers
These standard nail clippers can work well for young kittens. Simply snip off the sharp nail tips. However, if the edges of the clipper are even slightly dull, they tend to shatter an adult cat's claws and leave a ragged cut that will require filing.
You place your cat's nail through the opening in the trimmer and then press the handles to make the blade slide through the nail and cut it. The main drawback is that it's a little difficult to keep track of where the quick is with this type of trimmer, which can be a real problem if your cat suddenly moves his foot while you're trimming.
These trimmers can be used on kittens and adult cats. As long as they're sharp, you'll get a clean trim whether you hold them perpendicular or horizontally as you trim. You'll need to replace them when they get dull, but they last a long time.

Tips That Make Trimming Easier

Teaching a cat to accept nail trimming is easier if you begin when he's a young kitten, but cats of any age can be conditioned to accept having his nails trimmed. In addition to behavioral condition, you may find these other tips helpful in teaching your cat to tolerate nail trimming:

  • Trimming is often easier when your cat is tired, so plan on trimming when he's relaxed and sleepy. That should make him easier to handle.
  • Sometimes it's easier to have another adult hold the cat for you. This will free you up to just concentrate on trimming his claws.
  • Always use sharp trimmers no matter which style you use. Sharp trimmers make a clean cut while dull trimmers make a ragged or only partial cut. Replace your trimmers as soon as you notice they no longer cut cleanly.
  • You don't have to trim all your pet's claws at once. You can trim a few claws at a time over the course of several days if you have to. The key is to avoid over stressing your cat to the point that he feels the need to avoid you when you have your trimmers in hand.
  • Reward your cat frequently during the trimming process. A little lick of tuna or some other favorite morsel can eventually make him happy to cooperate.

Seek Help as Needed

While it's possible to cut your cat's nails, there's nothing wrong with asking your vet or groomer to take care of this task if you feel intimidated about handling it yourself, especially if your cat is particularly aggressive and refuses to respond to conditioning. Ask if you can watch how it's done and then ask questions as they occur to you. With this extra bit of instruction, maybe you'll feel confident enough to do the next trimming yourself.

How to Trim a Cat's Nails