How to trim your
cat’s nails---and live to tell the story!
In the old days, cats wore their nails down naturally as they ran and
clawed their way through the great outdoors. Today, although some cats
will keep their nails trimmed down nicely walking around the house or by
using a scratching post, for many cats, lounging around the house all
day sleeping, getting up for an occasional snack and then retiring with
the human family in bed for the last of their 20 hours of sleep per day
isn’t going to do the trick.
All cats have very sharp toenails. But if you find yourself with a
fur-queen turned Freddy Kruger, whose laser-sharp talons are destroying
your plants, shredding the furniture, getting hooked in the carpeting or
your skin; or to prevent a claw from getting torn or ripped, the
veterinarian or pet parent may need to trim their nails for them.
As a peticurist, you must be diligent in checking your cat’s
nails regularly and keeping them the proper length. Usually you just
need to take off the sharp tips.
Because most cats don’t like their nails trimmed, it is often neglected
by the owner OR they just let the groomer or veterinarian do it. I
recommend getting a cat used to having its feet handled and/or nails
trimmed from an early age and make it a positive socialization
experience by using positive reinforcement.
Here are a few proven tips:
You can use
your regular fingernail clippers or a pair made especially for
cats---I prefer the scissor style over the guillotine style. Just
make sure that they are sharp. Dull trimmers tend to crush the nail
and cause pain even if you aren’t in the quick. You also need to
have a small jar of blood-stopping powder on hand for the inevitable
time when you cut a nail too short and it bleeds.
Unlike a dog’s
nails, a cat’s are slightly recessed. To get them out for trimming,
gently squeeze the toe from top to bottom. This forces the nail out
so that you can blunt the tip.
The key is to
trim off a little, just the sharp tips, often (say every 2-4 weeks),
instead of trying to trim off the whole nine yards whenever you
happen to notice they’re the length of swords.
The problem is
that each nail has a blood vessel inside. Along side the blood
vessel runs a nerve. The trick is to trim to just beyond the blood
vessel and nerve because if you nick them the cat will hiss, may
bite, and will definitely bleed. NOTE: Everyone hits this vein
occasionally, even experienced veterinarians. So having a
blood-stopping powder on hand is important.
If your cat
has light-colored nails, the blood vessel is the pink area. Black
nails are harder to gauge but you can often see the blood vessel by
shining a flashlight behind the nail. The key is too only trim tiny
bits at a time. When your cat starts getting sensitive…STOP
TRIMMING…you’re getting close to the blood vessel! If your cat has
some clear and some black nails, use the average clear nail as a
guide for cutting the black ones.
matter what the color of the nail, if there is any doubt, just cut
back a little bit at a time.
If you draw
blood, pinch a little powder against the nail for a few seconds or
dip a cotton swab in the powder and apply pressure to the end of the
nail until it quits bleeding.
Cat’s nails will
regrow and become sharp again in a few days. Therefore, to protect your
“stuff”, it may be necessary to “nip the tips” as often as twice per
Make restraining your cat and trimming its nails a pleasant experience
by starting handling your cat and doing the procedures, with verbal and
treat rewards, from the time they’re kittens.
For older cats who haven’t been trained for nail trimming as
kittens, a pedicure can be a bit more of a challenge. Choose a time
when your cat is calm. Initially, only do one toe at a sitting. It may
take several days before all claws get trimmed, but it’s better to go
slowly rather than cause anxiety about the procedure.
If there is any doubt
as to your ability to do any of the above, safely and correctly, rely on
your veterinarian. Ultimately, they are the only ones who have the
experience, training, and compassion to optimize your cat’s health,
happiness and longevity. And when it comes to trimming cat’s nails, they
have the scars up and down their arms to prove their experience.