How To Trim Cat Nails: A Guide To Trimming Cat Claws

Jamie Frevele

Jamie Frevele

. Reviewed by Barri J. Morrison, DVM
Updated Oct. 11, 2023
cat being held while nail is clipped by nail clippers

Just like humans and dogs, cats need their nails trimmed. And while scratching posts can help keep their claws at bay for a bit, they will occasionally need a clip.

However, if the prospect of trying to wrangle your feline friend for a little grooming session feels impossible, read on for some tips that could keep you from getting scratched up.

How Often Should I Trim My Cat’s Nails?

If you have an active cat that can keep herself occupied enough to wear her claws down naturally, there's a good chance she won't need much attention from you. Cat claw growth will vary depending on the breed and health of the cat, but pay attention to them every two to four weeks.

And if you're lucky enough to be the parent of a polydactyl cat, be wary of those extra nails on those extra toes!

Are My Cat’s Nails Too Long?

We all want to let our cats be cats and let them do the things they love, like play, scratch, hunt, and climb. But there is a "too long" when it comes to cat claw length.

A cat's claws are too long when they develop into a curved shape. In extreme cases of overgrowth, the claws can curve into your cat's toe pads, which can be painful and cause open wounds.

Trimming them before they get too curvy will prevent that from happening. It will also prevent ingrown claws, which can be very painful and be further complicated and dangerous if an infection develops.

While cats' claws are supposed to be sharp, there is such a thing as too sharp! If you notice that your feline friend is drawing blood or your furniture is torn up, give their claws a check and see if they need a trim.

But even if you don't notice a curve or extra sharpness, keep a watchful eye on your cat's claws. Even if they're just a little on the long side, they could still catch on things and break, which can be painful.

Understanding Cat Nail Structure

Being able to recognize when a cat's nails are too long is just the first step toward keeping them neat and healthy. It's important to know the "mechanics" of your cat's claws before attempting to trim them yourself.

Cat's claws are retractile, which means they retract beneath the surface of their toes. To trim them, take their paw one at a time in your fingers and gently squeeze to push the claw out. (Think of their toe beans as buttons you can push!) 

The quick is the part of the cat's nail that contains the blood vessels and nerves. Your cat likely has nearly clear nails, so you'll be able to see the pink-colored vessels toward the base of the nail nearest the toe. This is the part of the nail you do not want to cut. Cutting the quick will definitely hurt your friend, so when trimming, cut only about 2 mm from the end of the quick. If you're unsure or if your cat has darker nails and you can't quite see the vessels, keep the trim very short.

If you do accidentally nip their quick, stay calm and apply pressure to the nail with a clean towel or washcloth. Always have styptic powder on hand to help stop the bleeding quickly. If you don’t have any styptic powder on hand, rake the nail over a bar of soap or pack the end of the nail with cornstarch.

How To Trim Cat Nails at Home

First, get the right equipment. Nail trimmers or clippers for cats are widely available and easy to use. Clippers like these also have a grippier handle that makes it easier for you to maneuver.

Clippers operate and look a bit like pliers, just with a smaller mechanism for grabbing and holding the nail before trimming. There are also some clippers that utilize a sliding "guillotine" blade. (It sounds scary, but these blades are still small enough for your cat's little toes.)

Next, it's go time. Time to cast fear aside—or brace yourself for a (small) fight. This could be an exaggeration, because some cats will cooperate with you while you trim their nails. But some will not. The younger you start playing with your cat’s feet and trimming their nails at home, the more likely they will be cooperative to do this routinely.

Let’s assume your cat will be fine with all this and go through an ideal scenario in which your cat patiently and quietly lets you do the following steps:

  • Try to get your cat, paws up, rested in the crook of your arm, facing the same direction as you, so you can hold their paws (one at a time) in your hand from behind while holding the clippers in the other.

  • If you have an exceptionally chill kitty, maybe they will lie on their back on your lap.

  • With the paw in your hand, gently squeeze between the top of the paw and the toe beans on the bottom to expose the claws.

  • Place the tip of the exposed claw into the stationary ring of the clipper, with the blade perpendicular to the nail. (Not held at an angle, straight up and down.)

  • Squeeze the clipper to make the cut.

  • Trim the very tips of each claw, and you're done!

  • Repeat with the remaining paws.

If your cat is a bit more resistant, don’t fret—there are still a few ways to trim a cat’s nails

Another way to position your cat is on your lap, belly down, with your forearms over their neck and butt. Some cats also respond well to being swaddled in a towel (like a straitjacket) with one paw exposed at a time.

In case a struggle ensues, you can get another person to hold part of the cat down during the trim session. Your helper can also bribe the cat with pets or treats. A treat after every snip is a good way to teach a kitten to get used to regular trims.

If it takes a few tries to get all their nails trimmed, just be patient and keep trying!

Best Products for Trimming Cat Nails

There are various products made for a cat's nail trims (and in case of a minor mishap):

My Cat Won’t Let Me Trim Their Nails

It might take a lot of training and trust-building between you and your cat before she lets you touch her claws. But it is possible, and there are a few tricks you can try:

Get cozy. Try the towel swaddle, or "purrito," and help your cat feel protected and safe before taking out the clippers.

Keep things quiet. Don't add to the drama with excessive sounds. Turn off the TV, close the blinds, don't play any music, put your phone on "Do Not Disturb." Close the door. Just you, the cat, and the clippers.

Bribes. You love your cat. Your cat loves treats. If you tell your cat that she'll get a treat after every toe, she might just learn to love her trimming sessions.

But if you ultimately can't figure out a way for you and your cat to cooperate, just take her to the vet or groomer. You can have a professional show you how it's done or let them take care of the job.

Why Should I Trim My Cat’s Nails?

Good hygiene is important for every living creature, and nail trims are an important part of keeping your cat healthy. While they may take care of some nail shortening with playtime on the scratching post, regular trims every two to four weeks will ensure your cat can avoid painful complications that come from overgrowth.

Letting your cat's nails get too long may lead to ingrown claws that can cause injury and/or infection to their paws. It can also make them prone to breaking their claws, which can also be painful.

So let them scratch away (where they're allowed) but squeeze in some mani-pedi time for your fuzzy friends.

Featured Image: Getty/Daria Bulgakova

Jamie Frevele


Jamie Frevele

Freelance Writer

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