How to Trim Your Cat’s Nails, Explained by a Vet Expert


Trimming your cat’s nails is big work, but it can also be terrifying for those who don’t want to end up being the target of long claws.

Many veterinarian owners trim cats’ claws themselves, but some think it’s best left to veterinarians. Trimming your cat’s claws can certainly test confidence and demeanor, but can have lasting positive results if done correctly.

Although trimming your cat’s nails may seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be. Here are the answers to your questions about how, why and when to get the mowers out.

How do I cut my cat’s claws?

Chloe Emery gained experience trimming cats’ claws as a veterinary technician in the behavioral department at VCA South Shore Weymouth Animal Hospital in Massachusetts. She recommends training your cat to have her nails done with this simple process:

  1. Lay the cat with its back against your belly. If there are two of you, have one person rock the cat in their lap like a baby. You can also put the cat in a “purrito” if you are alone – wrap the cat in a towel and remove each limb one by one.
  2. Use positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior. Get their favorite treats and reward them so they feel comfortable lying on their backs.
  3. Hold their paws. Do nothing for now, stand still and offer a treat.
  4. Press down on their pads so the nail starts to stick out. Reward your furry friend with a treat.
  5. Go nice and slow when cutting the nail and give a treat at the exact moment you make the cut.

“You just want to do whatever they let you do,” Emery said. “So for a lot of people, that’s one nail a day.”

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Is it necessary to cut a cat’s claws?

Overgrown nails are a problem for cats, especially older cats who aren’t as active, according to If your cat’s nails are too long, they could wrap around the paw and cause significant pain. Besides dealing with a health hazard, trimming your cat’s nails is also the best decision you can make for your furniture. Nobody likes a table that’s been roughed up because their cat needed a scratching outlet.

How do I know when to cut my cat’s claws?

Cats typically scratch and bite to trim their own nails, but it’s still important for owners to check their nails about once a month. If the nail looks short and chunky, the cat has enough tracked its nails on its own. If the nail has a circular curve like a hook, it’s time to cut.

What tools should I use to trim my cat’s claws?

While many pet owners default to guillotine-style nail clippers or human nail clippers, Emery recommends scissor-like ones.

“[The guillotine clippers] tend to split the nail, and it’s really painful,” Emery said. “So if you use the scissor type you get a nice clean cut, it’s more like using a human nail clipper.”

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How many of my cat’s nails should I cut?

Emery’s guideline is to cut only the white part of the cat’s nail – make sure you don’t get any pink.

“It’s better to take too little than too much,” Emery said. “So if you cross that line and cause pain, it’s going to be really hard, probably for the rest of their lives, to be able to cut their nails.”

What happens if I hurt my cat by cutting its claws?

Errors occur. If you find yourself in a situation where you accidentally hurt your cat, you’re going to want to start over with the training process to restore her confidence. Try giving your cat a treat or toy immediately after the pain to distract him.

If your cat is bleeding and it won’t stop, try putting some cornstarch on the affected area, Emery said.

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When should I see a vet?

There are some situations where nail trimming at home is not an option. Some cat owners simply aren’t interested in learning how to trim their cat’s nails themselves, but since clinics can be stressful for cats, Emery suggests training them young with the trimming method.

If your cat has two legs or claws that are hidden and curling, it may be a good idea to take her to the clinic. Sometimes cats that are particularly agitated — or angry — need to be treated with medication or anesthesia for vet techs to clip their nails.


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