How to Trim Your Cat's Nails Safely, According to Veterinarians

Trimming your cat's nails every two to four weeks will protect you from getting scratched and keep your feline from getting caught on furniture, scratching posts, and more.

If you recently added a feline to your family or decided to cut down on trips to the groomer, you've likely faced a new and daunting dilemma: the increasing length of your cat's nails. Even for seasoned cat owners, the mere thought of having to trim those talons down can be just as stress inducing 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. Before reaching for the clippers, it's important to know the ins-and-outs of how to trim your cat's nails so you don't risk hurting them—or yourself.

How Often to Trim Your Cat's Nails

"On average, the time between trimmings is two to four weeks for most cats, but this can vary depending on the cat's activity level and how much they scratch," says Dr. Whitney Miller, DVM, MBA, DACVPM, chief veterinarian at Petco. So, you don't want to over do it when it comes to trimming your cat's nails, but you also don't want to neglect the chore altogether either.

Age can also play a factor when it comes to the frequency of trimming your cat's nails. "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," says Bruce Kornreich, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center. As a general rule, increased scratching or tearing into your furniture may be a sign it's time to trim your feline's nails. Long, curved, or razor sharp nails also mean it's time for a nail clipping.

A domestic cat climbs up a cat pole.

Why You Should Trim Your Cat's Nails

Most cat owners clip their feline's nails to prevent them getting caught on carpet, bedding, or clothes—which can happen when their claws get too long. "Technically you do not have to trim a cat's nails like you do a dog's nails, unless they are having issues where the nails are thicker and curling into the paw pads, which usually only happens in some cats when they are older," says Nicole Savageau, VMD for The Vets.

An added bonus of trimming your cat's nails yourself is you can avoid an extra trip to the veterinarian or groomer every few weeks. "However, if it is difficult to cut your cat's nails, your cat gets overly stressed, or if you feel like you may get scratched, consult your veterinarian to have your cat's nails trimmed," says Dr. Miller.

Use Clippers That Work for You

While there are several types of clippers out there—guillotine-style, scissor-shaped, pliers-style, and nail grinders—the best option is the one that feels easiest for you to use. One rule when it comes to choosing the right clippers, though, is they should be meant specifically for cats. Steer clear of dog clippers, which are typically much bigger and clunkier. Sharpness is also important, as a worn-down pair can squish the nail, rather than slice through it.

"I use cat specific nail trimmers that trim side to side—where the clippers open and close the same way a pair of scissors would—not the guillotine style trimmers, which are harder to use and easier to accidentally trim too far back and hurt your cat," says Dr. Savageau. Scissor-style is also helpful if you're cutting a nail that has grown into a circle.

Young woman holding grey hair cat on sofa

How to Prepare Your Cat for a Nail Trimming

In a perfect world, pets should be introduced to nail clipping when they are kittens. If this isn't the case for you, it's important to prepare your cat for the uncomfortable process before diving right in. "Start by sitting with your cat and holding their paws so they get familiarized with having their paws handled," says Dr. Miller.

How to Trim Your Cat's Nails

When trimming your feline's nails, both you and your pet should be in a comfortable and secure position that allows you to maintain control. "This is often with the cat laying down on a stable, elevated surface that is free of other items, such as a cleared countertop or table," says Dr. Miller.

If your cat is more tolerant of having their nails clipped, you can hold them on your lap facing away from you. Both of these positions give you control and reduce your risk of getting scratched. Once your cat is secure, you can begin clipping their nails.

  1. Hold your cat's paw and gently squeeze the middle of their pad between your thumb and index finger to extend their claws.
  2. Place the trimmer perpendicular to the nail at the point where it starts to curve downward. (Cutting parallel can crush or splinter the nail)
  3. Trim at a slow pace, making sure not to cut if any fur or tissue are within the clipper's blades.
  4. Continue cutting top to bottom, only clipping the part of the claw that is beyond the quick (where the blood vessels and nerves are located).
  5. When finished, reward your cat with treats and praise for cooperating.

What to Do If You Cut the Quick by Accident

You'll likely be able to spot the quick as you cut. "Most cats have clear nails and the quick looks pink inside of the clear nail," says Dr. Miller. "If you are getting close to that pink area, do not clip beyond that point. If you can't see the quick, trim the thin curved tip."

Be sure to have styptic powder on hand in case you cut the quick by accident. The powder should be dabbed onto the cut area to stop the bleeding. If you don't have styptic powder, then apply direct pressure with a tissue to stop the bleeding. "If the bleeding does not stop, contact your cat's veterinarian right away," says Dr. Miller.

Updated by
Erica Sloan
Erica Sloan Contributor Photo

Erica is a former editorial assistant for Martha Stewart Living.

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