Pro Tips for Cutting Cat Nails: A Step-By-Step Guide — Pet Central by Chewy Arrow Down Arrow Left Arrow Right Arrow Left Arrow Right Twitter Facebook Instagram Pinterest Video Play

Pro Tips for Cutting Cat Nails: A Step-By-Step Guide

Cutting cat nails takes only a few steps.

Via iStock.com/Galina Sandalova

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It is a common assumption that cats are self-grooming and do not need human intervention. News flash: That’s a myth.

Coat and nail care are important to the health and well-being of our feline friends and need human attention. Cutting a cat’s nails is necessary to minimize damage from sharp claws and to prevent nails from getting snagged in carpeting or other fabric. Also, neglected nails can curl under and grow into your cat’s toe pad, causing a painful situation and infection requiring veterinarian attention.

Feline nails grow in layers. The outer nail growth is shed during scratching to expose the newer nail. Ingrown nails are more likely to happen as cats become elderly and do not shed the outer shell of the nail. Ingrown nails also are quite common among polydactyl cats (those with extra toes).

In this article, learn how to trim cat claws as well as tips on making your kitty more comfortable during this process.

Steps for Trimming Cat Claws

1. Find a quiet spot with no distractions—including other family pets.

Trimming cat nails should be a time spent with just you and your kitty. Allow enough time to pet your cat first, or do some brushing and combing before addressing the nails. Going right for the paws is considered rude.

2. Acclimate your cat to having her paws handled.

Before you introduce the actual trimming, practice extending the nail by applying gentle pressure to the top and bottom of each toe. Reward your kitty with cat treats when you successfully extending each nail. Note: Initial sessions may not involve any actual clipping.

3. Locate the nail “quick.”

The quick is the pink part of the nail at the toe end that contains the nerves and blood vessels. Clipping into this area will cause bleeding and some pain. Feline nails are semi-translucent, and there is usually a good distance between the nail tip and the quick. That is the area where it is safe to clip. For beginners, it is best to just snip the tips.

4. Use sharp clippers that are comfortable for you and are appropriate for your cat’s nails.

The smallest scissor-style cat nail clippers may be less daunting to your cat. The Safari nail trimmer for cats is one scissor-style option designed for cats of all ages and sizes. Plus, these clippers feature a comfortable grip to help prevent slipping, which could cause accidents.

For thick nails, scissor-style clippers might not be suitable. Some people prefer the guillotine-style clippers. These clippers have an oval ring through which you insert the nail, and a sharp blade slides to cut the exposed nail tip. Make sure the blade is sharp; a dull blade will crush the nail instead of cutting it cleanly.

Note: Grinding the nails, as an alternative to clipping, has become a popular option, because of the reduced chance of hitting the nail quick. The downside of grinding is that it takes more time per nail than a snip of the clippers, which requires more cooperation from your cat. If you want to try grinding your cat’s nails, check out the FURminator nail grinder, which is designed with safety in mind.

5. Snip quickly with confidence and at a slightly forward angle.

Being tentative and not firm enough with your snipping action can cause you to crush the nail instead of cutting it cleanly and quickly.

Note: Accidents happen. If you accidentally nick the quick, apologize and move on; don’t overly dramatize the accident. Making too much out of an accident can make your cat dread future attempts. Keep some styptic powder on hand to stop the bleeding just in case. Press the powder onto the bleeding nail and hold for a minute.

Trimming Cat Claws: Tips from the Pros

Keep a towel or small blanket handy.

It’s a calming tool when lightly draped over your cat’s head, and it can save your legs from getting scratched when holding kitty in your lap.

If necessary, you can wrap the cat in the towel and expose one paw at a time. Professional groomers call this the “kitty burrito” technique.

Stay relaxed, or at least pretend to be relaxed.

Your cat is masterful at reading your energy. If she senses that you are anxious or fearful, she may want no part of the event. Fake it if necessary.

Play soft music.

Classical guitar is good, or try meditation music, as long as it does not have bird calls in it.

Use feline pheromones.

Members of the Holistic Cat Grooming group on Facebook testify that pheromone products work for them and help to avoid problem behaviors.

Use cat treats as a reward, not as a bribe.

Treats can be a powerful motivator, but don’t give them away before you get your cat to cooperate. Let your kitty know you have the treat to gain her interest, and wait until she allows you to clip a nail before you deliver the payoff.

After you engage in several one-treat-for-one-nail exchanges, you can build the behavior to clip two toes, then three and, finally, a whole paw for treats. Treats tend to gain power when the cat is hungry and lose power when she is not. Also, contrary to what the cat might think, it is not a crime to use a daily portion of dry cat food as rewards for playing the toenail game.

Consider using a padded ironing board instead of your lap.

If sitting your cat in your lap is not feasible, a padded ironing board makes an excellent grooming surface. Standing up can give you a better perspective, and it allows a helper to work on one side to help restrain your cat when you’re cutting cat nails.

Use the least amount of force necessary in restraining your cat.

Forceful techniques—such as scruffing, in which you hold the cat by the scruff or loose skin of her neck—can result in a rapid escalation of undesirable behavior. Losing patience will lose the end game and can destroy your cat’s trust in you.

Learn to read her warning signs.

Cats display three typical responses to stress: freeze, flight or fight. Related to the freeze response, there is a zen-like state that some felines display where they seem to dissociate from the situation as though “I’m not here, and this is not happening.” Don’t be fooled… Zen Kitty can rapidly shift to Rocket Cat or The Destroyer.

Watch for tail twitching, stiffening of the body, growling, panting or excessive purring. Yes, cats under stress can exhibit heavy purring. Don’t misread this and assume your cat is enjoying the procedure.

Few felines enjoy nail trimming. The best we can hope for is that they endure it and forgive us quickly! By using this how-to and following these tips it may just help make cutting cat nails easier for you both.


Barbara Bird is an Internationally Certified Master Groomer, award-winning blogger and founding member of the Association of Holistic Pet Professionals.

Featured Image: Via iStock.com/Galina Sandalova