What’s The Best Way To Trim Your Cat’s Claws?

If you’re familiar with The Calico Life, you’ve probably already met our namesake, Rorie. As a two-year-old calico with some serious attitude, something as delicate as a claw trimming can be very difficult. Most cats aren’t fans of having their paws touched in the first place, and although Kelsey and I have more or less pestered Rorie into submission (those little toe beans are too cute to resist), one thing she absolutely won’t tolerate is a nail trim.

Since all of my attempts to clip Rorie’s nails myself led to blood and tears (both on my end, don’t worry), I was desperate to find a better way. I did some research and reached out to some fellow pet owners to learn a few tips and tricks, and I wanted to share what I learned with you.

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Before we delve in, just a friendly reminder that, while I have experience as a pet parent and try to cite reputable sources, I am not a pet health professional. You should always do your own research, use your best judgement, and speak with your veterinarian or another pet health professional if you have any questions or concerns about what’s best for your cat!

Since this post discusses caring for your cat’s nails, specifically, I also feel it’s important to emphasize that declawing is considered animal cruelty by many experts and is illegal in many countries, because it involves amputating part of the cat’s toe. In fact, when Kelsey and I adopted Rorie from the wonderful animal shelter, PAWS Chicago, they asked us to sign a contract explicitly stating that we would not have her declawed. Please take a look at this website or speak directly with your vet for more information on the consequences of declawing.

Photo: PAWS Chicago

As I began researching kitty nail care, I learned that, unlike dogs, some cats don’t need to have their nails trimmed on a regular basis, because they keep their nails in good shape through scratching. Other cats, like Rorie, aren’t big fans of scratching posts (even though they have three), and their nails can grow to a point where they accidentally end up hurting their humans or themselves. Sometimes overgrown claws can even result in painful, broken or in-grown nails and infection. Or, you know, sometimes it just results in getting stuck to anything and everything. Whether or not you need to trim your cat’s nails is something that you can judge for yourself (and if you’re unsure, talk to your vet).

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When it comes to cats who do need to have their nails trimmed, the most common method seems to be positive reinforcement, or, as I like to call it, sheer, unabashed bribery. For example, my friend, Nicole, only ever feeds tuna to her kitty, Lily, after she trims her nails. This creates a positive association for Lily – or at least tolerance in anticipation of a reward – with an activity she would otherwise dislike. This is also a frequently recommended tactic on websites dedicated to feline care. You can find some more detailed tips for using positive reinforcement to make nail care easier at the ASPCA website. The result, ideally, is something like the below video of one of my favorite internet cats, Nala, receiving a “pawdicure.”

Pawdicure 😆 www.nalacat.com

A post shared by nala_cat™ (@nala_cat) on

Another common suggestion for keeping a cat calm and cooperative during a nail trim is swaddling, or the “burrito.” Basically, this involves wrapping your cat up in a soft blanket or towel, keeping only one of their paws at a time free for trimming. Since the other three paws are tucked away, this method alleviates the risk of your cat taking a swipe at your face while you’re working. You can find some tips on how to safely swaddle your cat here. However, keep in mind that while some cats may feel safer wrapped in a blanket – like a swaddled baby – others may dislike being unable to move freely and become upset, so use your best judgement.

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As far as Rorie is concerned, the most successful method for at-home nail trims is the “sneak attack.” I simply wait until Rorie is napping (which is a lot of the time) and trim as many nails as I can before she wakes up and realizes what’s happening. This way, I’m usually able to trim two or three nails at a time. The downside to this is that I have to wait at least a day in between trims and by that time I’ve forgotten which nails I already clipped. So, while it’s the least painful method for both of us, it’s also not particularly efficient.

Ultimately, I’ve found that the best way to keep Rorie’s nails in shape is to leave it to the professionals – for us, that means monthly(-ish) trips to the groomer, although some experts recommend more frequent trims. It can be a stressful experience for everyone involved, it has really worked out the best for us, because Rorie’s nails are all trimmed in one go, without anyone (namely, me) getting hurt, and we don’t have to worry about it again for at least a month. I try to think of it like ripping off a metaphorical band aid – it hurts for a minute, but then its over quickly and efficiently!

How do you keep your cat’s nails in tip-top shape? Are you a DIY-er or do you leave the pawdicures to the professionals? Do you have any suggestions for trimming your cat’s nails that I might have missed? Let me know in the comments!

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