Cat Nails: How to Stop Before You Hit the Quick

Updated Dec. 21, 2020

Trimming cat nails may not sound like a job for the faint of heart, especially with the pressure of avoiding the quick. If you cut the quick when trimming cat nails, it can be painful for your feline and can lead to bleeding.

So, what is the quick exactly, and how do you avoid hitting the quick when trimming cat nails?

What Is the Quick?

The quick contains the blood vessels, nerves and other tissues that support a cat’s nail. In cat nails that are light-colored, it’s usually quite easy to see the triangular pink quick at the base of the nail. The clear portion of the nail in front of the quick (toward the top) does not contain any nerves or blood vessels, which is why cutting this area is not painful.

If the nail is dark, you’ll have to err on the side of caution to avoid hitting the quick. For dark cat nails, start with a cut near the tip. You can always trim off more.

Cutting into the quick does hurt and can cause some bleeding, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s very much like breaking your fingernail back so far that it bleeds; not something you look forward to but also not a disaster. Don’t let fear of hitting the quick stop you from learning how to trim cat nails. Simply have the right tools on hand and know how to use them.

How to Avoid the Quick

The first step is to get your cat accustomed to having her feet handled. Every negative experience your cat has will make this process longer, so focus on being relaxed and positive. As your cat warms up to gentle foot handling, practice holding and moving their toes and nails. Offer praise and treats and stay calm regardless of the reaction you receive.

Next, assemble your tools. The last thing you want is to be halfway through the trim and realize you’re missing something crucial. Here’s a list of what you might need:

  • Small flashlight – A bright source of light can help you identify exactly where the quick ends.
  • Nail trimmer/clipper – While a sharp blade may seem intimidating, it’s necessary for a comfortable, clean cut. Choose a trimmer you’re confident using. Options like the ConairPRO cat nail clippers come with a safety guard so you don’t end up cutting nails too short.
  • Nail file – Once you make your cut, you may need to smooth out the nail with a file. Hertzko professional dog and cat nail clipper and nail file comes with both the trimmer and the file for convenience.
  • Styptic powder – In the event that you do cut too far, you’ll want something on hand to stop the bleeding. Cornstarch can work in an emergency, but styptic powder is more efficient. Miracle Care Kwik-Stop styptic powder for dogs, cats and birds includes benzocaine, which helps relieve the sting of styptic powder and the pain associated with a minor wound.

Some products, like the JW Pet styptic powder, come with an applicator cap to easily dispense styptic powder onto the nail. This can be easier than trying to wrangle your cat’s foot into an awkward position.

  • Nail grinder – If you’re apprehensive about using trimmers, a nail grinder may be your salvation. You can also use a grinder to file and polish down an already cut nail. If the cut is not as clean as desired (particularly if your trimmers are dull), the cat may catch or tear the nail.

The FURminator nail grinder for dogs and cats comes with an automatic LED light for maximum control.

Another feature to look for in a grinder is a wireless design. The Dremel 7300-PT dog and cat nail grinder kit is wireless, allowing you to get into whatever position works best for you and your cat.

  • Treats – If your cat is food motivated, have some cat treats nearby to both soothe and use as a reward. Treats can also entice your cat to willingly return for a future trim.

Once you’re equipped with all the necessary tools, consider asking a second person to help you. Having someone else there to gently restrain and comfort your cat can make all the difference. Lightly grasp your cat’s paw and press on the top of a toe to extend the nail, maintaining light pressure on the pad. Cut the nail a few millimeters past where the quick ends. If the quick is not visible, remember to err on the side of caution and cut near the tip.

Importance of Trimming Cat Nails

If you adopt your cat at a young age, it’s relatively easy to make nail trimming an accepted part of her routine, but rest assured that even older felines can eventually get on board.

All grooming, including nail trimming, is an important part of a cat’s health care program. It’s not purely an aesthetic concern, either. Cats with excessively long nails have difficulty functioning around the home. Cat nails that have grown too long are prone to getting stuck, tearing or being pulled off. In extreme cases, they can even puncture a cat’s paws.

You can help protect your cat, your furniture and your own skin by keeping your kitty’s claws short.

If cutting your cat’s nails at home proves to be an unpleasant experience for you and your cat, don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian or groomer for assistance. Whatever makes you and your cat the most comfortable is the best option.

Image via Sandalov

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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