Step-by-Step Guide: How to Trim Cat Nails Safely Yourself at Home

15 July 2021

Some (not all) cats may need their nails trimmed regularly. Learn how to trim cat nails safely by yourself at home in this step-by-step guide.

person holding grey cat trimming cat nails

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

While outdoor cats are likely to get their nails filed down naturally as they explore the outdoors, indoor or older cats often need nail care. When nails get too long, they can cause injury to the cat and to others. So learn how to trim cat nails safely, at home by yourself in this article. We’ve compiled all the best tips and practices on how to clip cat nails easily and painlessly – for both of you!

Overview: How to Trim Cat Nails

  • Most cats don’t like having their nails trimmed.
  • Start while they are young, so they’ll get used to the trimming process.
  • Some cats are easy going about getting their nails trimmed; others may need to be gently restrained.
  • Trim your cat’s nails with their paws relatively close to their body, in a natural position. If you pull their paw out too far, their instinct will be to pull it back in.
  • Using cat nail clipper or regular nail clippers, trim your cat’s nail at the tip – do NOT cut the quick (pink section of the nail).
  • Aim to trim one nail a day until all nails are trimmed.
  • Use positive reinforcement (aka treats) to reward your cat after the trimming.

Do all cats need their nails trimmed?

Not exactly. Most cats do not need their nails trimmed1, especially outdoor cats. However indoor, arthritic, and geriatric cats can all benefit from having their nails trimmed regularly, as they don’t get as much exercise or as many natural nail-filing opportunities as other cats. When in doubt, ask your vet if your cat’s nailed need trimmed.

What happens if you don’t trim your cat’s nails?

When cat’s nails get too long for any reason, they can create problems for the cat and pose a danger to you too. Overgrown nails can easy catch and get snagged on articles of clothing, blankets, carpets and furniture. This may lead to a broken nail, or other type of injury in your cat.

Not to mention that you’re more likely to receive a nasty scratch if your cat’s nails are too long.

And finally, excessively overgrown nails may become ingrown – curling into the paw pad, which can lead to infection. And that means pain, and likely medication for your cat. You can spare yourself the headache, by trimming your indoor cat’s nails regularly.

How often to trim cats nails?

Check your cat’s paws and nails regularly, to ensure there are no cuts, swelling, infection, injury or splinters. You can trim cat nails as often as every 10 – 14 days as needed2. If you can hear kitty’s nails tapping against the floor when they walk, it’s definitely time for a nail trimming.

How to Trim Cat Nails: Step by Step Instructions

Step 1: Get Timing and Setting Right

In the best case scenario, start trimming your cat’s nails when they are a kitten, so they get used to it – which will make the process more simple over a lifetime.

In any case, find a calm place to trim your cat’s nails, away from loud noises or distractions (such as other animals, or birds out the window). Trim your cat’s nails when they are sleepy, or after they’ve eaten a meal, to ensure your kitty is in the best mood for task at hand. Let your cat sit on your lap, be gentle with them, and have some treats on hand.

Step 2: Define Cutting Range

Once kitty is relaxed and sitting on your lap, and without moving the cat too much, gently lift up a paw. Press a toe pad between your fingers to expose the nail, like so:

cat nail close up

Take a closer look at your cat’s nail, to get to know the anatomy of the claw. You’ll need to be able to identify the three parts: sheath, quick, and claw (as seen in the diagram below).

Cat nail trimming and cat claw anatomy illustration: sheath, quick and claw

The quick, or the pink part of your cat’s nail, contains nerves and blood vessels. Do NOT trim this area.

In the illustration below you can see where it is safe to cut your cat’s nails – towards the bottom of the nail, closer to the tip. Do not cut in the pink area – or you could expose your cat to bleeding and infection. It’s better to trim just a little bit, than to risk cutting them at the quick.

How to trim cat nails safely infographic - cutting line

Step 3: Trim Cat Nails

Gently clip the tip of one nail, release your cat’s paw, and reward them with a treat. If your cat did not mind this process, you can trim a few more nails. With some cats, trimming just one nail a day may be the best you can do.

If your cat is agitated or upset, do not attempt nail trimming. Similarly, do not get upset or punish your cat if they are not cooperating – simply try again another time or ask a professional for help.

The sharper the nail clippers, the smoother the trimmed nail will be. After clipping your cat’s nails, you can file the nail down to prevent snagging.

Step 4: Reward Your Kitty

After the trimming, be sure to reward your cat with a treat, their favorite cat food, or plenty of petting and kind words. In this way your cat may begin to tolerate the nail cutting process.

Step 5: Repeat

Since most cat’s don’t enjoy having their nails trimmed, you may need to repeat these steps each day until you’ve trimmed all of your cat’s nails. Remember to have patience, reward kitty for good behavior, and try to make the process comfortable for you both.

Cat Nail Bleeding: What to do if you accidentally cut too short.

In case you cut your cat’s nail too short and it starts to bleed, stay calm. To stop the bleeding, apply a styptic powder, silver nitrate stick, or cauterizing powder. These items can be purchased at a pet store or pharmacy. If you don’t have one of those at home, you can also try using baking powder, flour, or a bar of soap to stop the bleeding. Visit your vet to have the wound treated professionally.3

How to Trim a Squirmy Cat’s Nails

You’re ready to start trimming, but kitty keeps squirming away? You can restrain your cat by holding them on your lap, with their belly facing downwards and their head facing to the side of you. Rest your forearms gently but firmly on their neck and behind, so you can hold them still while trimming the cat nails with your right hand4.

My cat won’t let me trim nails – what should I do?

Since many cats do not like getting their nails cut, or are not used to the process, it may not be easy to cut your cat’s nails yourself. Your cat might try to squirm away from you, or worse – bite or scratch. If you’ve already tried the steps above with a lot of patience, love and care, and it’s still not working, seek professional assistance. Ask your vet to trim your cat’s nails or you look for a cat nail trimming service near you.

More Purrfect Posts

Now that you know how to trim cat nails, is there anything you can’t do? To learn more pawsome cat care skills, check out these other articles on the Tractive GPS blog:

To see what the cat nail trimming process looks like, check out the vet tutorial video below.

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