Cats may be adorable, but those nails sure can get you – and your sofa! At one time, declawing was a more common choice for people who didn’t want to deal with cats clawing them or their furniture, but thankfully, those days are fading into the sunset as more information about the harm caused by declawing comes to light.
But the fact remains – those claws are sharp. We know that scratching is very important for claw health – it helps cats to shed the dull outer layers of their nails as they grow, revealing the new, healthy, sharp nail underneath – and that it’s a vital ritual for our cats, as they use this activity to stretch their bodies and mark their belongings with their scent. But why, if your cat can accomplish all of this with scratching on their own, do we need to trim their nails for them?
One reason is that cats are really good at sharpening their nails, and if they aren’t trimmed every couple of weeks, things can get ouchy (think kneading, for example.) Sharp nails are also more of a danger to your furniture or your skin – and the truth is, cat scratches can lead to infection (they dig in litter boxes, after all.)
Another reason is that your cat may not be removing all of the outer layers of the nails during their own scratch sessions, and if this continues, your cat could develop ingrown nails.
This all makes sense, but you may be wondering how on earth you are supposed to wrangle your cat in order to trim those tiny feets of death? Well, it’s a process. Ideally, you would start your cat on a nail-trimming routine from kittenhood, but it is totally doable to get an adult cat accustomed to it, as well.
To start, you just want to get your cat or kitten used to having their feet handled. Many people find it makes the most sense to do this while their cat is relaxed and resting on their lap, perhaps when he or she is groggy after a meal. The first few times, simply pick up one of your cat’s feet and press on one or two of the pads to push the retracted claw out. If your cat is not bothered by this, try it on another foot. Offering a treat after this may help your cat to make a positive association with having her feet handled.
After a few times of doing this daily, you can move on to trimming a nail or two. You don’t want to try to trim them all at once – it’s a rare cat that can handle having 18 (or more, if your cat is polydactyl) nails trimmed in one sitting. With your cat relaxed on your lap, simply pick up a paw, gently push on a pad to reveal the claw, and trim only the very end of the nail. Be careful to stay very clear of the quick – this is the pink or darker-colored part of the nail, a little further down from the point – as this has blood supply and nerves, and will hurt your cat if cut. Only the point needs to be trimmed. You can use a nail trimmer made for cats, such as the one shown in the photo, or you can use nail clippers made for humans. Some people have great luck with baby nail scissors, though I haven’t tried that myself.
When you and your cat get into a good groove with a one or two-nail-per-day routine, you can begin to add more. Likely, you won’t get past being able to do one paw in a session, but that’s okay – you just make it a regular part of their grooming. One of our cats loves to be brushed while lying on her cat tree, and I trim a couple of her nails during her daily brushing – you just want to find what works best for your cat so that they can be relaxed and receptive to the touch.
The main thing to remember is to keep it relaxed and stress-free. If your cat shows signs of wanting to get away from any nail trim, let him go and try again another time. A treat reward after a successful nail trim may be helpful, and always offer lots of love.