Feline Nail Trims: Tricks and Tips

Know Your Feline’s Feet

It’s best to get your cat used to having its feet touched when it’s a kitten, but it’s possible to start the process at any age. When your cat is calm, start with holding her paw in your hand for a few moments. Work up to her letting you gently press on the last knuckle of the toe to extend the nail. Gently press each toe and hold for a moment. The more comfortable she is with the foot handling, the easier the trimming should be. It’s a great thing to try if you have a lap cat who likes to watch TV or read with you.

  1. Feline QuickGently press your cat’s toe to extend the nail. Look to see where your cat’s quick ends – you should be able to see it through the nail. It looks like a light pink line in the middle of the nail. Trim to just a few millimeters in front of the quick. (This can be harder if your cat is older and has thicker nails, so it’s best to play it safe and just trim the first 2-3mm off the tips if you’re unsure.)
  2. Cats nails shed in layers. We don’t typically notice this on healthy cat nails because of all of that good “claw sharpening” they do on their scratching posts helps to peel off those top dead nail layers. But as kitties age, they often have arthritis or other issues that cause them to be more sedentary and not scratch as much. This causes the nails to become thickened with dead nail layers and can lead to ingrown nails, cutting into their toe pads. Ouch! We recommend checking older kitty toes monthly to make sure they are looking healthy and not ingrown.
  3. You may need to give a small treat between each foot or give your cat a short break between each foot, especially if she dislikes being restrained or having her feet touched. It’s best to keep things as calm as possible, so it’s better to do one foot every day or so until they’re done, rather than making it a stressful struggle. We all know how cats can hold a grudge! Patience is key.
  4. If you have a polydactyl (extra toes!) kitty, be sure to look BETWEEN all of the extra toes. They can have nails growing there!

Feline Restraint

As noted above, a time when your cat is relaxed is the best time to trim your cat’s nails. Sometimes you can just let them sit on your lap or next to you on the couch. Sometimes they need a little more restraint. You’ll want to have a helper if that’s the case with your kitty.

Feline Scruff
Scruffing your cat may look mean, but it actually isn’t painful if done right, and is an effective restraint tool.

There are a couple of different methods you can try. The first is a gentle scruff (all that extra loose skin behind their heads) while laying your cat on its side. Just gently grasp your kitty’s scruff, then slowly lay her on her side. Scratch her head (or belly if she’ll let you!) while your helper clips her nails.

You can also try the towel wrap – a.k.a. the kitty burrito. Check out DVM360’s easy how-to or VetStreet’s Towel Wrap in 5 Steps to see how it’s done!

For more detail on how to actually accomplish the nail trim, see How-To: Trim Your Cat’s Nails.

Photo Credits

  1. Feline Quick: https://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/outreach/Pet-Health-Topics/categories/procedures/cats/clipping-your-cat’s-claws
  2. Feline Scruff: http://www.wikihow.com/Hold-a-Cat-by-the-Scruff