How To Safely Trim Cat Nails – A Step By Step Guide

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Keeping your cat’s nails trimmed short is a necessary task, but one that is daunting for many cat owners. Like human fingernails, a cat’s nails grow continuously. Although some cats wear their claws down, other cats (especially indoor cats) don’t wear their toenails down much.

So Should You Trim Cat Nails?

The answer is yes, if you don’t trim the nails regularly, they can snag on things and tear, causing injuries that require veterinary attention. If not attended to, cat nails can even grow around in a circle and end up penetrating your cat’s paw pad—ouch!

Long, sharp nails also hurt more if your cat accidentally scratches your skin, and sharp nails can do far more damage if your cats scratches your couch or chair.

Also Read: How To Stop Cats From Scratching Furniture

If you’ve never trimmed your cat’s nails before, you might not know where to begin. Never fear!

With the right tools and some helpful tips, you can easily learn to trim your cat’s nails at home. If after reading this tutorial, you are still nervous, ask your veterinarian or groomer for help. Most pet professionals will provide a quick demonstration. They will also trim your cat’s nails for you for a fee.

Tools You Need To Trim Your Cat’s Nails

Left untrimmed, cat nails can grow until they puncture the paw pad, which is painful and can cause an infection.

Before getting started, make sure you have the right nail trimming tools. You can purchase all the nail clipping tools you need at a pet-supply store or online at Amazon or another online retailer.

You will need:

  • Small-sized pet nail clippers: You can find cat nail clippers or just smaller clipper that can be used for cats and small dogs. Clippers come in various styles, including scissors style (also called pliers style) or guillotine style. Which type of nail clipper to choose is very much personal preference. Both styles work well for cutting cat nails. 
  • Nail file or nail grinder: These tools are optional, but if your cat obliges, you might like to file the nails after clipping them so they are smooth. It’s possible to use a pet nail grinder in place of a nail clipper, but these tools have a learning curve. They also vibrate and make noise. Some cats may find nail grinder scary. 
  • Styptic pencil or styptic powder: An anticoagulant product comes in handy if you accidentally nick the quick, which is the pink vein running through the inside of the nail. 
  • Tasty treats: Whether tuna, chicken or your cat’s favorite treat, using goodies will help convince your cat to remain still and that nail trimming can be an enjoyable experience.

Slowly Introduce Her Nail Trimming

Cats have small nails, so choose small nail clippers in whatever style appeals to you

If you have a kitten, or if you are trimming your older cat’s nails yourself for the first time, start out simply by handling the paws to get your cat used to the sensation. Hold your cat gently (trying to pin her down will only make her nervous).

Squeeze your cat’s paws gently to extend the claws, but don’t try cutting them yet. Give your cat plenty of treats and petting, and end the session when she’s still happy and relaxed. 

Do this a few times a day for up to a week. If your cat is OK with this step, proceed to the next stage. If she struggles or seems uncomfortable, practice touching the paws and claws more before attempting to clip the nails. 

How To Hold A Cat To Trim Nails

Cat nail trim

Get your cat used to having her paws and nails handled before attempting to trim.

Next, move on to the actual nail trim. It’s easier if you have a helper who can hold the cat while you focus on trimming the claws, but you can also try holding your cat in your lap while you are sitting down, or you can place you cat on a table (lay down a soft towel first so she feels comfortable).

Place your nail clipping supplies nearby before getting your cat. Always start a nail trimming session with a few treats, and keep them handy in case your cat becomes upset. 

Be sure to trim both the front claws and the back claws. Cats usually have four claws on each paw. Some cats also have dewclaws or and some have extra toes (called polydactyl cats).

Isolate one of your cat’s nails and look closely to see the quick (vein) running down the middle. It’s easy to see the quick inside a cat’s nail—it’s the pink part. Never cut into the quick, which filled with blood vessels and nerve endings. Cutting the quick is painful and quicked nails bleed (this is where styptic powder come in handy). 

Holding the best cat nail clippers in your hand, make a smooth cut, trimming just the hooked white part of the nail that lies in below the pink part. Don’t try to clip the nails too short. It’s not necessary to cut right up to the quick. If you feel you didn’t trim off enough with the first cut, you can always trim a little more. If using a file, buff down the end of the nail to smooth it down.

Here Is A Step-by-step Breakdown Of Trimming A Cat’s Nails

step-by-step breakdown of trimming a cat’s nails

  • Choose a comfortable place to trim your cat.
  • Enlist the help of a friend or family member if possible.
  • Gather your nail trimming supplies, including treats for your cat.
  • Hold the nail clippers in one hand.
  • With your other hand, gently squeeze your cat’s paw to expose the nails.
  • Focusing on one nail at a time, hold the toe between your thumb and pointer finger.
  • Snip the hooked white part of the nail only, being careful not to get too close to the quick.
  • Trim each of your cat’s nails, including the nails of any declaws or extra toes.
  • Smooth down the ends of the nails with a nail file (optional).

Also Read: Declawing Cats: What You Need To Know

What To Do If You Cut The Quick?

Because it’s so easy to see the quick in cat nails, cutting the quick is somewhat uncommon when trimming cat nails. It happens more frequently in dogs since many dogs have black nails and you cannot see the quick. You’re more likely to cut the quick if your cat is struggling or trying to move her paw while you’re trimming the nails. 

If you do accidentally cut into your cat’s quick, do not panic. Cutting the quick hurts, and your cat might cry or pull away. If the cut was deep, the quick may bleed. But all that said, cutting the quick is a minor injury, and one that can be dealt with using your styptic powder.

Place a little bit of powder on your finger or a cotton swab and press it gently but firmly against the bleeding nail. Hold it there for a minute or two until the bleeding stops. Vow not to trim too close to the quick again, or your cat may begin to resist your nail trimming efforts. 

How Often To Trim Your Cat’s Nails?

Cat nail trim

Trim your cat’s nails as often as necessary. For most cats, this is every other week or so.

All cats wear their nails down differently depending on how much they use a scratching post, run or climb. Examine your cat’s nails at least every two weeks, and trim them when they grow too long.

You’ll notice the rear nails are often much shorter than the claws in the front. Trim your cat’s nails about every two weeks. The nails on the front paws are often longer than the nails on the rear paws.

Some cats wear down their rear nails more as they run and climb. If the rear nails are short, simply snip the tips. 

What Happens If You Don’t Trim Your Cat’s Nails

Keeping your cat’s nails trimmed short is key in order to avoid injuries to the claws and paws. Nails may grow right into the paw pad, causing a potentially painful injury. Keeping the your cat nails trimmed may help to minimize scratches to your furniture.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it necessary to trim a cat’s claws?

It’s important to keep a cat’s nails trimmed short to avoid injuries to the claws and paws. Too-long nails can grow right into the paw pad, causing a painful injury that will need veterinary attention. Keeping the claws trimmed short also helps minimize scratches to your skin and damage to your furniture. 

How can I cut my cat’s nails by myself?

It’s not hard to cut your cat’s nails as long as you have the right tools and approach. Buy a small-size pet nail clipper and some styptic powder (an anticoagulant, in case you accidently cut the vein inside the nail). If you aren’t sure how to go about trimming the nails, ask your veterinarian or groomer for a lesson.

How can I calm my cat to trim his nails?

Start by handling your cat’s paws and nails without trying to cut them. Reassure your cat in a calm and soothing voice and give lots of extra-tasty treats (try chicken breast or canned tuna) and go slowly. Once your cat is accepting of you handling his paws, move on to trying to cut the nails, continuing to give treats. 

Can you use human nail clippers on cats?

If your cat has small nails, you can try using a human nail clipper instead of a pet nail clipper. However, because human nail clippers are very small, they may be hard for someone to hold and maneuver, especially if the cat is resisting. If you have a squirmy cat, pet nail clippers may be a better choice. 

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About Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown is a senior content editor on the editorial team. She also writes on all pet and veterinary topics, including general health and care, nutrition, grooming, behavior, training, veterinary and health topics, rescue and animal welfare, lifestyle, and the human-animal bond. Jackie is the former editor of numerous pet magazines and is a regular contributor to pet magazines and websites.

3 thoughts on “How To Safely Trim Cat Nails – A Step By Step Guide

  1. Tammy Skinner

    Hi my name is Tammy and I have a 5-year-old man Coon and I’m fixing to try for the first time to cut her nails. I understood all of the instructions however I have one problem and that is her nails are pretty much dark brown and black how do you determine where to cut when you’re unable to see the vein?

    1. kateKate Barrington

      Good question, Tammy! In that case, it’s probably safest to trim as little as you can to avoid any issues. Just snip off the sharp tip right where it starts to curve back toward the toe.


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