How to Trim Cat Nails

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on Nov. 24, 2008
How to Trim Cat Nails


If scratch marks on your furniture isn't your idea of an appealing décor choice, then you should consider trimming your cat's nails regularly.

Taking kitty to the groomer for regular nail clippings may be the glamorous option, but it can also be expensive. If you’re living on the shabby side of chic (or simply like to take care of things yourself), then home claw trimmings are your best bet.

The easiest way to get your favorite feline accustomed to nail trimmings is to start when kitty is young. If that option isn't available to you, then it’ll take patience, perseverance, and practice to get your cat used to the idea. So how do you cut your cat’s nails with minimal stress for the both of you? Here are some instructions to help.

First, inspect your cat’s claws under a bright light. Gently squeeze the top and bottom of one toe to extend the nail. You’ll see the pink tissue (sometimes referred to as "the quick") in the middle of the nail. You must cut below that or you will cause pain and bleeding. In the below image, you can see the area that is safe to cut—below the yellow line.

cat nails, cat claws, nail quick

Image: Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine

It is better to cut just a small part of the nail to avoid the quick rather than cut too close. This is especially true the first few times you clip your cat's nails, since you don't want him to associate nail clipping with pain.

Now to the clippers. Special cat clippers are available, but don't fret; plain old people toenail clippers work, too. Just make sure that the clippers you have available are in good working order and all the blades are very sharp. Dull blades put painful pressure on the sensitive parts of the nail. You’ll also need treats, a good, strong light source, and a styptic powder (like Kwik Stop) or a silver nitrate pencil in case you do accidentally cut into the quick.

Before you start trimming nails, get your cat used to having his feet handled. Put a thick towel on your lap and then gently hold your cat there. Pet and talk soothingly to him as you gradually work your hands down his legs. Dole out lots of praise and treats when your cat stays calm and relaxed as you gently handle his feet and nails. Finally, bring out the nail trimmers and “use” them next to his nails so he can get used to them. If at any point your cat gets upset, call it a day and try again later. Depending on your cat’s personality, this whole process may be accomplished in one sitting, or it may take months.

How to Trim Cat Nails in 5 Easy Steps

Step 1 

Sit on the floor or in a chair in a well-lit room where your cat is comfortable. Have all your supplies ready. And make sure there’s a special treat for kitty for after the trimming.

Step 2 

Put a thick towel on your lap and gently restrain your cat there. Take hold of a paw and gently squeeze one toe from the top and bottom to extend the claw.

Step 3 

When you have a good view, position the clipper at least several millimeters away from the end of the quick.

Step 4 

Clip the claw vertically (from top to bottom rather than from side to side). This lessens the amount of pressure your cat will feel. Clip the nail in one smooth motion.

Step 5 

Reward your cat with praise and a treat. Repeat with each claw as your cat allows. Don’t worry if at first it takes you several days to trim all of your cat’s nails. It’s more important to keep the process stress-free than to finish quickly.

If you do trim your cat’s nail too short and it starts to bleed, don’t panic. Simply press some styptic powder or the silver nitrate stick against the end of the nail and give your cat a treat and a break from nail trimming for the rest of the day.


All cats who have claws should have them trimmed on a regular basis. The frequency depends on your cat’s activity level (e.g., how vigorously they scratch at their posts or other objects). In general, you should trim your cat’s nails before they develop sharp, needle-like tips. Waiting too long between nail trims increases the risk that your cat may damage a claw or injure a person or another animal. Check your cat’s nails weekly to see if they could use a trim.

Do not continue to try to trim your cat’s nails if he becomes aggressive or very difficult to restrain. It is simply not worth the risk of injury to either of you. Having to call in professional help to take care of your cat’s claws is nothing to be embarrassed about. Talk to a reputable groomer or your veterinarian to discuss your options.

Image: Sergey Gerashchenko / Shutterstock

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