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Cat Nail Trimming 101: How and When

cat close-up

When the furniture in your house starts to resemble a worn out scratching post, it’s time to put regular cat nail trimming in place. Because cat nails (known as claws) grow in layers, they use scratching to peel off old claw sheaths and expose new claws. While it’s safe to say your indoor cat isn’t using their claws to hunt, they still play a big role in your pet’s natural behavior.

 cat on couch

It’s instinctive for your cat to use their claws for playing, hunting, climbing, and defending themselves. They even use them to communicate by marking their territory, to stretch stiff muscles, exercise, and relieve stress. So you can imagine how difficult a day without healthy nails would be. To help with your cat’s grooming routine, we’ll walk you through when and how to cut cat nails.

Warming Up to Cat Nail Trimming

Introducing cat nail trimming into your pet’s routine, should happen when they’re a kitten or still young. For the first session, focus on making your feline comfortable. Start by holding their paw and touching their toes, fingers, and nails while you talk to them. It may seem like a slow start but the goal is to familiarize your cat with having their paws handled. Diving right in with clippers could frighten your cat or make them feel threatened.

For the next session, try trimming a few claws and increase the number of nails you cut until you can trim them all in one sitting. Be sure to have styptic powder on hand in case you cut the pink strip that extends from the base of the nail, known as the quick. The quick contains nerves and muscles making it a very sensitive part of the claw. You can dab styptic powder on the cut area or apply direct pressure with a tissue to stop the bleeding. If the bleeding does not stop, contact your cat’s veterinarian right away.

How to Cut Cat Nails: Perfecting Your Technique

Now that your companion is comfortable with you handling their claws, it’s time to become a cat nail trimming pro! Before you start, make sure you have cat-friendly supplies like a pet nail clipper or guillotine. Scissor-style clippers are useful if you’re cutting a nail that has grown into a circle. When you’re ready, follow these 5 steps to get started:

STEP 1: Get your cat to extend their claw by holding their paw and gently squeezing the middle of their pad between your thumb and index finger.

STEP 2: Place the trimmer perpendicular to the nail at the point where it starts to curve downward.

STEP 3: Trim at a slow pace and avoid cutting parallel (side to side) to steer clear of crushing and splintering the nail.

STEP 4: Continue cutting top to bottom, only clipping the part of the claw that is beyond the quick so as not to hit any blood vessels or nerves. If you can't see the quick, trim the thin curved tip.

STEP 5: When finished, reward your feline with treats and praise for cooperating.

Repeat this process for all nails that need trimming. Most cats will only need their front claws clipped because they maintain their back claws when they self-groom. Still, check the back claws to see if your cat is keeping them under control. If you've never trimmed a cat's nails and feel nervous, ask your veterinarian for a demonstration or to supervise your first attempt.

Knowing When and How Often to Trim Cat Nails

If your cat's claws are long, curved, and razor sharp, they’re ready for a trim. Try to catch them after playtime so they’re tired and relaxed. The time between cat nail trimmings will vary depending on your cat’s activity level and how much they scratch, with the average time being 2–4 weeks.

You should start trimming your cat’s nails when they are young since it can take a lot of patience to convince an older cat to accept a "pedicure." A mature cat's nails may also need more frequent clippings than a kitten’s nails.

Maintaining Your Cat’s Nails Between Trimmings

Providing a sturdy scratching post or tower is one way you can support your cat’s instinctive urge to claw. It also keeps your furniture from becoming their latest obsession. Training your cat to scratch in appropriate areas at an early age is your best defense against unwanted scratching. Here are some things to consider:

Scratch post texture

All cats have different preferences when it comes to scratching surfaces. To figure out what your cat likes, let them test a few materials. The most common and popular scratch surfaces are cardboard, carpet, and sisal (a ropy fiber). Once you know your cat’s preferred material, buy a sturdy post so they can dig in and pull without the danger of knocking it over.

 cat scratching board

Scratch post location

Pick a location close to your cat's favorite scratching and napping areas. Reinforce the idea that this is the appropriate place to scratch by moving your cat's paws up and down the post, or scratching it yourself.

cat scratching post

Protecting your furniture

There are a few ways you can make your furniture less attractive to your kitty. One technique is to spray pet repellent on your furniture while enticing your cat to use their new scratching area (don’t be afraid to use catnip as a little extra motivation). Some repellents can leave stains, so always test them beforehand.

Another technique is to cover furniture with plastic, foil, carpet runners or furniture covers. During this time, introduce your cat to their scratching area. Once your furniture is no longer a focus, it’s safe to remove any coverings.

Giving your cat positive reinforcement for good behavior ensures these habits stick. Whenever they scratch their post or show interest in it, reward them with treats and affection. These small praises will go a long way toward instilling healthy scratching behavior.

When to Seek Professional Nail Grooming

All cats are different and sometimes it’s best to seek the help of a professional. Certified stylists will know how to deal with your cat’s quirky behavior and how to help them relax. If you think your companion would enjoy professional grooming, consider scheduling a Petco nail trim. Aside from cutting nails, a la carte services include nail buffing, paw balm, and even nail polish for a complete day of pampering!

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