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Trimming Cat’s Claws

Although we might think of cats as discerning creatures, in fact, they are not.  They really don’t care whether your luxurious leather sofa is worth a fortune or that your new carpet took months to pay off.  They just want to feel the sensation of clawing but one way to reduce this need is to trim their nails.

It’s long been assumed that cats scratch to sharpen their claws and whilst this is true, it is now believed that they also do it to communicate with other cats.  Cats select several highly visible spots which they leave their mark on in the form of visual scratches as well as the scent from the glands in their paws.  They are simply letting other cats know that they live here or even giving them warning to stay away.

Introducing a scratch pole to the area is a great way to discourage cats from attacking the furniture by giving them something else to use.  To find out how to encourage a cat to use a scratch pole, download our fact sheet called ‘Cat Scratching Solutions’.  However, trimming a cat’s nails will definitely help to prevent furniture from being damaged and whilst the vet or a groomer can do it, it’s actually not that hard to do at home.

As with all things to do with pets, it’s always best to get cats used to having their feet handled and their nails clipped when they are young.  They are more willing to cooperate at this age and much easier to handle so when they learn that it isn’t too bad after all, they really won’t mind having their ‘peticure’ even once they are an adult.

Choose the time and the place carefully, preferably one when the cat is relaxed and perhaps sleeping which is probably just after she has a full belly from her dinner.  Avoid areas of the house where there’s a lot going on to grab her attention and perhaps even close the curtains so that she doesn’t spy any birds outside the window.

Whilst she is relaxed, gently take hold of one of her paws and massage it for a couple of seconds.  If she pulls it away, just stay in contact with the paw but don’t squeeze or pinch it.  When it seems like she is comfortable with you touching her paws, press the top and bottom just at the base of the toe to make the nail extend out and hold it there for a second.  Repeat this process every day until she seems quite comfortable with every foot being touched.

Often it’s the noise of the clippers that upsets a cat so a bit of time to desensitize her to this could be a good idea.  Whilst the cat is relaxed on your lap, take the nail clippers and a piece of uncooked spaghetti and slowly clip through it.  If she shows any interest, give her a treat or a gentle pat and wait for her to relax again before continuing. It could even be helpful to hold the cat’s paw with the claw extended whilst clipping the spaghetti. Your family might think you have gone mad when they see you doing this but it just might help the cat.

It is not necessary to trim all of the cat’s claws on the same day.  If she becomes stressed, just do one or two and then do some more a couple of days down the track.  It’s better to have a relaxed cat than to make her too scared to come near you.

With the cat on your lap facing away from you, take hold of one of her feet and gently push on the top and bottom of the paw to make the nail extend.  Before cutting, take a good look at the nail so that you are sure where the quick begins.

The quick is the pink part that is in the middle of the claw and which contains blood and nerves.  It must NOT be cut as it will bleed a lot and cause the cat a lot of pain.  If it is accidentally cut, a styptic pencil or powder can be used to stop the bleeding as can ordinary household flour.

The aim is to trim only the sharp white part of the nail halfway between the tip of the claw and the quick.  It is far better to cut less of the nail then risk cutting the quick. If the cat is still comfortable, trim another nail and if the cat enjoys treats, she should be given one after each nail is done.

It is possible to trim both the front and back claws of a cat, especially if she is prone to latching on or climbing, but in most cases trimming just the front every three or four weeks is all that is necessary to save the furniture.

Dog clippers are generally not suitable for cats as they are too large and can cause injury on small paws.  Nail clippers for cats are much smaller and easier to handle.  They should be very sharp so that they cut the claw cleanly and don’t crush or split it.  Ask at any Better Pets and Gardens store for advice on which to choose.

Declawing a cat is highly discouraged as it involves very invasive and quite painful surgery where the ends of the toes are amputated up to the first knuckle.  There is always a risk of infection and bleeding and, in fact, keeping the cat’s nails trimmed every few weeks will have the same result.


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