Yes, you can return those spiky claws to their prim, proper length at home. Veterinarians share their best practices.
orange kitten on back with paws up in air
Credit: Ira Evva / Getty Images

If you recently added a feline to your family or decided to cut down on trips to the groomer in the wake of the pandemic, you've likely faced a new and daunting dilemma: the increasing length of Chloe's claws. Even for seasoned cat owners, the mere thought of having to trim those talons down can be just as anxiety producing as it is for your furry friend. But doing so is essential to your cat's health. Not only do long nails pose a threat to the humans in your household and increase the chance of scratched furniture and floors, but they can also curl and grow into the cat's foot pads, causing pain and risking infection, says Bruce Kornreich, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center.

As a result, it's smart to snip your cat's nails every two to four weeks. "Exactly how often depends on her age and activity level," says Raelynn Farnsworth, associate chair of veterinary medical education at Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. "Young, active cats who spend some time outside or use scratching posts will naturally wear their nails down more, and can go at least a month, whereas older ones will need more frequent trimmings." The good news is, with some basic know-how, patience, and the right tools, you can nail it (get it?) every time. Just follow Farnsworth and Kornreich's advice:

Take it very slowly.

Before you even so much as think about whipping out the clippers, you'll want to desensitize your cat to the feeling of having his paws held, says Kornreich. "This is a very unnatural movement for them, so it's important that they feel comfortable in this position." It helps to catch your cat when she's mellow or groggy, perhaps right after a meal, says Farnsworth. Place her in your lap, and lift one paw in your hand, gently pressing on it, then move onto the next paw. If she starts to squirm, let her go. Restraining her by force will only increase her squeamishness.

Use the clippers you're comfortable with.

When the cat can easily stay put while you lift and hold a paw, you'll know she's ready for a nail cutting. Although there are several types of clippers out there—the guillotine-style cat ones, human ones, scissor-shaped ones—Kornreich and Farnsworth agree that the best option is the one that feels easiest for you to use. (Steer clear of dog clippers, however, which are typically much bigger and clunkier.) Sharpness is key, as well; a worn-down pair can squish the nail, rather than slice through it.

Cut across the top—and avoid going too deep.

With one paw in your hand and applying slight pressure to extend a nail, make one snip straight across the tip. If any sharp corners remain, plan to file them afterward (instead of turning or angling the clippers to trim them). It's also important to look out for the quick—the pink portion at the base of nail containing blood vessels and nerve endings—and ensure you do not cut into it, says Kornreich, as that will cause pain and bleeding. If that happens, don't panic. Just apply pressure to the nail with your thumb or use a styptic pencil or cornstarch to stop the bleeding, then let her go and plan to try again in a day or two.

Otherwise, keep moving from nail to nail, snipping the tips so long as your cat doesn't resist. If she starts to get jittery at any point, release her—and yes, plan to give it another try in a few days. (Having patience is critical, as it can take several attempts for your cat to adjust to this ritual.) Offer loving praise and treats for whatever she is able to accomplish, even if it was just one or two nails. Creating a positive association will make it much easier the next go-round.


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