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Trimming Your Cat's Nails

If the furniture in your house resembles a well-used scratching post, you can limit future wear and tear by clipping your cat's nails regularly. Periodic cat nail clipping may also save you from serious scratches during rowdy playtimes.

Because your cat's nails grow in layers, he scratches items around the house to peel off old claw sheaths and expose new claws. Cats instinctively use their nails for a variety of activities—including playing, hunting, climbing and defending themselves. They also use their claws to communicate by marking their territory, stretch stiff muscles, exercise and relieve stress. Although your indoor cat probably doesn't need his claws to hunt, they are still a fundamental part of his natural behaviour, so keeping his nails healthy is a vital part of caring for your cat.

When to Trim

If your cat's claws are long, curved and razor sharp, it's time for a trim. The time in between nail trimmings will vary, depending on your cat’s activity level and how much he scratches, but the average time is 2–4 weeks.

It's best to start a nail trimming routine when your cat is young, so he gets used to being handled. It can take a lot of patience to convince an older cat to accept a "pedicure," and a mature cat's nails may need more frequent clippings than a youngster's would.

Your cat probably won't relish the nail-cutting experience, so consider trimming his nails when he's tired or relaxed, especially the first few times. If possible, have someone hold your cat and stroke him. Reward him after a nail trim with treats and praise him for cooperating.

If you've never trimmed a cat's nails and feel anxious about it, ask your veterinarian to show you how or to supervise your first attempt.

Slow as You Go

During the first session, don't cut your cat's nails at all. Just hold his paw in your hand and touch his toes and nails while you talk to him. This may be a slow start, but you want your cat to get used to having his paws handled. Diving right in with the clippers could frighten him or make him feel threatened.

During the second session, try trimming just a few claws. In each ensuing session, increase the number of nails you cut until you can trim all of them in one sitting. Be sure to have styptic powder on-hand anytime you are trimming your cat's nails. If you cut the quick, your cat may cry and struggle to escape, and the nail will bleed. If that happens, dab styptic powder on the nail tip or apply direct pressure with a tissue, and the bleeding will stop.

Many cats need only their front claws clipped because they keep their back claws short by chewing them when they groom. Still, check the back claws to see if your cat is keeping them under control. Most cats sport five toes on each front paw and four on each rear paw. If you spot an extra toe or two, your cat is polydactyl, which simply means "many digits."

Cut to the Chase, Not the Quick

To trim your cat's nails, hold his paw and gently squeeze the middle of his pad between your thumb and index finger to extend his claws. Use nail clippers with two cutting surfaces—scissors-style clippers made especially for cats work well.

Trim the nail at the point where it starts to curve downward, and clip only the part of the claw beyond the quick so you don't hit any blood vessels or nerves. The quick looks pink and extends from the base of the nail to near the tip. If you can't see the quick, just trim the thin curved tip.

Go slowly and cut a little bit at a time. Before you know it, you'll be trimming like a pro.

Provide Options for Scratching

Provide your cat with a sturdy scratching post or cat tower to support his natural urge to scratch and keep your furniture from becoming an object for scratching and clawing.

Training your cat to scratch in appropriate areas from an early age can act as your best defence from unwanted scratching. Here are some tips to help make it easier:

Scratch post texture: When it comes to scratching surfaces, all cats have different preferences. So, before you spend money on a certain cat scratching post, it's wise to give your cat some test options. Think of it as carpet samples, but for your cat's scratching pleasure. The most common and popular scratch surfaces are cardboard, carpet and sisal (a ropy fiber) so keep that in mind when picking up test samples. Once your cat has picked their preferred material, be sure to purchase a sturdy post so he can dig in and pull without danger of knocking it over.

Scratch post location: When picking a final spot for your scratch post, pick a location close to your cat's favourite scratching and napping areas. Try to reinforce the idea that this is the appropriate scratching area by moving your cat's paws up and down the post, or scratching it yourself.

There are a few ways you can make pieces of furniture less attractive to your kitty. One of the best techniques is to spray pet repellent on your furniture, while also enticing your cat to use the desired scratching area through catnip bribes. Be warned, some repellents can leave stains, so always test these out beforehand.

Another technique is to temporarily cover furniture with plastic, foil or carpet runners. Double-sided tape can also be an inexpensive solution for this technique because cats hate the sticky feeling. Never use duct tape.

Remember to give your cat positive reinforcement for his good behavior too. Whenever he scratches the post, or even shows interest in it; praise him with treats and affection. These small rewards can go a long way toward instilling good behavior.