How To Trim Cat Nails Like An Expert In 4 Easy Steps

Cat mug shot

Do you wonder if you can learn how to trim cat nails without injury to yourself or your cat? The short answer is yes! You absolutely can trim your cat’s nails at home!

While the thought of trimming your own cat’s nails may seem daunting and downright stressful, there are some tested steps you can follow that will help you execute the task like a boss! 

And with proper training, even the most anxious or defiant kitty can come to know the experience as tolerable and possibly even relaxing.

For me, the proof was in the pudding.

We brought our current fur baby, Muffin, home from the rescue facility when he was six years old. He came from an environment where he was constantly in fear and hiding from big dogs that persistently tried attacking him. 

He was riddled with anxiety. He hated his paws being touched and would become aggressive when I would try. I assume this had to do with being in a continual defense mode with dogs trying to nip at his legs.

When it came to grooming, I knew I had my work cut out for me. 

It took some time, a lot of patience, and adherence to the steps I’ve detailed below. But we successfully established mutual trust, and I can now trim his nails whenever I need to!

In this article, we will prepare you with these tested steps so that you, too, can get it right from the start! 

Why Trim Cat Claws?

Cat stretching claws

Cat’s love to scratch. 

Often they do so to wear down the dead skin around their nails. Other reasons may be to help them to stretch or to express anxiety or friskiness. Sometimes they do it just to mark their territory.

While many respect their designated scratching posts, some cats may prefer the side of the couch or other furniture much more. (My cat Muffin likes to use my hand-woven rugs. Ugh) 

Anyone who lives with a cat can attest to the constant scratching. And many cat owners are the not-so-proud bearers of scars (having their flesh used as the scratching post from time to time!)

But it’s not just important to maintain healthy trimmed nails for your furniture and your safety. It is vital for your cat too. 

For the indoor cat, nails left untrimmed can eventually grow too long and curl into the footpad, causing pain. 

Outdoor cats don’t require the same maintenance as they are naturally filing their nails all the time as they climb and traverse varying terrains. 

Nail Trimming Vs. Declawing

Whether you take your kitty in for regular mani/pedis or learn to do it at home, this is a responsibility that, as a cat owner, you need to accept. 

Declawing has always been a point of controversy and, with further research, has been proven to be inhumane for cats.

When we declaw a cat, the trauma of the pain they experience from the procedure can be life-long. 

What’s more, many experts agree that a declawed cat may experience unique health problems due to the removal. Symptoms can include back problems or changes in behavior due to aggravation. 

Picking Cat Nail Trimmers: 

cat nail trimmers

There are a few different styles of nail trimmers for cats. There are scissor cutters, guillotine cutters, or you can use human fingernail clippers. 

Some people opt to use an electric Dremel Tool which is a type of sander or filer. 

Some cats may not mind the Dremel. But because of the sound and the vibratory feeling it creates, this will likely not be your best bet – especially if you are working with a mature cat vs. a kitten getting a first-time manicure. 

I find what works best are human fingernail clippers. They are easier to control, and it is easier to see where you are cutting. Plus, why spend money on a special set of clippers for your cat if you don’t have to? 

The next easiest would be the Guillotine clippers. 

Typically you would use the scissor-style clippers if the claw is really long and curling into a circle. 

How To Trim Cat Nails Like A Pro

In a perfect world, nail trimming begins early in a kitten’s life.  So, by the time your cat is mature, they are well used to it. 

While it is best to start training for nail trimming as soon as possible in a cat’s life, often, a cat may be well into their adult years before we have attempted this maintenance on our own – especially if your cat is a rescue animal. 

Regardless of what stage of development your cat is in, training for nail trimming as soon as you bring them home is always best. 

Step 1: Getting Friendly With The Paws 

Before you attempt anything, you have to get kitty comfortable with having her paws touched.

Some cats may not mind their paws being handled, while others may absolutely hate it. 

Spend some time massaging the paws between your fingers. Once your cat has become comfortable with you handling her feet (Note: this may take some time), then work on gently squeezing the paw so that the nail extends. 

Gently relax and allow the nail to retract. Be sure to reward kitty with treats and praises throughout this process. The goal here is to teach your cat to view your handling her paws as enjoyable and normal.

Practice this a few times a day for as long as you need to until your cat gets used to it.  Don’t rush the process. And remember, always give praises and treats to establish trust and normalcy. 

Step 2: Introducing The Clippers: 

Cat’s tend to mistrust unfamiliar objects. Don’t keep those clippers hidden! That just makes them seem scary. 

Let your cat investigate and sniff the clippers. You can even lay them down with some treats placed around them.

Some cats do not like the sound the clippers make. 

Once your cat has gotten into the groove with the paw handling (and thoroughly examined those clippers), you will then need to get her used to the sound they make. 

The best way to do this is to go from playing with your cat’s paw to simulating a nail clipping. You can do this by clipping a piece of rice or pasta right next to her paw. 

And as before, make sure to follow with treats and praises once done immediately. 

Step 3: Setting the Mood For Comfort

It’s always better to try and trim your cat’s nails when they are sleepy or just after a meal. This way they will be feeling nice and relaxed – especially when they are not yet accustomed to having their nails trimmed. 

Find a quiet and calm space where there is not a lot of noise or distraction. Do not attempt to trim your cat’s nails in a room with other animals, near a window, or anywhere else where something may surprise kitty and set them on edge. 

Most cats do best with just laying on their side or being positioned in your lap for trimming. Either face up with belly exposed or lying tummy down and facing away from you will work. 

The important thing is to find a position where kitty is cozy and relaxed. 

Step 4: Time To Trim

Once your cat is in a good position, it’s time to attempt a clip. Gently hold and push down on the paw to reveal the claw. 

If your cat pulls her paw away or flinches, just pause and wait for her to become calm before trying again. 

Once the cat claws are exposed and you have a good visual, you will see if the claw needs a trim. 

If so, you only want to cut the sharp tip of the claw, avoiding the “quick.” The quick starts partially up the nail, where you can see the pink area containing the nerve endings. 

How to trim cat nails

Less is more here. Just cut the very tip, no more than 1/16th of an inch. Never try to go higher. It is better just to cut a little than to try and get as close to the quick as possible and potentially cause bleeding and pain. 

Once an injury of this sort happens, your cat will associate trimming with pain, and it will be much harder to accomplish going forward. Also, there will be a risk of infection. 

Take your time before you clip. Make sure you are correctly positioned and have not set the clippers too high up the nail. 

If you do manage to cut the quick by mistake, immediately dab the wound with some styptic powder to stop the bleeding. (You can find this product at most pet supply stores) 

Once you have successfully trimmed the nail, immediately release the paw. Again give praises and a treat to reward. 

If you finish with one claw and kitty is relaxed and just in zen mode, then you are free and clear to move on and clip another. 

Sometimes, in the beginning, it may be a “one-claw-a-day” mission. That’s okay! The key here is not to try and get it done quickly but to take the time to train your cat to tolerate the experience. 

Eventually, with a well-trained cat, you can likely accomplish all four paws in one day! 

contented cat

How Often Do Cat Claws Need To Be Trimmed? 

A good maintenance routine is to trim your cat’s nails every 2-4 weeks. 

Maintaining this frequency will help your cat to become increasingly comfortable with trimming. And of course, it will also spare your furniture! 

Even with trimmed nails, a cat will always scratch. So make sure your fur baby has enough posts and scratching toys to utilize for this! 

If, after trying, you (or kitty) still just can not manage to get comfortable with nail trimming, you can talk to your vet and see what they recommend. You may also look into cat nail covers, which may prove quite useful in preventing your home from being shredded! 

What’s Next?

I hope this article has helped prepare you to handle your cat’s mani/pedis at home successfully. 

With enough patience and consistency, I am sure you can make nail trimming time as stress-free as possible for both your kitty and you! 

For more information on how to best care for your fur baby, check out our article on What Cat Insurance Covers.