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How Often Should You Trim a Cat’s Nails?

Image via iStock.com/dzika_mrowka

By Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM

A cat uses its nails for many different activities, including scratching, climbing and marking territory. Interestingly, cat nails are retractable, staying hidden until a cat needs to use them.

Cat nails also grow continually. Outdoor cats keep their nails short by climbing and scratching on trees, among other outdoor activities. Indoor cats often use cat scratching posts to care for their nails, but these posts may not be enough to keep a cat’s nails short.

Why It’s Important to Trim Cat Nails Regularly

Overgrown nails become curved and don’t retract completely. You will know if your cat’s nails have grown too long if your cat gets their nails stuck in carpets or other soft surfaces, or if your cat can no longer retract her nails.

Severely overgrown and curved nails can grow into the footpad, causing significant pain and mobility problems. Therefore, it is very important to keep your cat’s nails short. Cat should have their nails trimmed every 10 days to 2 weeks so that they do not get to this point.

Keeping Your Cat Calm

Unfortunately, trimming cat nails can be challenging, because most cats do not like nail trims. Here are some helpful tips on the cat nail trimming process and how to keep a cat calm during a nail trim.

  • Select a comfortable chair in a quiet room where your cat can’t look out the window.
  • Hold your cat in your lap when she’s relaxed and a little sleepy, such as after a meal.
  • For at least several days before the nail trim, massage your cat’s front legs and paws, pressing gently on each foot pad with your thumb and forefinger to extend the corresponding nail. Release the pressure and immediately give your cat a cat treat.
  • Acclimate your cat to the sound of nail clippers. Place a piece of uncooked spaghetti in the cat nail clippers. When you press on a foot pad as described above, ‘clip’ the spaghetti when the nail extends. Release the pressure and immediately treat your cat.

How to Clip Cat Nails

When your cat is calm and is comfortable with you touching her paws, you can now trim her nails. Several types of cat nail clippers are available. Scissor-type clippers, such as the JW Pet Gripsoft Cat Nail Clipper and Four Paws Ulitmate Touch Cat Caw Clipper, work great for clipping cat nails. Guillotine clippers, such as the Hertzko Professional Dog & Cat Nail Clipper & Nail File, also work well.

If you’re not sure which nail clipper to choose, your veterinarian can help you decide which clipper type would be best for you and your cat.

Below are the steps to properly trim cat nails:

  1. Organize your supplies: sharp cat nail clippers, a towel and styptic powder (if a nail starts to bleed).
  2. Place your cat in your lap with her facing away from you and your forearm over her neck. Gently wrap her in the towel if she starts to squirm.
  3. Massage and press a foot pad to extend the nail.
  4. Locate the quick, which is the pink portion of the nail that contains nerves and blood vessels.
  5. Before clipping, position the clippers perpendicular to the nail so you are cutting it from top to bottom; cutting side to side may split the nail.
  6. Cut only the sharp tip of the nail. Do NOT cut the quick! Cutting the quick will be painful and cause bleeding. If you accidentally cut the quick, apply a small amount of styptic powder to quickly stop the bleeding.

Depending on your cat’s temperament, you may be able to cut only a few nails at a time, and that’s okay. Be patient with your cat and don’t punish her if she resists the nail trim. If your cat continually refuses your attempts to trim her nails, take her to your veterinarian or groomer for a nail trim.

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