Trimming your cat’s nails does not have to be stressful; with a few simple tips you can quickly and easily keep those nails short and neat and save your furniture.
Nail trimming is often feared by owners who are worried about trimming them too short or are dealing with a wiggly feline. The best way to calm your fears is to ask your vet or a professional groomer to train you in the proper techniques for nail trimming. The best way to calm your cat’s fears is to train it from a very young age to be comfortable with the process.
If you don’t feel comfortable trimming your cat’s nails your vet or groomer will be happy to do this regularly. For many cats it is not necessary to trim their nails, but there are many reasons to do so, such as to save furniture from scratches or to reduce trauma to your legs when your cat ‘kneads’ you. Some cats can have nails that grow around and into the pad, so these do need to be kept short. In some cats, the nails will catch on carpet and furnishing and can lead to distress and trauma.
Types of nail trimmers
There are many different types of nail trimmers. Buy good quality trimmers that are sharp and designed for cats. They should be concave at the cutting edge, to avoid crushing the nail. Blunt or poor quality trimmers will split and crush the nail. If the nails aren’t that long but are sharp you can simply file them or use a pumice stone to take off the tips. In the US it is common to use a dremel to slowly burr down the nails and this can be more gradual and safer than clipping.
How to trim the nails
The first step is to get some treats, make the whole experience positive and don’t feel like you need to be a hero and trim all the nails at once. Start with one, reward and come back later if you or your pet is nervous. In cats, simply trim the ‘hook’ off the end. Don’t try to cut them extremely short, just cut the tip off. The quick is the pink area within the nail where the nerves and blood vessels are, similar to the area underneath our nails. This is the area you want to avoid when trimming nails.
Cats have retractable claws, so to get the nail ‘out’, simply push on the top of the foot so that the nails come out of their little sleeves. This allows you to fully visualise the nail and avoid the skin around the nail. If your cat is a bit of a fidget, wrap him in a towel or enlist the help of a friend to hold him. Try not to pull your cats foot into uncomfortable positions while trimming those nails and ideally stop before he gets too cranky with the process. Even if you just do one nail a day while he is relaxed and sitting with you on your lap, it will still be better than fighting with him and having him run for the hills as soon as he sees you with those nail clippers!
If your cat has black nails, you will notice that the base of the nail is roughly triangular and it comes out to a pointy hook. There are no nerves or blood vessels in the ‘hook’, so it is perfectly safe to cut the tip off. Another trick of the trade is to apply gentle pressure with the nail trimmers without actually cutting where you think you need to cut. If your cat reacts to the pressure, most likely you are too close to the quick and you will need to more the clippers further down the nail.
What if I make the nails bleed?
If you accidentally cut the nails too short you can use styptic powder, or simply use a clean bar of soap and run it under the damaged nail. The soap will plug the vessel and stop the bleeding. Usually if you have made your cat bleed, they will be a bit nervous next time, so make sure you have lots of treats at the ready and take it slow the next time you try trimming those nails. First you might need to just get the nail trimmers out, show them to your cat then give a very high value treat like a piece of BBQ chicken. Work on gradually regaining your cat’s trust and confidence with the nail clippers and just do one nail at a time very gently. As your cat is more comfortable you may be able to do a couple of nails.
Old cats or deformed nails
Older cats tend to end up with longer, thicker nails and often a greasy exudate around the nail bed. This can be cleaned off with a dilute chlorhexidine solution or gentle pet shampoo if it is difficult to remove. Older cats are also more likely to have problems with the nails growing into the pad. Thickened nails or deformed nails can also be a sign of underlying health problems, so if your cat has started growing unusually thick nails, particularly if this is combined with an increase in thirst, please get your feline friend to the vet for a check-up. Nails can also grow back a bit deformed if there has been some sort of trauma to the nail bed, such as when the dew claw has been caught in something and torn.
Whenever you trim your cat’s nails remember to make the whole experience rewarding by having treats at the ready. Always take a little bit at a time if you can’t clearly see the quick beneath the nail. And if you have a determined couch-shredder on your hands, why not consider some soft paws to protect the furniture.