Trimming your cat's claws

You may notice that as your cat scratches, husks of keratin are shed, little curved “skeletons” of claws. This is a natural process –  if you provide him with a scratching post, is trimming your cat’s claws necessary?

Your cat’s claws are meant to be curved and sharp. But you may find that you need to dull the tips of these scimitars:

  • to minimize damage to your sofa
  • to avoid being scratched when handling your cat
  • if your cat does not shed her claws frequently enough and the claw is threatening to grow into her paw pad.

trimming Your Cat’s claws : not a “nail TRim”

Cats have sharp teeth and claws to hunt their prey and defend themselves. Their paws and claws are sensitive to touch and pressure – they need to be able to apply the right amount of force to keep a wriggling mouse under control.

Our fingernails are made of a hard substance called keratin, a protein that makes up your hair, skin and nails.  The visible fingernail is actually dead cells – living cells grow from under the cuticle and displace the dead, translucent cells, pushing them through the skin. Because your visible fingernails are dead, it does not hurt to trim your fingernails.

Your cat’s claws also contain keratin. The visible layer is dead cells, displaced as living cells grow from the underlying dermis. This dermis or “quick”,  contains blood vessels, nerves and other tissues. The “quick” envelops and connects to the outermost bone of the cat’s toe – our fingernails are NOT connected to our finger bones but to a matrix of tissue containing nerves and blood vessels that is separate from our finger bones.  Like human fingernails, the translucent keratin of the cat’s claw is made up of dead cells and does not hurt when trimmed.


Your cat’s claws are protractible, that is, they can be extended. When relaxed, the claws are hidden in a sheath of skin – your cat must extend them to use them.

what you need : trimming your cat’s claws

  • scissor-type nail trimmers for cats -or-
  • human toe nail trimmers
  • styptic powder or cornstarch, flour


trimming your cat’s claws: where to trim

  • protract your cat’s claw by gently pressing on her toe
  • most cats have white claws with a visible “quick”
  • the quick is pink; trim outside the quick
  • if you do clip the quick, press a pinch styptic powder, cornstarch or flour over the claw to stop the bleeding

Training your cat to accept “nail trims”

  1. Find a treat your cat likes. We will use positive reinforcement to accustom your cat to “nail trims”. Your cat will associate the treat he likes with having his claws clipped.
  2. Find a position that cat prefers for “nail trims”. Does your cat like to sit on your lap? Sit next to you on the sofa? If these are not options, perhaps a table with a fleece blanket on it will work.
  3. Find the nail trimmer or clippers that you will use.


It is less aggressive to approach your cat from behind for procedures like nail trims. For example, if she likes sitting on your lap, have her sit facing away from you.

step by step:

  1. Desensitize your cat to having his feet handled.  Offer your cat some treats while you handle his foot. Once you stop handling his foot, remove the treat. (Having someone to manage the treat plate is helpful!)
  2. Desensitize your cat to the trimmers. Touch her foot with the trimmers while giving her a treat. Remove the treat if not touching the foot with the trimmers.
  3. Trim a claw or two the same way. Work up to trimming the whole foot.

Once your cat is comfortable with step 1, proceed to step 2; proceed to step 3 when he is ready.

If your cat is clicker-trained, you can “click then treat” each behavior. For example, handle the foot, click, then treat. Your cue for step 1 could be a light touch to the paw before handling;  step 2 cue may be letting your cat smell the trimmers.  Always remember to reward kitty!

Be patient and take your time. You will find that trimming your cat’s claws does not have to be an ordeal and can save you a trip to the vet or groomer.

If your cat seems painful when handling her feet or her toes appear swollen, infected, or discolored, consult your veterinarian before attempting to trim her claws.

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