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How Do I Trim My New Kitten's Nails?


Kittens are seemingly inexhaustible, furry, bundles of energy: running at warp speed through your home chasing after every real or imaginary stimulus and pouncing on anything they see. Even before they are mature enough to ‘leap tall buildings in a single bound,’ thanks to their claws, they can still manage to climb, claw and snag their way up almost any surface (your leg included). In addition, cats just innately scratch things – not just to be mean, points out Cornell University, or destructive, but as a grooming behavior (to remove loose bits of nail) and to mark territory (via scent glands on their feet). That means that most cat guardians realize pretty quickly that somebody is going to have to keep those little talons trimmed back in order to protect everything and everyone else in the household. So how do you get your adorable little, whirling dervish to sit still long enough to have her nails trimmed and how do you trim them without causing either of you undue stress or pain?

Acclimate your kitten before you cut nails
Ideally, you should be getting your kitten accustomed to certain kinds of handling before there is even a need for it. Every day you should be looking in her ears, checking her teeth, opening her mouth like you are giving her imaginary pills, and handling her feet and nails. Basically, you should hold each paw and then each individual toe/toenail giving your kitten positive reinforcement (either verbally or with tiny bits of treats) for being tolerant of the manipulations without actually trying to cut her nails. Since cats can retract and extend their claws you will also need to become comfortable pushing up on the last bit of toe (sort of lightly pinch it top to bottom) in order to extend the nail out to it full length.

Observe your kitten’s nails before you cut them
While you are getting your kitten used to having her feet and nails handled, look at the anatomy of her toenails. The claws or nails tend to grow out straight/horizontally at first and then naturally curve down toward the ground and taper toward a point. Luckily cats tend to have clear/white nails, so you should be able to see the pink area or “quick” at the base/beginning of the nail where the blood supply is. You will want to cut beyond that point to avoid discomfort or bleeding.

Have your tools ready before you cut your kitten's nails
There are generally two types of pet nail clippers:

  • The guillotine type with a circle at the end that encloses the nail and a blade the moves into the circle to cut the nail tip.
  • A scissor type that cuts from two sides coming together

It is personal preference which you prefer to use. However, both types of clippers can seem awfully big and can make it difficult to actually see the nail when cutting a cat’s nails, let alone a kitten’s. You may find that using your own compound lever type nail trimmer may be much easier for you to use since you are accustomed to using it in the first place and because it will allow you to more clearly see exactly where you are going to cut the nail.

You will also want to have some type of styptic powder, quick stop or clotting agent available in case you do cut a nail too short and cause bleeding. [Editor’s Note: Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.] This is pretty unlikely to happen with cat’s nails but if somebody startles or jumps, accidents do happen.

Start small when you cut your kitten's nails
Once you and your kitten are used to feet and toes being handled, try cutting a couple of nails. You don’t have to do all of them in one sitting. Play with a few. And then cut a couple while giving the same verbal or food rewards and encouragement as before. Trim as many as you both feel comfortable with but don’t push it. Take a break if you need to and come back to it later. You’ll have a lifetime of nail trimming ahead of you, so take your time.

Don’t panic if your kitten protests
Little kids cry when they get a haircut. That doesn’t mean their hair hurts. So if your kitten whines or squirms when you are cutting her nails, that doesn’t mean you’ve hurt her. Just that she’s anxious about the process and the strange pressure on her nails. Can you hurt her if you cut the nail too short? Sure. Will she bleed? Yes. Will she survive? Absolutely. [Editor’s Note: If you do have any concerns about cutting too much or a bleed that won't stop, contact your veterinarian right away.]

Tips for cutting kitten nails

  • Your cat doesn’t just have four toes. Don’t forget to trim the nails on her ‘thumbs’ or dewclaws. In addition, some ‘polydactyl’ cats have more toes than average, and those extra toes can be small and hard to spot--especially in shaggy, long-haired cats. So be thorough and be sure you get them all.
  • You can also file any rough areas of the cut surface of the nail smoother with an emery board, but you’ll want to gradually get your kitten accustomed to how that feels too just like you do with the cutting itself.

Most importantly, don’t rush. Take your time and let both your kitten and you get used to the process.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed on:

Thursday, February 19, 2015


How to Trim Your Cat's Nails

This article was co-authored by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS. Dr. Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience in veterinary surgery and companion animal practice. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1987 with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. She has worked at the same animal clinic in her hometown for over 20 years.

There are 14 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 16 testimonials and 97% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.

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A cat may need its nails trimmed to keep them from splitting or breaking, and you may find it productive to trim off the sharp points of your cat’s nails if the cat is prone to kneading, scratching, etc. Trimming a cat’s nails is fairly easy once you get your cat accustomed to it. Read on for detailed instructions.


Old cats or deformed nails

Older cats tend to end up with longer, thicker nails and often a greasy exudate around the nail bed. This can be cleaned off with a dilute chlorhexidine solution or gentle pet shampoo if it is difficult to remove. Older cats are also more likely to have problems with the nails growing into the pad. Thickened nails or deformed nails can also be a sign of underlying health problems, so if your cat has started growing unusually thick nails, particularly if this is combined with an increase in thirst, please get your feline friend to the vet for a check-up. Nails can also grow back a bit deformed if there has been some sort of trauma to the nail bed, such as when the dew claw has been caught in something and torn.

Whenever you trim your cat’s nails remember to make the whole experience rewarding by having treats at the ready. Always take a little bit at a time if you can’t clearly see the quick beneath the nail. And if you have a determined couch-shredder on your hands, why not consider some soft paws to protect the furniture.


Pet Health: Proper Nail Grooming Basics

Good pet grooming includes the nails or claws. We've got some useful tips to help make that easier.

A good pet grooming schedule includes more than just bathing or brushing your pet. Clipping the nail/claws is not only necessary to protect both the owner and pet from unnecessary scratches, but also to keep your pet healthy.

It is best to start holding and touching your pets paws when they are very young so they adjust to having their paws handled. This will help them become accustomed to having their nails clipped, as they will not be frightened or feel confined when you need to hold them to groom their paws. Some pets, however, just won't adjust to someone holding their paws, no matter how early you begin conditioning for this important grooming step. Remember to be patient and don't get discouraged. In such cases, try clipping only one nail at a time until you have clipped all of them. In difficult situations consider having a groomer or veterinarian do the trimming.

How often should I clip my pet's nails?

Indoor pets may need more frequent attention. Animals claws wear down naturally through normal activity, but cats and dogs especially when kept indoors, often need them trimmed more often as they are not as active and generally walk on softer surfaces than their outdoor counterparts. Cats in particular may try to remedy this problem by sharpening their claws on the curtains, couch or carpet. When a dog's claws are too long you may hear them click as they walk across a hard surfaced floor this is a sign the claws are too long and need to be clipped. Long claws are also more prone to infection. Overgrown claws can be the source of painful paw injuries for both cats and dogs. A claw can snag something or even crack in some cases, resulting in a very painful wound.

Dogs need their nails clipped and filed on a regular basis, usually every 3 to 4 weeks. It is not uncommon for dog owners to wait too long between nail clipping. Overdue nails can raise health issues. Extended growth can result in painful ingrown nails. Elongated nails affect the comfort and health of dogs. Some dogs will find it difficult to place their full body weight on their feet with discomfort from elongated nails. As a result these dogs develop sore feet, legs and hips and overall discomfort, and the simple act of just walking can be a painful experience for them.

Dew claws

About 1" to 3" above the inside of their front feet (and sometimes rear fee) dogs may have "5th nails" commonly referred to “dew claws.” Nail clipping should include these nails. Since dew claws are never exposed to friction from touching ground surfaces, they are often longer and sometimes overgrown. In fact, you may find neglected dew claws grown into a full circle circle and even painfully ingrown requiring veterinary care. It is not uncommon for pets to have dew claws on some feet, and not on others.

The quick

There is a blood vessel in dog and cat nails commonly referred to as "the quick." The quick is usually visible to the eye except for dark-colored nails. Because it is possible to cut the quick and cause a nail to bleed, many pet owners are fearful of cutting their pet's nails. Instead, they bring their dogs to groomers or veterinarians for clipping.

If the quick is already very near the nail tips, daily filing for approximately three weeks may encourage nail quicks to recede enough for a comfortable, nail clipping of a very small amount of the tips of the nails without bleeding. Continuing to file the pet's nail several times a week, will allow you to be able to clip the nails a little shorter each time until the quick has properly receded and avoid discomfort caused by overly long nails. Thereafter, the nails should be clipped and filed on a regular basis in order to maintain their healthy state, and prevent the pet from having to suffer bleeding nails. If clipping the nails is too difficult for you, or you are too scared you'll cut to far, there is almost no risk of causing the nails to bleed when filing them. Although filing the nails takes longer and must be done more frequently, it is a good alternative to clipping.

How do I cut my pet's nails?

Clipping your pets' nails can be tricky if your dog has ingrown toenails. Many dogs that require little professional grooming and styling still visit groomers for a nail clipping, or a bath which includes nail clipping. Generally, dog owners do not like to cut nails, and many of these pets don't really care for nail clipping either. Learning how to hold and handle the dog, and properly use the correct tools, makes nail clipping and filing a much more bearable procedure for dogs. Most nail clipping procedures cause no pain to the dogs.

Nail clipping is essentially the process of cutting away excess nail, and the key is to learn just what is the "excess nail." If you can hear your dog's nails when he walks on a hard floor surface, there is probably a sufficient amount of excess nail to clip and/or file down. It is better to cut a small amount regularly than a large amount at once. However, since dogs may go many weeks between professional grooming appointments it is usually the task of owners to reasonably clip more excess nail.

Clipping dog nails:

  1. Place your left arm around the dog's middle body and hold it against your chest. Talk softly and kindly to ease the dog's anxiety about the clipping procedure.
  2. In your left hand hold the dog's foot with your thumb on top of the toe, and two or more fingers below along the pad of the foot.
  3. Insert the nail into the clipper, and clip below the quick at a 45 degree angle. Be sure to also clip dew claws. On dog's with black nails you may want to make several small clips instead of clipping "a chunk off." You will usually be able to spot the quick as a dark spot in the center of the nail when looking at it head on. This is the quick you want to avoid cutting.
  4. If you cut the quick you must stop the bleeding. In most cases, a coagulant product (nail styptic powder) is sufficient. Apply the powder to the tip of the quick where it was cut, and hold with moderate pressure. The bleeding often stops very quickly. Wipe away excess powder and re-check the "seal" often. Remember, it is possible that the powder seal may be washed or scratched off until the "seal" has had adequate time to dry. If you leave too much excess powder it hardens into a "cap" on the nail tip that can be broken off and entirely remove the seal. Therefore, be sure to remove excess powder only.
  5. File each nail so that the tip is soft and without rough broken edges. However, remember that filing nails that bled may remove the coagulant styptic powder "seal" and resume bleeding, so file lightly and carefully. Do not file the seal away. Brittle nails will require more filing to remove burrs.
    If a dew claw has grown into a circular loop, you can cut into the mid-section of the nail with scissor-type cutters before the quick. Afterwards, use the regular nail clippers to finish cutting but again avoiding the quick.

Clipping cat nails:

When trimming cat claws, squeeze the paw lightly to expose the claw and carefully clip off only the very point of the nail. This is different than a dog's claw, where the trimming point is where the nail starts to curve down. Trimming too little is much better than trimming too much.


Preparing Your Cat

Start with your cat in a relaxed state, maybe after a meal. Invite your cat to sit in your lap and wait until the animal seems relaxed.

Next, gently pick up one of your cat's paws. If it doesn't pull away, offer a small treat. Do this for a few minutes each day, gradually adding in more paws.

The next step will be to pick up one of the cat's paws, doing a little more each day, and keeping sessions to a few minutes at the most. Eventually, try gently squeezing one of its toes to get the nail extended. Remember to reward your cat for calmness. Go back a step if your cat becomes anxious or agitated.

You are ready to move on once you get to a point where your cat will let you expose most of its claws, one at a time, without making a fuss.


Watch the video: How to trim a cats nails (July 2021).