4 easy steps to cutting your ageing cat’s nails – using the 1 tool you wouldn't expect!
Cats are notorious for their sharp claws, which can cause damage to furniture, clothing, and even their owners’ skin. Outdoor cats need their nails to fend off rivals or escape when being chased. Older cats that stay indoors or not venture far away from the back door use their nails less and tend to sharpen them less too, which why it’s sometimes warranted to cut their nails. This does not take away the fact that you need to have enough scratching opportunities available for them in your home.
Cutting a cat's nails can be a daunting task, especially if you've never done it before. In this post, I’ll provide you with an easy step-by-step guide for safely cutting your cat's nails, as well as some tips and tricks to make the process as stress-free as possible. But first, let me tell you something about your cat’s nails.
The nails of a cat
You probably have already seen the magical thing that is a cat’s paw. You don’t hear them walk, yet their nails can be put to use whenever the cat decides it is time.
This is because they can retract their nails back into a shaft, unlike a dog whose nails are always out.
The Anatomy of a cat's nail
The nail of a cat builds up keratin layers like an onion. You may have found a nail husk in your home before. Something that looks like a nail but is see through. A healthy cat uses a scratching post, trees, carpet, or furniture to sharpen their claws and get rid of those built-up husks. The scratching motion not only sharpens their claws, but it also stretches their limbs and back.
An older cat however, often suffering from sore joints, finds this movement a bit more painful or doesn’t have the right (horizontal) opportunities to sharpen their nails.
This is when the nail husks start building up, thickening the nail in such a way that eventually it doesn’t retract anymore. This creates discomfort whilst walking and standing and their paws get more sensitive. Sometimes, nails even grow so thick and long that they end up growing back into their pads.
This is why, when cutting an older cat’s nails, you want to peel away the husks as well. Special cat nail clippers, cut the nail neatly, leaving no splinters. This might be what we’d like to see with a dog or human’s nails, but with a cat, we wánt splinters. So that when you cut the nail, you can use your fingers to peel away the husks and any built-up gunk, leaving behind a fresh and short nail that can easily retract.
This is why I swear by human nail clippers with a straight mouth.
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies
Before you begin, you'll need to gather a few supplies. You'll need a pair of nail clippers. You’ll find numerous similar blog articles telling you to never use a human nail clipper. However, twenty years of working with cats have taught me to nót use special cat nail clippers but human nail clippers with a straight mouth.
You will also need a towel or blanket to place your cat on for grip and corn starch in case you accidentally cut the quick (the pink part of the nail that contains blood vessels and nerves).
Step 2: Prepare Your Cat for nail clipping
It's important to prepare your cat for nail trimming to reduce stress and prevent injury. Preparing starts well before the actual clipping. They need to get used to you gently touching their paw with your fingers first and later take the paw in your hand and pressing on the toes, so the nail gets exposed. When they are at ease on the sofa, sitting next to you whilst watching television, gently stroke their paw and lift it up if they allow it. Gently press the toe and place the paw back on the surface again.
Once your cat is more used to having his paws handled, you can slowly start the manicure by clipping one nail. It’s important to not try to clip all their nails in one go, to not overstimulate the cat and the both of you getting too stressed – unless of course, your cat really doesn’t care and allows you to clip all nails without even blinking.
Step 3: Positioning of the cat
Find a quiet, well-lit area to work in, and place your cat on a towel or blanket, or leave them laying wherever they are, provided you have enough light to work with.
Get an assistant to gently hold the cat so they feel they can’t just walk away. The assistant can even gently support one front leg and press on the elbow with their palm so that the leg is flexed and it’s easier for you to grab the paw.
You should also try to avoid forcing them to sit down in a harsh way. Remember we are dealing with elderly animals that are often suffering from osteoarthritis. If sitting down like a “good dog” hurts their knees, find a position that works for them. Your assistant should be supporting the cat, not pinning them down.
Step 3: Trim the Nail
Hold your cat's paw gently and press on one pad and top of the toe at a time so that the full nail exposes itself. If the cat has white nails, you can see the quick which is pink. You can put the nail clipper just in front of it in a 45 degree angle, so you don’t hit the quick, and gently press the clipper so that it cuts the nail off.
If your cat’s nails are black, you can use a torch (e.g., of your phone) to light the nail from the opposite side. You will see the light shine through and where it doesn’t, that’s where you’ll find the quick. If you have difficulties seeing the quick, you can try to cut tiny bits of nail off until the nail fully retracts into its shaft again or until the cat lets it be known that its nail is getting sensitive.
There is no rule that says you need to cut the nail all the way to the quick; you can also cut little bits more regularly to be on the safe side.
If you dó happen to hit the quick, you can add some corn starch and pressure on the nail until the bleeding stops. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, contact your primary veterinary surgeon to discuss what the best next steps are. In the days after, keep a close eye on the nail and paw to make sure it doesn’t get infected.
Repeat this process on each nail, being sure to reward your cat with praise or treats for their cooperation. If your cat is not used to having their nails cut, make sure to not cut all nails at once. Try to cut one or two nails per day and continue rewarding them after each time with a treat, praise, or a good cuddle or brushing session if they enjoy that.
When clipping your cat’s nails, it’s just as important for you to stay calm and breathe. If you get tense, there’s a bigger chance you make a mistake, such as cutting into the quick or that your cat feels your stress and starts to struggle.
Clipping your cat's nails may seem intimidating at first, but with the right tools and approach, patience, and practise, it can be a quick and easy process that helps your cat get around more easily and without discomfort.
If, even after reading this, you are feeling anxious about clipping your cat’s nails because you don’t want to hurt them or are unsure about where to cut the nail, get in contact with us for our special Fur & Nail consults. This is a consult where one of our experienced veterinary nurses or carers comes to your home to cut your cat’s nails, takes away matting in their fur and where needed, teaches you how to cut your own cat’s nails.
And finally, watch the video below of one of our patient’s manicure. You can see here how their nails have thickened by using special cat nail clippers. One of the nails even thickened so badly, that it grew back into his paw pad.