Home Blog Cat Questions How do I cut my cat’s nails and how often do I have to do it?

How do I cut my cat’s nails and how often do I have to do it?


Ah, the joy of cat ownership. It’s not always as easy as it looks, right? Not only do you have to clean your cat’s litter box while allowing him to poop in your house, but you also have to attempt to cut his nails while avoiding an emergency room visit (for you!) in the process. The best way to cut your cat’s nails is to train him early so you don’t get mauled in the process. As a kitten, gently play with your cat’s toes and paw pads for a few seconds or minutes a day - that way, he’ll get use to you touching his feet (after all, not all of us have foot fetishes). Second, use a gentle, effective nail trimmer. I personally prefer the miniature black rubber-handled cat nail clippers that look like scissors. They are small, easy to handle, inexpensive, and well worth it. Human fingernail trimmers also work well, as they are sleek and small. Don’t even think about using those bulky, cold, metal guillotine dog clippers – those will shred your cat’s nails, and he’ll be stuck with a painful and ugly manicure! Next, remember to be patient. Don’t bother trying to clip all the nails in one sitting; both you and your cat will hate each other. I clip one foot at a time, and accept what I can get from my cats. Your cat might be wondering why he’s tap dancing with his long nails on one foot, and flat-footed on the other, but trust me – he prefers this over a whole body tackle-and-torture session.

When trimming your cat’s nails, place your thumb on the top of the digit and your forefinger on the bottom pad. Push them both together gently, and you’ll notice that the nail extracts out, so you can see more of it. You’ll notice a clear and pink part, and you want to quickly and efficiently trim as much of the clear part off as you can in one swipe. Don’t go to close to the pink tissue (the “quick,” where the nerve and blood vessels run), as this is painful and will bleed. After tackling a few trims, give your cat a much-deserved treat and yourself a break.
How often you clip your cat’s nails depends on how much you like your leather sofa. I try to remember to do it once a month, and get painfully reminded to do it when Seamus and Echo walk over my head at three a.m. trying to snuggle with me. Because the front nails seem to grow faster than the hind nails, you’ll find that you’ll have to cut the back ones with less frequency (which is a good thing, since it’s more awkward and difficult to cut back nails). I find that I have to cut my cats’ front nails once a month, but the back ones every few months. That said, when in doubt, it’s always safest to keep your cat’s nails trimmed as short as possible, so no one gets hurt (i.e., you!). This is particularly important if you have children or other pets in the household, as you want to avoid any scratches or injuries (intentional or not). Remember, the sharper the cat nail, the more severe the potential for injury (as it can cut into the tissue deeper). Also, there are some rare diseases you can catch from your cat scratching you, so you want to keep those nails trim (see “What is cat scratch fever?” in Chapter 10 for more information).

If your cat has hyperthyroidism (a condition in which the thyroid gland is overactive), you may notice your cat’s nails growing at an abnormally rapid rate. The nails often become more brittle and very thick, and can crack while you cut them. While your cat doesn’t need a paraffin wax manicure or Vaseline Intensive Care, just be careful when cutting the nails. More important, if you simultaneously notice signs of excessive drinking, bigger clumps in the litter box, and weight loss despite a ravenous appetite, bring your cat to a vet for a thyroid check - and a free nail trim while she’s at it.

Copyright Justine Lee Veterinary Consulting. Content from Dr. Lee's books listed below: 

Biography: Dr. Justine Lee is a veterinary emergency critical care specialist and the author of It’s a Dog’s Life… but It’s Your Carpet: Everything you ever wanted to know about your four-legged friend and It’s a Cat’s World… You Just Live In It: Everything you ever wanted to know about your furry feline.   



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