How To Clip Cat Nails 101

Wondering how to clip your cat's nails? Learn how with Pawp's step-by-step guide, from pre-clipping preparation to the most effective trimming tools.

Bridget Reed

Updated December 19, 2022 • Published May 17, 2022

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How To Clip Cat Nails 101

Although your feline friend might not be the biggest fan, clipping your cat's nails is key to keeping them healthy and happy. Long nails can break, bleed, and grow back into the paw and cause pain. Plus, keeping your cat's nails has benefits for you, too—it prevents your furniture (and your skin) from getting scratched.

Taking your cat for a regular trimming can be time consuming and expensive, so learning how to clip cat nails at home could save you the hassle.

While trimming your cat’s nails without the help of a groomer could seem difficult, it's far from impossible. It's important, however, that you do it correctly and safely.

Here's a step-by-step guide about how to clip cat nails.

How to clip cat nails

Think of trimming your cat’s nails as part of routine maintenance that you do for their health (this is especially important for older cats and cats with arthritis).

The best way to get your cat used to clipping their nails is to start when they're a kitten, or as soon as you adopt them. This will help ensure that your cat does not develop a fear of nail trimming. 

There are several steps you can take to help your cat prepare for nail clipping. Of course, it’s understandable if they still have some reluctance about getting their nails cut despite the preparation—but it can make a sizable difference.

Before you clip your cat's nails

Handle their paws

The first thing that you can do is get your cat used to you touching their paws and paw pads. You can start by gently touching, then work your way up to massaging. Do this a few times before you actually try to trim.

This is a good time to examine the paws for any abnormalities like redness, swelling, or odd coloring. If you do notice anything of concern, reach out to a vet.

Choose the right tools

It's important to have the right tools for your cat’s nail trimming.

You need to use nail clippers specifically made for cats (human nail trimmers will not work). These should have a sharp enough blade, as dull blades can put too much pressure on the sensitive nerves.

You’ll also need treats and septic powder (or flour or cornstarch) should there be any bleeding.

Pick the right time

You don’t want to clip your cat’s nails until they're in a calm and relaxed mood. This is important, because if your cat is squirming, you could actually cut too much of their nail off, which could lead to bleeding and injury. 

Once your cat is comfortable with you handling their paws and you have the right tools, it's time to clip your cat’s nails.

Cat nail clipping steps

1. Find a comfortable location

You should first find a comfortable spot for your pet. This should be a location familiar to your cat where there are no noises or other pets that could startle them during the process.

2. Position your cat securely

Once you find the right spot, it's time to make sure your cat is in a comfortable, secure position. You can lay your cat on their side, preferably on your lap, and drape your forearms over your cat’s neck and hind area. This will ensure that your cat does not slip out of your lap.

If this doesn't work for your cat, you can try a few different positions. You can try sitting down and having your cat lay on his back between your legs, or some find it easier to stand and hold the cat on a flat surface. You might need two people to help secure your cat if they're antsy.

3. Locate the quick

The quick is the center part of the cat’s nail that contains blood supply and nerves. It’s very important to avoid this area. It’s typically easy to identify because it looks pink, compared to the white part of the nail, and is located towards the base of the nail.

According to Pawp veterinarian Dr. Laura Robinson, if you accidentally trim your pet’s quick, there are options.

“You can use 'kwik stop,' which is a powder that can be applied and will help stop bleeding,” she says. “If the bleeding hasn’t stopped in 15 minutes or so, I recommend taking them into your vet.” 

4. Begin clipping

Now, you can begin to clip your cat’s nails.

Hold the clippers in your dominant hand. Because cat’s claws retract in to their paws, you’ll have to apply gentle pressure to extend the nail. You can do this by placing your index finger on the paw pad and the thumb of the same hand on the top of the paw, and gently squeeze. This will expose their claws. You'll want to trim the nail to within about 2-4 millimeters of the quick. 

It's important to cut decisively, as a gentler cut could crush the nail instead of cut it. A 45 a degree angle is a more comfortable resting position for the nail. Do a little bit each time to avoid cutting into the quick. If you do, have your septic powder handy to help stop any bleeding. Again, if it doesn’t stop after a few minutes, call your vet.

5. Reward with treats

You should be sure to give your cat lots of treats throughout the process—or have a helper nearby who can reward them while you trim.

This will increase the likelihood that they will stay in place for the remainder of their nail trim and be willing to get their nails clipped again. 

6. Let your cat leave when they choose

If your cat wants to meander away, let them do it. The best thing to do, especially the first few times that you're clipping your cat’s nails, is to let them tell you when it's too much for them.

Your cat might not want to sit still for the entire time that you're trimming their nails, and if that’s the case, let them go. You can always clip the remaining nails the next day.

How often should I clip my cat’s nails?

It’s recommended that you clip your cat's nails every two to four weeks. This will ensure that your cat does not suffer from any injuries that result from having overgrown nails.

If you find that your cat is getting caught on your blankets or towels, this could be considered a sign that a trimming session is necessary.

If you have any questions about trimming your cat’s nails, you can always ask the team at Pawp. Pawp’s vets are available to answer your questions with convenient telehealth appointments 24/7

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