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Trimming your cat’s nails is essential, since they grow in layers and fraying or worn ends should be removed to avoid any injury. Still, cat nail clipping is a skill that’s important to learn how to do correctly, since most cats don’t necessarily enjoy the experience. Of course your veterinarian will be happy to show you the step-by-step instructions for clipping your cat’s nails safely, but here are a couple of tips to keep in mind:
Keep your cat calm
Creating a calm environment with which to trim your cat’s nails is the key to doing it successfully, says pet expert Steven May, a certified veterinary journalist. “The best ways to keep your cat calm during the nail trimming process is to get him used to it at an early age, and use treats as rewards,” he said. “When your cat is young, get him accustomed to having your hands on his paws by gently rubbing them when he’s relaxed. This bonding will make it much easier come clipper time.”
It also helps if you remain calm, as well. You can try to hold your cat on your lap, but you risk being accidently scratched. Instead, May recommends having your cat stand on a table to avoid this. He also suggests trimming nails before your cat has eaten, so you can reward him after each paw with treats for being a good kitty. If your cat starts squirming before you finish, let him go and start again after he calms down.
Use the right tools
The most common type of clipper is called the “guillotine” model. “It works by inserting the nail through the opening and closing the handle like a three-hole punch, which then runs a blade through the nail and slices it safely off,” said May. “This style is easier to use, but the blades will dull over time.”
Another style of clipper is the scissors type, which has a slight curve and demands a bit more technique. It offers more cutting strength than the guillotine style, and works particularly well with longer nails and dew claws, or the nails on the inner side of each foot.
How to clip the nails
The process of cutting your cat’s nails starts with you getting her claws to extend. “If you’re right-handed, start by holding the cat’s paw between your thumb and index finger of your left hand, with the thumb on top,” says May. “Gently rub the pad, while speaking in a calm, soothing voice, and then smoothly squeeze the thumb and finger together, which should extend the claw so it can be trimmed.”
The trickiest part of cutting the nails is learning how far down the nail to clip. “Cut too far and there’s the risk of hitting an area of arteries called the ‘quick’, which will cause bleeding and pain for the cat,” says May. “With cats that have clear nails, the quick can be seen as a pink stripe at the base of the nail and should be avoided with the clippers. With cats that have dark nails, the best way to avoid cutting the quick and causing pain is to cut the nails more frequently, making sure to take off just the tips.”
Even someone who is experienced in cutting nails can accidently cut too low, so May recommends keeping a clean cloth handy to apply pressure should your cat start bleeding, and make sure to have either styptic powder or cornstarch on hand to quickly stop it.
Stacey Brecher is a freelance writer. She has contributed to Animal Fair magazine, and her blogs have previously appeared on The Dog Daily.