How-To: Trim Your Cat’s Nails

There are lots of videos and how-tos out there showing you how to trim your dog’s nails – but what about your cat? Cat owners know well that a cat making muffins on his owner is a happy cat, but the owner is not always a happy owner. Those claws hurt! Thankfully, trimming your cat’s nails is something you can do at home, quickly and easily.

Feline Quick
All cats have clear nails, so the quick should be visible.

Cats have clear nails, making the pink “quick” easy to see. That’s the sensitive part inside the nail that contains the nerves and blood vessels to the nail and which bleeds if you cut it. You’ve probably quicked yourself if you’re a nail-biter or cut your nails too close to the skin. Sometimes even we, the expert nail trimmers, can cut the nail too short and make it bleed on dogs with hard-to-see quicks. It’s still possible to quick a cat if you cut too far up the nail, but that’s less likely to happen if you are careful and look for the pink quick.

You can trim your cat’s nails using a regular human nail trimmer. Cat nails are usually thin and flat, so you don’t need any special tool to get around them like with dogs. Cats also are often much more tolerant of having their feet touched.

Because of their smaller size and tendency to laze around, if you have a patient kitty, sometimes you can trim your cat’s nails by yourself without needing a second person to help you restrain or distract them.

That being said, not all cats are easy. Sometimes you will need someone else to help because your cat won’t sit still or won’t let you touch its feet. Sometimes you will need larger nail clippers – cats nails shed in layers, so the older a cat gets, the thicker its nails grow since the cat is usually not using its claws as much or wearing them down as effectively. This can lead to nails growing into your cat’s paw pads, so it’s especially important to make sure you’re looking regularly at your cat’s nails and toe pads as it ages.

This polydactyl cat has 6 toes on her right front paw!

Most cats have 18 nails to trim – four toes on each front foot, plus a dewclaw a few centimeters up on the leg (think of it like a thumb!), and four toes on each hind foot. If your cat is polydactyl and has extra toes (usually just on the front two paws but not always!), then be sure you look between the extra toes as they often have nails there, too!

To trim your cat’s nails at home, just follow these easy steps.

  1. Have your materials ready. You will need:
    • Nail clippers (standard sized human nail trimmers are usually sufficient)
    • KwikStop or other styptic powder in case you quick your cat (found at most pet stores but corn starch works in a pinch!)
    • Treats for distraction and for when you’re finished (treats should be “high value”, like spray cheese, tiny flakes of canned tuna or other extra-yummy favorites)
    • Adequate lighting so you can clearly see the nail and steer clear of the quick
    • A helper person if you have one
  2. To restrain your cat for its nail trim, you can try a couple of different things –
    • For cooperative kitties, place your cat in your lap or on a waist-level table; rear end facing you, head facing away from you. Gently hug him into place with forearms and proceed to trim nails.
    • For wiggly or scared kitties, grab a helper to assist you with one of these options:
      • Helper person holds your cat in their arms using treats, chin scratches, or gentle head taps as a distraction while you trim.
      • The kitty burrito wrap (achieved using a towel or thin blanket)
      • Helper gently scruffs and lays kitty on its side, gently holding both back feet also if necessary
  1. Pick a foot to start. Sometimes starting with the back feet is best so your cat can learn that this isn’t scary and doesn’t hurt but you don’t have to risk your cat trying to bite you if he decides he doesn’t like it.
  2. Gently press your cat’s toe to extend the nail. Look to see where your cat’s quick ends – it looks like a light pink line or triangle in the middle of the nail. Trim a couple millimeters just in front of the quick. (This can be harder if your cat is older and has those thicker nails, so it’s best to play it safe and just trim the super sharp ends, about 3mm off the tip)
  3. Trim the rest of the nails on that foot, then proceed to the remaining feet.

The more you practice it, the easier it should become. And in the event your cat says “No way, Jose!” then you can always give us a call. It’s better to leave it up to the pros than risk harm to yourself or your cat.

For more details on how to get your cat used to nail trims and nail trim restraint, see Feline Nail Trims: Tricks and Tips.

Photo Credits

  1. Feline Quick:’s-claws
  2. Polydactyl Feline Paw: By Ventus55 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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