Cat Claw Care 101

Kitten with Claws out
Anyone who has ever been around a scared, angry, or just overstimulated cat can attest to how sharp and dangerous cat claws are. Given that cats have sharp reflexes and often move too quickly for us to respond in time, cat scratches are an unfortunate risk that comes along with sharing a home with these loveable furballs.
Humans aren't the only potential casualties of Fluffy's razor paws, though. Upholstery, curtains, boxes, and more can all fall prey, which is why it's so important for pet parents to give their cats acceptable scratching surfaces and to keep their nails trimmed to limit not just possible damage to themselves and their home, but also to keep the cat from injuring herself by accident.

Why Do Cats Scratch?

Cats scratch for multiple reasons. According to the Humane Society, they scratch to husk away the dead outer layer of their claws, to mark their territory, to stretch their feet and bodies, and sometimes just to blow off steam.
This behavior is instinctual and normal, so you should provide your cat with a few different scratching options to keep him happy and spare your drapes. Commercial scratching posts and pads are available in a variety of forms and materials, but almost anything with a coarse, textured surface will work.

Do I Need to Trim My Cat's Claws?

Indoor cats are prone to overgrown nails, which can curl under and into their paw pads and cause infection, soreness, and difficulty walking or using the litter box. While some cats will wear down their nails naturally through playing and scratching, you will probably need to trim your cat's claws every few weeks to keep them at a reasonable length.

How Do I Trim My Cat's Claws?

Cat Getting Nails Cuts
This can seem like a daunting process, but as long as you don't rush and you make the experience as stress-free as possible, your cat should be okay with the process. The ASPCA and the Washington State University School of Veterinary Medicine both have very useful and detailed step-by-step guides.
The basic rules are as follows:
  1. Start slowly and make sure your cat is comfortable with you touching his paws long before you bring out the clippers. Spend time gently petting and rubbing his paws to help him get used to the sensation.
  2. Introduce the clippers without trying to trim anything yet. Squeeze the clippers a few times in the cat's line of sight to let him connect the noise with a visual. 
  3. When it comes time to trim the claws, make sure your cat is completely calm, even groggy, and in a quiet room with no distractions. Let him get comfortable, gently massage the paws until a claw extends, and then snip the tip of a claw. It's better to take less than more, as going too far with the clippers can make you cut the nerve endings (known as the quick), causing pain and bleeding.
You probably won't be able to trim every nail in one sitting, and that's okay. Again, let your cat set the pace. He'll let you know when he's had enough. When he does, let him go and try again later.

What If I Cut the Quick?

Cat claws are generally clear or white, so the quick (the pink part near the paw) is easy to avoid. If you cut it, though, don't panic. Dip the claw into styptic powder or cornstarch to help stop the bleeding. If the cat won't let you, just be sure to keep an eye on him to make sure the bleeding stops; it should cease within approximately five minutes. If it doesn't, contact your vet for further advice.

Can't I Just Declaw My Cat?

Cat at Vet
While technically an option, this should be avoided at all costs. Both the ASPCA and the Human Society are strongly opposed to the practice of declawing cats except as a measure of last resort when all other efforts have failed. And with good reason--declawing is the equivalent of a human's fingers being amputated at the last knuckle, and it can lead to infection, lameness, and litter box avoidance, as well as leave your cat without a vital defense mechanism if he should find himself outside and needing to fend off a predator or climb a tree to get away from a threat.
Have any good tips for taking care of your kitties claws? Let us know in the comments below! 



Christine Whitt
Christine Whitt

Author



3 Responses

Ellen
Ellen

October 16, 2018

Our two cats hate nail cutting with a passion — growling and hissing throughout although we try to be as soothing and reassuring as possible. They do endure, though, because they know their claws won’t stick to the berber carpet any more, and because they know they’re going to get a treat after. I’m the only one in the house who is brave enough to do it, and I hate it because I stress that I’ll accidentally clip the quick. Recently we’ve resorted to having a vet come to the house every couple months. I like the idea of treats during though (suggested by Rai above).

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

August 31, 2018

@Liz – Hi Liz! Yes, some of our silly kitties don’t like the idea of getting a manicure. One thing that has worked wonders with my boy is giving him a couple treats before his nail trim, then giving him one more between each clip. If I can get two nails clipped in the time it takes him to eat one treat, that’s even better! Are there any treats your fur baby goes nuts for?

liz
liz

August 31, 2018

my kitty is a rescue that may have been on streets for some time. he is nine years, part Siamese. he hides from people, thunder and only sits on lap at his choice. he is realy a sweet boy mostly. when comes to cutting nails he goes crazy and hides. im 82 and unable to fetch him from under the bed, his favorite hiding place. any suggestions would be a blessing. thank you in advance

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