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

12 August 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: 8 minutes

While an outdoor cat’s nails are likely to get filed down naturally as they explore the outdoors, indoor or older cats often need nail care. If your cat’s nails get too long, they can cause injury to your furry friend – and to you too, in the form of ouch-y scratches! To avoid that, check out our tips and tricks on how to trim cat nails safely at home, and how to clip cat nails without pain or worry.

Overview: How to trim cat nails

  • Most cats don’t like having their nails trimmed.
  • Start while your cat is young so they 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 position that feels natural to them. If you pull their paw out too far, their instinct will be to pull it back in.
  • Using cat nail clippers or regular nail clippers, trim your cat’s nail at the tip – do NOT cut the quick (that’s the pink section of the nail).
  • Don’t do it all in one go – aim to trim one nail a day until all nails are trimmed.
  • Use positive reinforcement (a.k.a. treats) to reward your cat after you’re done trimming.

Do all cats need their nails trimmed?

Not quite. Most cats do not need their nails trimmed1, especially outdoor cats. However indoor, arthritic, and older 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 nails need to be trimmed.

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

When cat’s nails get too long, they can create problems for the cat and pose a danger to you too. Overgrown nails can catch or get snagged on clothes, blankets, carpets and furniture. This may lead to a broken nail, or other cat boo-boos.

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

It’s also important to mention that very overgrown nails may become ingrown and curl 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 make sure there’s no signs of cuts, swelling, infection, injury or splinters. You can trim cat nails once every 10-14 days, or a bit longer if you notice they’re still relatively short2.

If you can hear your little buddy’s nails tap-tap-tapping on the floor as they totter by, it’s definitely time for a nail trimming.

How to trim cat nails: Step-by-step instructions

Step 1: Get timing and setting right

The best is to start trimming your cat’s nails when they’re still a kitten, so that they get used to it. This will make things easier over time.

Once you’re ready to start, find a calm place to trim your cat’s nails, away from loud noises or distractions (such as other animals, or birds outside the window). Trim your cat’s nails when they are sleepy, or after they’ve enjoyed a nice meal, to ensure your cat is in the best possible mood. Let your cat sit on your lap, be gentle with them, and have some treats on hand.

Step 2: Define the cutting range

Once your cat is relaxed and sitting on your lap, gently lift up one of their paws – and be careful not to move your little buddy too much. Press a toe pad between your fingers to expose the nails, like in the image below:

cat nail close up

It helps to take a closer look at claw anatomy to make sure you understand how best to trim a cat’s nails. Mainly, you’ll want to be able to identify the three key parts:

  • The sheath, the outer layer which cats regularly shed off by scratching
  • The quick, the inner “pink” bit full of nerves and blood vessels
  • The claw, the sharp bit we’re all familiar with

This graphic might help you better picture it:

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

WARNING: Do NOT trim into the quick, the pink part which holds nerves and blood vessels.

In the illustration below, you can see where it is safe to cut your cat’s nails – towards the bottom of the nail, and closer to the tip. Do not cut into 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 doesn’t seem bothered, 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 cat

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

As for hoping they’ll learn to love it? Yeah, good luck with that 😉

Step 5: Repeat

Since most cats 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 your cat 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.

Not sure what these are? No worries. Someone at a pet store or pharmacy can guide you in the right direction.

Don’t have any of those at home? In a pinch, you can also try using baking powder, flour, or a bar of soap to stop the bleeding.

In any case, visit your vet to have the wound treated professionally.3

How to trim a squirmy cat’s nails

Cat squirm away just as you’re ready to start trimming? You can restrain your cat by holding them on your lap, belly facing downwards and head facing to your side. Rest your forearms gently but firmly on their neck and behind, so you can hold them still while trimming the cat nails with your dominant 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. You could ask your vet to trim your cat’s nails, or look for a cat nail trimming service near you.

Remember, you’re not the only one – in fact, it’s quite the accomplishment being able to trim a cat’s nails!

More cat care guides

Now that you know how to trim cat nails, is there anything you can’t do? To pick up more cat care skills, check out these articles:

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


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