Kitten’s Got Claws.
How to Trim Your Cat’s Claws

how to trim cat claws
I have cats.  Therefore, by method of deduction you know I also have shredded furniture and a special corner in the living room dedicated to swearing and weeping.  R.I.P. white, French Provincial Bergere chairs.  You will be missed.

I’ve owned many cats and never declawed any of them.  I’ve come close, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.  I don’t judge anyone who has their cats declawed, because I know how utterly infuriating it is to buy a piece of furniture that cost 3 weeks pay only to have a cat look you in the eye as it tears hunks out of it. Repeatedly.

Happy with its handiwork the cat usually strolls away with a wiggle in its walk, tail straight up in the air, presenting you with its anus.

The cat you see in the picture above is Ernie.  Our latest cat.  I found Ernie on our front porch a few winters ago, curled up on our wicker furniture, covered in a dusting of snow.  She was gone by the morning but came back every night.  After months of taming, cajoling and calming I finally got that little cat into our house, only to discover she’s a polydactyl.  That’d be a cat with an unusual amount of toes.  Many toes.  A LOT of toes.  Which of course means … a lot of claws.  Go ahead.  Go back to the picture above and take a look at how big her paws are.  That cat could take out a pot bellied pig with one swipe.

So I knew for my furniture to have any  hope in hell of making it, I had to start trimming her nails immediately.  I was a bit worried that as a formerly wild cat she wasn’t going to go down without a fight, but by the time she came to live in the house she was so happy to have a warm place to live and lots of food, she’d pretty much let me do anything to her.

So now every few weeks I wrangle her and my little Siamese, Cleo and trim their claws.  And this is how you do it …

Buy some cat claw trimmers at your local pet store.

Trimmers

 

Holding your cat firmly in your lap, take one of its paws and push down on their knuckle with your thumb.  This will make the claw extend out.

Take a good look at the claw.  You’ll see a dark portion in the nail.  That’s tissue.  The quick.  And you DON’T want to knick it, so be aware of where it is.  If you do cut into the quick it will hurt the cat and bleed a little.  It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not nice either.

Vein

While still pushing down on their knuckle to extend the claw, line your trimmers up to just before the tip of the vein and clip.  You’re just taking the sharp end off the claw.

The younger the cat is when you start doing this the easier it will be.

Trimming

 Cats and dogs have a claw a little further up their paw.  The dewclaw.  Don’t forget to clip this one.

Dewclaw

All of the cats I’ve owned have been fine with trimming their front claws.   The odd time their back nails get to be so long and sharp you have to trim them, but not often.  These are a tad more difficult to negotiate, but it can be done.

Finally, please observe the pain and suffering I endured to bring you this post.

cat scratches

Admittedly, the scratches are kind of difficult to see in these pictures but that’s because the blood hadn’t truly started to rise yet.  They’ve scabbed up nicely now and are quite obvious but I couldn’t be bothered to take more pictures of them.  I figured you’d understand.

The scratches weren’t the result of trimming my cat’s claws, but rather the result of trying to take pictures of my cat while trimming her claws.  It was a bit of a kaffuffel.

In the end, everything worked out fine. I got the pictures, my cat’s claws were trimmed and my arms have begun to heal nicely.  R.I.P. coral coloured Gap tee shirt and my prayers are with you grey Joe Fresh leggings.  You will be missed.

 


77 Comments

  1. isea says:

    if cats had a scratching post to inflict their wrath upon, would you still need to trim their claws?

    • Karen says:

      isea – Yup. Fraid so. The post will dull their nails a little, but it won’t cut the length off. Cat nails grow the same way peoples nails grow. And they grow pretty quick! 🙂 ~ karen

  2. Marti says:

    This struck me as sort of touchingly sweet that you go through this every 2-3 weeks to let your cats keep their knuckles. I love kitties, but I wasn’t so kind to my own in the past.

    Ohhhh, look at me. I’m all verklempt!

  3. devra says:

    i have always trimmed my cats’ nails … using regular people clippers, which i find easier to use. the cats have scratching posts all over the house … but they still have favorite pieces of furniture which they decide to shred. one upholstered chair in particular has no fabric on its back anymore … you can see the frame.

    nevertheless, i love my cats and will continue wrestling with them and trimming their nails.

    karen, i love your writing style and your stories and recipes. 🙂

  4. Alisha says:

    Friend had a bit of a douche for a cat – Armani. Snuggles on his own time, hisses when your shadow crosses his path from 17 feet away and certainly does not like to be held. I looked after him for a few months and before she left she mentioned that he HATES his claws clipped and she’s come close to losing an eye. Only do it if absolutely necessary …

    I clipped them. No problem at all. And I’m clearly proud of it. But I’ll tell you where she went wrong. She pulled him up into her lap AND flipped him on his back AND (this is the real kicker) she used people nail clippers on him! Poor kitty. I snuck up on him while he was sleeping on the bed, snipsnipsnip, purrpurrpurr and done.

    PS You have a pretty kitty

  5. Tanya says:

    I trim my cats’ nails and it makes a big difference to my delicate epidermis. One cat used to freak out when we touched her feet so I just slowly built up to it. Gave her a favorite treat, then touched her feet, then next time clipped one nail, more treats… We quickly got to the point where she sits patiently because she’s waiting for her treat. Pavlov’s cat?!

  6. Anita says:

    I too have a cat who is perfectly fine with having his claws clipped (with people clippers, no less!) as long as he’s being cuddled normally. Why would you flip a poor cat onto his back? My cat won’t even let me show his belly when I’m holding him!

  7. itchbay says:

    We started with Mr. Bob when he was young, and he actually kinda likes it. At least, he patiently waits for it to be over and he gets scritches and treats. Our rescue kitty, Little Girl, on the other hand… no, not so much.

  8. Christine says:

    Karen, you are so entertaining as a writer that I will read a post about information that I know I will never need to know…but cheers to everything I have learned from you. Every time I walk past my magnet gate holder, I feel ridiculously proud.

  9. nancy says:

    I just use regular people clippers! But you can’t flip them on their backs. Even the best cat will not like that. My cats use scratching posts really well, you just have to squirt them a few times when they are in the wrong place and have several cat scratching selections around (sisal mats, posts, and cardboard things).
    I used to have a tapestry sofa and a cat that would go to town on it, and he never damaged it at all. A Mystery.

    • Momo's Momma says:

      What’s funny is that my cat actually lays on her back in my lap quite happily while I trim her claws. I started when she was just a bitty kitten, about three months old, and she’s never had a problem being on her back for snuggles, nail trims, or lap time. I keep her head and shoulders against my stomach and give her kisses and gentle encouragement and she tolerates the clipping extremely well, unless she’s trying to bite the clippers. XD Some days she’s just feisty, though; she’s only a year old now.

  10. Diane says:

    Ahhh the fun of nail clipping. I’ve been doing this for years, I’ve had cats all my life but during my adult life I’ve had only indoor cats, much to their dismay.
    I have declawed the last two cats as they were costing me more money in furniture than in a year’s worth of food and vet bills. But I still trim the back claws every so often. They don’t like it, never have. So I sit on the floor with the cat belly up between my legs. I pin one back leg under mine so he knows moving is pointless and then we trim. I get to dominate my cat for about 5 minutes a month and he dominates me and my home for the rest of it. Fair trade I figure. 😉

  11. deanna says:

    I HAVE to send this to my daughter! Yesterday, she sent me a video of her new cat – who just discovered the art of screen door climbing (that is only funny the first time!)

  12. Violet says:

    And be sure to keep some styptic powder on hand for the times you do accidentally nick the quick. You should be able to find it in the same section as the nail clippers in any decent pet store. Or you can buy online. Dunno if there are different brands, but the one I use is called Kwik Stop. 🙂

  13. Christine says:

    My cats, past and present, have all been fully clawed. For self preservation I have developed my own technique. I get them when they’re sleeping! This serves two purposes. First, I can usually get one paw done before they are fully alert and it’s much easier. Second, they wake me up for every-freaking-day-at-Four-in-the-morning. It’s nice to turn the tables every now and again.

    I use people toenail clippers that are nice and wide. I’ve also used nail covers (Soft Paws) with varying degrees of success. Even though my cats have destroyed my wall to wall carpeting, my bar stools and my brand new chair and ottoman set, I can’t bring myself to have them declawed. I love those stupid brats, razor sharp needle claws and all.

  14. Tracy says:

    My sweet docile kitty becomes Hell Cat when it’s time to clip her nails; you’d think I was trying to force her to watch Threes Company re-runs or to eat dog food by the amount of screaming she puts out.

    But the best think I ever heard to do was to get a nice big towel and wrap her up in it while you clip her claws. I take out one paw at a time, clip it, put it back in the towel and get another. I don’t get any scratches and she stays relatively calm!

  15. Brenda says:

    Great post Karin, familiar with the program seeing as I am bordering on the OK versus Crazy Cat Lady number. I find if your scratching post is high enough for the cats to stretch up they will use it more, I make my own with cardboard tubes and sisal rope…still need to clip however.

  16. Susan says:

    Yuck! I had 2 cats at one time…. One was my daughters cat, one was a stray that I was a sucker for. I had the nails ripped out of the daughters cat cause she was staying and the stray …who stayed forever, I might add, never got her nails removed, cause she may have just up and leave one day. The one without nails was so much better on the furniture, arms eyeballs etc. she also was a fierce and mean street fighter. Those back feet were wicked. Thanks but I will stick with my lumbering sweet Newfoundland dog. No cats for me.

  17. Jessica says:

    We have two cats – a 4 year old Maine Coon (Misha) and a 1-year-old tabby stray (Pint, for Pint-sized) that I found in my backyard.

    Pint, despite being born wild, has never had a problem getting her nails trimmed and will sit in my lap and purr happily during the whole process.

    Misha, on the other hand, definitely DOES NOT like having her nails trimmed. My boyfriend and I have to hold her down together, and even then, she’ll growl and hiss and try her best to scratch. Once she realizes she can’t scratch, because we’ve got all her paws, she bites – and hard too, enough to draw blood. I’ve tried using welding gloves to hold her and the force of her biting through that has brought tears to my eyes. Now we put a towel over her head so she can’t see what’s going on, and that seems to work a bit better. She still growls and squirms but she doesn’t try to bite as much.

    Even with regular nail trimming, we’ve had some furniture casualties. I’m currently making protective covering for the sides of the couch because we just can’t bring ourselves to de-claw Misha.

  18. Nicole2 says:

    What an absolutely gorgeous cat Ernie is! A real stunner. And I volunteer at the local animal shelter, so I see all sorts! And I LOVE polydactyls, I think they’re so neat.

    To protect your furniture, pet stores sell this double sided tape that pretty unnoticeable. I put it on the back of the chairs, where my cat liked to scratch. She absolutely hates it, so now she only uses her scratching post.

  19. magali says:

    another little tip that I would add: if you are scared that you can’t see the quick properly, put a flashlight behind the nail. I have a mini one that I use just for that.

  20. Sherry (BTLover2) says:

    Such a beautiful kitty!! And how lucky you are that his nails are clear and not black so you can see the quick easily. It’s even more scary when you have to guess. I’ve accidentally clipped a quick or two in my life and it’s horrible (mostly for me). My pets yell and then bleed all over. Meanwhile, I’m nearly blinded by tears and guilt and they are running around like banshees leaving me a bloody trail to clean up. Try to clip their nails after that — oh the terror for them (and me).

    Excellent tips, Karen. Hilarious as always!

  21. kerri says:

    What a cutie! I had a kitty with many toes once too. She lived for 27 yrs! Maybe more toes = more years. Anyway, now I have 4 cats. 2 I found abandoned on the side of the road in a box.. terrified.. about to be eaten by god knows what being the tiny, adorable morsels they were. And one abandoned by her mother out in the cold. All were about 4 or 5 weeks when I found them. The fourth was just rescued from an old lady who made him too fat. None of these cats will part with their nails! If I see anything uncomfy, I’ll suffer to help.. otherwise, the cats have spoken. I need a steady supply of couch covers, but they’ve spared the rest of the furniture, thank gawd..

  22. Mary Werner says:

    Great Post and helpful. My solution is to keep them outside but we live in Florida! Aluminum foil works like a charm when you tuck it onto the place they want to stretch and scratch. But they do know when you remove it for company – smart cats. After one shredded 5 of my 6 leather dining chairs, she got declawed and was never allowed out again as dogs would get her. (Didn’t know about aluminum foil until the last chair.) Dogs have still gotten 3 of the clawed cats that didn’t manage to get up a tree. Not my dogs and we have LOTS of trees in our yard. They would have been ok if declawed and inside but what kind of life is that? I still take in strays, fix them, buy heater beds for odd cold nights and feed them twice a day since I love birds too!

  23. marilyn says:

    oh karen my kitty is a she-devil. satans spawn! she even looks evil with a black stripe right down the middle of her face. she claws the furniture all the time but i dont think i could hold her long enough to even get the clippers positioned! and a scratching post? pshaw!! why use a scratching post when there is so much furniture to defile! but i am going to try…i will keep you posted…or you can come and visit me in the hospital. lol

    • Karen says:

      Try the towel trick that someone else mentioned. (wrap she-devil in a towel first) Although .. if I tried to wrap Cleo in a towel she’d probably scratch my eyes out in a Kung Fu like manner, then run away. ~ karen

  24. SG says:

    As the live-in staff of Natasha, 7-lb Queen of the Jungle, I read this as fairy tale, something done by wizards in a land far away. I would be gutted like a mullet if I tried it.

  25. Lou Cinda says:

    Karen, I trim my cats’ (all four of them) claws the exact same way. I still have a scratch board for them that I spray catnip on every week or two, but they still get a manicure/pedicure too! Only one of my cats, the oldest (18) doesn’t like it. She lets me do it but the noises she makes are hysterical…..

    Great tutorial….complete with injuries…

    Lou Cinda

  26. Kari says:

    You can also use regular baking flour if you accidentally nick the quick, it will stop the bleeding.

    Tin foil will also deter kitties from jumping up on things they’re not supposed to be on with the added bonus of making your home look like it’s from the future.

  27. Laurel says:

    My two current kitties, who I adopted from a shelter, use their scratching posts (I was careful to buy the same type they had been using at the shelter) and they haven’t touched any of the furniture other than ripping the underside out of an ottoman to crawl up inside for a nap – I can live with that :S. Of course, most of my furniture happens to be leather, so hard to shred. Good tip for pet owners, buy leather furniture! Previous cats that have owned me haven’t been so well behaved. I really enjoy trimming nails and find if you catch the animal at the right time – feeling relaxed, it can be a very pleasant experience.

    • Shauna says:

      oh trust me – leather doesn’t mean they won’t shred it. As proof, I have two newly upholstered leather chairs that have claw marks all over it and a leather massage chair that looks the same.

  28. Amy says:

    I suspect you’ll get lots of comments on this post. Cats on the interwebs and all that. I can’t resist myself…

    I don’t usually have to trim any cat’s back claws, but for one cat I lived with who thought kicking was part of playing, I managed to do it. My housemate and I figured out that if one of us snuck up on her sleeping and rubbed her face until she blissed out, the other could do pretty much anything to her, including trim all claws, front and back, and she wouldn’t even notice. Team work was the key. (No, we never did pull out the sharpies and draw on her, but I doubt she would have noticed that, either!)

  29. Barbie says:

    I was wondering about the photography Karen…..like how you did that while holding a camera and shooting a pic! Thanks for clearing that up! LOL I always have to do that too, but don’t do nearly as good a job as you! I do use my tripod sometimes though. Great Post…as always.

    PS: Thanks so much for the shout out yesterday. 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Barbie – I used a tripod (I usually do because of low lighting in my house), the timer button AND a remote control. 🙂 ~ karen

  30. cyn says:

    the past twenty five years, some of our cats were happy to have claws trimed and some would have no of it.Ttherefor the nails had to go. I will not have a cat destroy every thing I have had to work hard for when the cat in the house lives in the lap of luxery. I am just cranky that way. The current three cats we have two are declawed and on is fine with out clawing everthing. One cat we had, had been happy with nail trims for 7 years a re-locating of the family; caused this normaly happy cat in to a psyco-cat.. It was hard but things had to be changed, he lived a happy 4 more years. Each cat has its own personality. Go with it. As I said I get cranky when I am gettin hurt and or the things have are getting desstryed. Sure they are things, but my things none the less. A house is not a home with out pets.. we have always had lots of them. Cats, dogs, birds, fish, reptiles, rodents… alot of different ones and some we were happier with than others.

  31. Nancy says:

    My fella does the trimming of our 7 beauties..He uses one of those rotating nail files for pets..they listen to him pretty well but I’m sure they wouldn’t to me as they know what a softie I am..They only have one chair that they like to shred which will be leaving here soon so I don’t know what will happen then..I am also interested in checking out the double sided tape mentioned above..Beautiful kitty Karen..

  32. Great tutorial! I’m the pushover in the family and can’t stand to see my pets in distress; therefore, I let my husband trim the cat’s nails. Maybe with this tutorial I could give it a shot.

  33. jen says:

    we started trimming our cat’s claws as an 8 week old kitten, with our regular nail trimmers. we’ve never had an issue at all! but we double-team it. one of us pets him so he has a good purr going and then the other goes “clip clip clip” and it’s done! we do front and back and just take off that hook end that snags everything. but our cat has never ever scratched furniture either, so maybe he’s just an odd cat!

  34. Ramona says:

    Karen, I am so impressed with your ability to wrangle a cat and take a good close-up photo at the same time!
    I can only clip my cat’s nails when she’s just up from a long nap and still sleepy AND there’s enough bright daylight so I can actually see the nails.

  35. Lesley says:

    Can we trade cats??? The first time I tried to trim Evil Pye’s talons she slashed my upper eyelid. Once the swelling had gone down and I could see again I gave it another try. This time she sank her teeth into my hand.

    Sadly I adore her so I’ll just live with the shredded furniture.

  36. ev says:

    Thanks for yet another useful and entertaining bit of info! We have two wonderful outdoor cats (alas-too many of us are allergic here). So I have never clipped feline nails, but have given liquid meds and pills! What fun. We love our animal friends a bunch!

  37. Shannon says:

    Good post, I’ll need to start doing this myself soon, as my formerly indoor/outdoor kitty is now an indoor kitty.

    Your Ernie is beautiful! She looks a lot like my kitty, but with more fur (and toes LOL.) This is Georgette, aka “George”…also a female feline with a boy’s name 🙂

    http://bit.ly/ApnZNb

  38. We have 2 kitties (Tubbs and Barbara) that have destroyed these fake leather benches we have in the dining room, but they’ve never touched our real leather couch. Anyway, we buy those cardboard scratchy things for them and as long as we don’t let them get too mangled and gross they leave the still to be replaces benches alone.

    Nikki @ the ambitious procrastinator

  39. Karen says:

    What is it about polydactyls just showing up at homes? We too, have a polydactyl male who just showed up meowing at our doorstep with his baseball mitt paws. Do the other farm cats send them packing?

  40. caroline says:

    my 6 pound feral antichrist aka clee clee will only submit if i kneel down behind her and gently wedge her little body between my knees. then it’s lots of treats followed by a swat and parting hiss spit. now off to get some of that tape for my swiss cheese furniture.

  41. Carrie says:

    My kitty, Tucker, passed away last month, I had a couple of tricks I used with him. To trim his nails, I would first wrap him in a beach towel, then pull out one paw at a time. It prevented him from wiggling, and me from getting scratched.

    For furniture, I would cover their favorite scratching surfaces (or sitting surfaces) with a piece of tin foil. One jump on that stuff and they will stay away for ever. It is also easy to pick up and hide in a closet if you have company come over.

    • kathleen says:

      Closets are good, but I would recommend hiding in the bathroom when company comes over. You’ll have use of the facilities if they linger, a door that locks, and reading material . . .

  42. CC says:

    Thank you for posting this information Karen – it’s really helpful. I volunteer for a cat rescue who doesn’t permit declawing for those wishing to adopt. I’ve had cats declawed in the past, but after researching what is involved with this surgery will never do it again.

    It does take more work to clip their nails, but pets are work…same as kids, same as spouses (lol). We do the work because we love them…hopefully more than the furniture. 🙂

  43. kelliblue says:

    sorry, I love kitties, but no cat will ever live in my house without at least being front paw declawed. Call me barbaric if you want, meh.

    of course I’m *completely* spoiled because i got my current kitty 4-paw declawed! (wasn’t me!) which is great when she wants to give me the dreaded ‘bunny kicks’ with her back feet. Now…it’s just cute instead of painful.

    they can do so much with genetics…why can’t they make claw-less cats???

  44. kathryn says:

    wow, Ernie is a very beautiful cat! i wish i had a naturally gorgeous blue nose.

  45. Deb says:

    Thank you for enduring scratches to take pictures! Amazing you got such clear photos. Our cats are so good – our first, a Siamese Snowshoe, is very trainable. She never scratched furniture after she learned we didn’t want her to (nothing bad/mean was done – just firm “no” and sticky tape & aluminum foil & me demo’ing scratching on posts) The 2 pieces of furniture she’s not allowed on, both leather couches that scratch easily, took 2x of water spray & no more cat on couch ever again. Our 2nd cat didn’t need training – I think he observed and followed what the 1st one did! They have cardboard scratching boards and vertical posts around the house. It would be great for people to know they don’t have to declaw their cats! For us trimming is a 2-person job, 1 holds the cat and 1 trims with same clippers you have. It’s pretty much drama-free.

  46. Rae says:

    I have 2 very old cats, one with front claws and one without. the one with gets her nails trimmed once a month now (I found that after she turned 15 a few years ago they grow slower) and will protest but doesn’t claw. She also gets nail covers which have worked perfectly so no torn furniture for me. My 21 year old watches and I think sometimes she is laughing at her sister for having to get all that done.

  47. Gayla T says:

    I was taught the art of cat care by an expert. She told me ths was and she started by putting her cat head down into a cowboy boot. I didn’t need any further insttructions and went home. She also used the head in the boot to neuter male cats by putting a tight rubber band around their balls. The balls eventually fell off and the cat was neutered. My kitties get all that stuff done at the vet while I sit in the lobby too sick to watch. LOL I’m the crazy old lady who has 3 cats 4 dogs and a cleaning fetish. Never a dull moment.

  48. Nathalie says:

    This works fine with claws that you can see the quick but what about dark claws???

    • Karen says:

      Nathalie – Just take the point off. The quick is going to be where the nail is the widest, so just clip off the thinner tip. ~ karen

  49. carolmcc says:

    just don’t let nice kitty bite you. infection rates from bites that break the skin – humans: most (eww) cats: second in line, something like 75% dogs: if you have to get yourself bitten, choose a dog. considering that a dog will eat anything, including cat poop out of the litter box and dead carcasses, this is amazing. but true. i don’t even want to know why most human bites get infected. but we are always most concerned about those in the ER. as for WHY we get people coming in with human bites, that’s another story.

  50. Claudine says:

    Thanks to Ernie for being such a good model. (What goes on behind the scenes doesn’t count.)
    This is a great post Karen. I clip my cats’ claws, albeit not as regularly as I should to prevent minimal discomfort on guest’s legs, when my very happy cats knead to show their appreciation of a comfy lap.
    Great photos. My condolences to your furniture.
    I have several cat trees in my house, and The Boys are really good about not scratching the furniture – at all. They have destroyed the leather ottoman, not by scratching, but by gaining traction with back claws as they leap off of it to charge madly through the house.

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