Many cat parents aren’t sure how often to trim cat nails, whether they need to clip them at all, or what happens if a cat’s nails grow too long. Many more cat parents are afraid to try trimming their cat’s nails. While any new grooming task can feel scary, we’re here to start you off on the right paw! Taking good care of your cat’s nails is one step to ensure your cat lives a comfortable, healthy life. With a few tips and tools, you can trim your cat’s nails like a pro.
Are You Supposed to Trim Cat Nails?
Let’s start with two common myths about trimming cat nails. These ideas might have prevented you from even trying to trim your cat’s nails.
The first myth: You don’t need to trim your cat’s nails because your cat scratches and takes care of it on his or her own.
The truth: Cats use scratching for all sorts of reasons, including marketing their territory and taking care of their nails. Their natural scratching behavior serves to pull off the outer part of their nails, which can become frayed or jagged like when we humans get a tear in our fingernail. For a cat, scratching removes that outer layer to expose a fresh, sharp claw underneath. Those claws continue to grow and can benefit from regular trimmings.
The second myth: Clipping cat nails is too difficult. When most people imagine trimming their cat’s nails, they often imagine an unhappy, scared cat. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way! With the right tools and gentle handling, your cat can learn to love–or, at the least, to tolerate–regular nail trims.
So, are you supposed to trim cat nails? Yes! The next question is how often to trim cat nails. Aim for every two weeks. If you’ve never clipped your cat’s nails before, or if your cat is nervous about handling, stretch out a nail trim over as much time as you need. For example, you can clip one or two nails on each paw every day. For kitten parents, you’ll likely need to trim your kitten’s nails more often, and that’s a good thing! Early practice can help your kitten learn to love nail trim time.
What happens if a cat’s nails grow too long? Learning to trim your cat’s nails is incredibly important. When your cat’s nails are too long, they can snag and get caught in furniture and carpeting. Left unchecked, your cat’s nails begin to curve and grow into their paw pads. This causes your cat a lot of pain and discomfort. Keep those nails trimmed for your cat’s overall health and happiness!
If you do suspect your cat’s nails have grown into the pads, don’t try to trim them yourself. It’s time to see a veterinarian.
5 Tips for Trimming Cat Nails
You’re ready to trim your cat’s nails! There are five things you can do to set yourself–and your cat–up for success.
1. Gather your tools.
Nail trimmers made specifically for cats are often the right size and shape for a cat’s nails. However, you can use regular nail trimmers as long as they’re super sharp. In addition to clippers, keep a styptic powder on hand. This will stop bleeding immediately if you accidentally cut your cat’s quick. More on that in a moment.
2. Select treats your cat can’t resist.
Find your cat’s favorite treat. Maybe it’s squeeze cheese from the can, lunch meat, or a scoop of wet food. No matter what, it should be special and irresistible.
3. Train your cat for nail-trim success.
Start slowly. Expose your cat to the tools you’re going to use without actually using them. Let your cat sniff the clipper and dole out a couple of treats. Then, touch your cat’s paw while holding the clippers, and dole out a couple more treats. Some cats might be ready to dive right into a trim, while others might take several days of slow exposure. Be patient and give out lots of treats while you practice!
Try to remember that it’s a process. Knowing how often to trim cat nails gives you a goal to work up to, but it’s okay if it takes time to get there.
4. Prep your trimming area.
Decide ahead of time if you’ll place your cat on a table or counter, or if you plan to sit on the floor with your cat in your lap. Choose a spot with lots of light so you can clearly see your cat’s nails. Make sure your clipper, styptic powder, and treats are on hand. Then, help your cat relax. For some, this might mean petting. For others, it might mean minimal handling.
5. Trim your cat’s nails.
With the clippers in your dominant hand, use your other hand to gently lift your cat’s paws. Apply light pressure to your cat’s toe to expose the nail. Snip only the sharp tip. With each cut, reward your cat with a treat.
Note the spot where your cat’s nail turns pink. That’s the quick. It’s where the nerves, blood, and tissue are located. Cutting that causes your cat pain and bleeding. Stay far away from that spot, trimming only the tip of the nail. If you do accidentally cut the quick–it happens to all of us eventually–grab the styptic powder. Your cat will be fine, though it might take extra treats the next time you try a nail trim!
How often to trim your cat’s nails depends on how fast your cat’s nails grow. Two to three weeks is a solid average but can vary by age and life stage. Start to monitor nail and paw health as part of your monthly cat body scan to figure out an ideal schedule for your cat.
Trimming your cat’s nails is a necessary part of responsible cat ownership. It doesn’t have to be a scary or daunting task. With the right tools, some practice, and gobs of patience, you can keep your cat’s nails neat and tidy!
What is your nail-trim schedule for your cat? Is there a treat that works well to help your cat be comfortable for nail clipping?
We’d love to know in the comments what has worked for you–or help you troubleshoot any challenges you’ve encountered with your cat! Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author: Maggie Marton writes about dogs, cats, and kids–and often the intersection of all three–for print and web publications and on her award-winning blog, OhMyDogBlog.com. Maggie co-authored Pet Blogging for Love and Money, a guide to launching and running a profitable pet blog. She lives in the Indianapolis area with a dog, two cats, a tank of fish, two preschoolers, and a patient husband.