How to Keep Your Cat Still While Trimming Nails

by K Marie Alto March 02, 2022 13 min read

How to keep your cat still while trimming nails by toe beans

How often do you trim your cat's nails? Do you find it hard to do? Well, as I will discuss in this post keeping your cat still while trimming nails does not have to be difficult. All it takes is a little bit of technique, patience and practice.

I know, for some pet parents clipping a cat's claws and let alone keeping the cat still in the process may sound like impossible mission.

I posted this article on our Facebook page and one of the comments was "impossible" 😆. And while I must admit it may be hard for most pet parents, there are some techniques you can apply at home. Keep on reading.

Today's post comes loaded with plenty of tips, techniques and educational videos and illustrations.I will explore from the ABC's of cat nail trimming to why you should never declaw your cat to how train your cat to allow grooming.

If you are an experienced pet parent and just want to jump to the meat and potatoes, the "tips to help calm your cat while trimming" is the one section you do not want to miss.

If you are looking for more cat care guides, make sure not to miss the read further section at the bottom. Alternatively, you can visit my blog. You can search by topic. Spoiler alert, it is packed with useful resources 😁.

Table of Contents

Do Your Cat's Claws Need Trimming?

The first question on your mind may be whether or not your cat's claws even need trimming. After all, isn't that what that scratching post and catnip I just purchased are for?

In the wild, cats wear their claws down through use, whether it's scratching to mark their territory, hunting prey, or just walking on rough surfaces.  

Hemp extract for cats' natural healing powers by Momma Knows Best

In the home they don't get nearly as much room to be aggressive and wear those claws down, so they stay sharper longer.  You may have also noticed that a cat’s claws shed the outer sheath over time, revealing new needle-sharp talons.

An indoor cat has no need for those super sharp claws.  When left untrimmed, those claws can damage floors and furniture, and they can scratch you deeply during a play session.

An additional serious issue oftentimes overlooked by  many pet parents is the risk of overgrown claws. While they more commonly happen to older less active cats and cats with extra toes, they can cause a lot of pain and sometimes infections.

Long Cats Claws

One option some people go for is declawing (onychectomy) indoor cats, but this is a terrible idea. For one thing, "declawing" isn't really an accurate term since it removes more than just the claw. If you compare a cat’s toes to your fingers, the equivalent would be removing the first knuckle's worth of your fingers. This level of removal is performed to prevent the claws from growing back. 

In spite of much controversy about this topic, several states have already made declawing illegal due to the inhumane nature of the surgery.

"By banning this archaic practice, we will ensure that animals are no longer subjected to these inhumane and unnecessary procedures. Gov. Cuomo said in a statement.” - American Veterinary Medical Association.

Additionally, both the ASPCA and The Humane Society have stated their opposition to cat claw declawing. Here is the ASPCA's position:

“The ASPCA is strongly opposed to declawing cats for the convenience of their owners or to prevent damage to household property. The only circumstances in which the procedure should be considered are those in which all behavioral and environmental alternatives have been fully explored, have proven to be ineffective, and the cat is at grave risk of euthanasia.” - ASPCA

Here's The Humane Society of the United States’ position:

“It is an unnecessary surgery that provides no medical benefit to the cat. Educated pet parents can easily train their cats to use their claws in a manner that allows everyone in the household to live together happily…. Declawing and tendonectomies should be reserved only for those rare cases in which a cat has a medical problem that would warrant such surgery, such as the need to remove cancerous nail bed tumors.” – HumaneSociety.org

Watch this 3 min video about declawing if your are interested in joining the anti-declawing movement:

I’ll be honest with you; almost two decades ago I had all four of my kitties front declawed.  Growing up all of my cats were declawed, I thought that was just the norm.  When they go in for their spay/neuter, they get declawed as well, right? No veterinarian tried to discourage me from having the procedure done, so I was none the wiser.

As you may imagine, this is not something I’m proud of, but I’ve learned a lot since making those decisions all those years ago. As the saying goes, when you know better, do better and I’m doing just that.

Cat books by toe beans_Grooming

So, circling back to the question at hand, yes, your kitty’s claws will need regular trimming.  Let’s move on to the larger question of how can you keep your cat still while trimming? But first here are some key considerations on clipping your cat's claws. 

Properly Trimming Cat Claws

Some cats are very laid-back, love being handled, and will happily let you do pretty much anything you like to them. Others are very skittish and will run away at the first sign of you wanting to pick them up, let alone handle their paws or trim their nails.

Perfectly Trimming Cat Claws

To a certain extent, you can train a cat to be more comfortable with having their paws handled and their claws trimmed. Often, this requires working with them when they're a kitten and getting them used to the idea and experience.

Unfortunately, many of us adopt older cats or strays that haven't had such socialization as kittens, and it's much more difficult to train an older cat to be calm while restrained.

Regardless of what your cat's personality is, the goal when it comes down to nail trimming is to try to avoid the restraining part at all costs whenever possible. Restraining your cat should be the last resort after all other options have failed.

Don't worry, we have a bunch of tips to help make the claw trimming process easier on both you and your friendly feline.  

Make the Trimming Experience as Easy as Possible

The first thing to consider when it comes to nail trimming is to try to make the experience as easy and stress-free as possible. Your cat will react much differently if you're trimming a few nails while lounging on the couch versus bundling them up to a vet or groomer's office and forcing them into unfamiliar, anxiety-inducing situations before being manhandled.

Make The Experience Easy

  • Try to start when your kitty is already relaxed. Post-meal naps are a good time to trim nails. Post play time is also a great option.
  • Don't try to do everything at once. The more resistant your cat is to nail trimming, the fewer nails you can get done at a time before they squirm away. Never try to fight a struggling cat; they can do a lot more damage to you than you might expect.  Continuing to restrain your kitty while s/he is afraid is only going to reinforce the negative experience in their mind.
Online Pet Supplies Store by Toe Beans
  • Use the right tools. There are some mixed recommendations out there about what makes the best clipper for cats.  Some people will say human nail clippers, while others will say use an animal specific clipper.  The one thing we can agree on is scissors are not a good option. I prefer a traditional pair of small claw clippers.  If you don’t already have a pair, avoid getting the cheapest ones on the market as they won’t be very sharp.  Dull blades can crack the nail instead of clipping it and they also cause undue pressure on the claw when you’re trying to cut it.

You should also make sure you have all of your tools on hand and ready to go. This might include a towel or blanket to wrap up your fur baby to keep them calm (aka a purrito), a treat for distraction or to give them when they're done, or some catnip as a more cognitive reward.

Watch this 60-second Video on How to Towel Wrap Your Cat

 

Finally, avoid grabbing your cat by the scruff. Yes, we all know mama cats carry their kittens that way, but adult cats don't like it. It's usually only ever done by predators or aggressive, larger cats, and that's not the kind of behavior you want to be imitating as their pet parent.

Handling your fur baby shouldn't be a difficult process. Being able to read your cat’s body language is key. If they're struggling, let them go; you don't want to make the trimming experience more stressful than necessary. Your goal is to help them warm up to getting their claws clipped.

How Much Nail to Trim?

When in doubt, trim a little, not a lot. The last thing you want to do – especially with a wiggly cat – is trim so much that you cut the quick and hurt them.

In cats (and dogs), the claw is like a hollow tube. In the center of that tube is a nerve, pulp, and a blood vessel, all of which keep the nail healthy. As the claw grows out, so too does that sensitive inner composition, collectively called the "quick." If you trim too much nail, you could nip the quick, which is painful and will leave your fur baby bleeding.

Clipping the quick can happen faster than you realize if you have a wiggly kitty.  It’s best practice to keep some styptic powder on hand. Styptic powder is essentially a clotting agent that is extremely effective at stopping bleeding and sealing up a small wound, like a cut or a nick. It's very potent and effective and will also help ease the pain.

Try to pick an organic option and make sure to avoid at all costs styptic powders that contain harmful ingredients such as benzocaine, aluminum chloride, and ferrous sulfate among others.

How Much Nail to Trim

Also, if you accidentally cut too much nail, it’s best to call it a day on that nail trimming session. Continuing will likely result with a kitty that struggles more and it’ll be harder to trim any remaining claws. It isn't worth it. Give them space and a treat to help tell them you're sorry. You can finish another day.

We also recommend starting with the front nails. Back nails tend to grow a little slower, and they get more wear as your fur baby climbs, leaps, runs, and generally uses those claws for traction. Front claws need more maintenance because they are retractable in order to keep them nice and sharp. That doesn't mean rear claws never need trimming, but it does mean you should prioritize the front claws first.

Tips to Help Calm Your Cat While Trimming

If your cat doesn't like being held, doesn't like their paws being handled, or just doesn't like having their nails trimmed, you have a few options available.

First of all, as we already mentioned, try to catch your kitty when they're at their most relaxed. Feed them, give them a nice warm spot to relax, and approach them calmly while they're dozing. Some will be on edge immediately, but many will be relaxed enough to at least give you a bit of time to work.

Another option is to try catnip. Now, this one is heavily dependent on how your cat reacts to catnip. Some cats get hyperactive and rambunctious, but others get calm and sleepy. Even the ones that gain a burst of energy may end up sleepy after it wears off. Make sure you know how your fur baby reacts to catnip before relying on it to calm them down.

Momma Knows Best Organics Captivating Catnip

USDA organic catnip for picky eaters by Momma Knows Best

Along the same lines, you can try a little play time first. Playing with your fur baby will hype them up, but once you wear out their energy, you'll be better able to handle them. It's sort of like a human child; tire them out, and they're easier to get to go to bed, or a bath, or whatever other task you need them to accomplish with a minimal amount of fuss.

For pet parents that like to avoid the side effects or chemical options and prefer natural and holistic approaches to help encourage relaxation and keep your fur baby calm, another option is CBD.

CBP Tincture for cats by toe beans

CBD tinctures made for cats can be a great option to handle situational anxiety and stress that arise from infrequent and difficult situations. They're also good for stressful events such as a vet trip or grooming, and even holidays like the 4th of July.

Here is a great guide on how to pick the best cbd oil for your dog or cat.

Save $5 with your first order of Momma Knows Best Organics CBD oil for dogs and cats. Use code: PeanutCBD

As shown in the video in the section above, a blanket or towel can also come in handy. Many cats enjoy being bundled up and held snugly – but not too firmly – and it can be a good way to restrain them while keeping them feeling secure while you trim a few nails.  If your kitty is squirmy, try covering their face.  When they can’t see their escape route they are more likely to stay still.  

Alternatively, if you have a cat that is more on the easy-going side and is more comfortable with letting you handle their paws, you can apply the lap method recommended by the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University.

    

Source: College of Veterinary Medicine. Washington State University

“To restrain a cat in your lap, use your forearms draped over the cat's neck and hind-end to keep the cat in your lap. The clipper is held in the right hand.” - College of Veterinary Medicine. Washington State University

Training Your Kitty to Allow Grooming

If you have a cat, be it a kitten or an older cat, training your kitty before nail clipping will help the actual clipping go more smoothly. One way to train a cat to accept grooming is with iterative repetition and reward.

Training to Allow Grooming

It looks like this:

  • Start where your cat is comfortable. If that means just casually petting them, so be it. If it means holding them, great. Your goal is to work up to being able to handle their paws without them recoiling or running away.
  • Handle and gently massage a paw for a few moments, then let go and give your cat a treat. You're rewarding them for letting you handle their paws. If they pull away, keep a hold of their paw but let them pull it back a little; don't teach them that pulling away means you let go.
  • Never grab, squeeze, yank, pull, or otherwise fight your cat. Let’s be honest cats are extremely agile and when paired with super sharp claws, odds are they'll win in a fight. Doing so also reinforces bad behavior instead of the desired good behavior.
Pet Blog by Toe Beans
  • Once your furry child is tolerating you handling their paws, repeat the process with gentle squeezing to reveal the claws and make them more accessible. Again, don't try to trim yet; just squeeze, release, reward. You can add in a simple tap with the clippers to get them used to the tool as well.
  • Once they're comfortable with that, you can trim a claw and see how they react. Trim, release, reward, repeat. Simple right? I know sometimes this is easier said than done.

Successful training can take quite some time – even months, for particularly skittish cats – but it can be a very rewarding bonding experience.

Building a Successful Grooming Routine

Trimming a cat's claws shouldn't be a stressful experience for either you or your fur baby. Fighting with a cat never works, and training often takes a long time before it achieves results.

Giving Cat CBD Image by Toe Beans

If you're in a sticky situation and you need to trim your feline's nails, you have a few options:

  • Try CBD. As discussed above, CBD oil is naturally relaxing to animals that are receptive to it and can keep them calm long enough for you to trim their nails. Keep in mind that not all CBD oils are created equal so you should do your due diligence before picking one of the many alternatives available. Your best bet will always be an organic CBD option.
  • Bring them to a groomer or vet. If you can't handle it yourself – and you don't want to associate yourself with bad experiences – a professional groomer may be able to help. You can also ask your vet to trim your kitty’s nails when they go in for a regular appointment.
  • Consider nail caps. Nail caps are like fake nails for your feline. They're small rubbery or plastic pieces that adhere to your cat's nails with glue, preventing them from being usable as sharp needles. They last for up to six weeks at a time, remember cats regularly shed the outer layer of the nail, so when that happens the cap will go with it. It’s worth noting that claws should be clipped before they are capped to ensure they go on snugly.  If they aren’t clipped your kitty will have a much easier time biting them off.
  • Give your fur baby something to scratch. Scratching wears away at and shortens the claws, which is how wild felines keep them sharp and short and ready to go. Scratching posts are always a great choice.

How to Pick a Good Scratching post | 120-second Video

 

How to Find a Good Location for the Scratching Post | 80-second video

It is always a good idea to provide proper training to make sure your cat gets used to using the new toy.

Overall, we recommend training combined with something like treats or CBD to make the process a little easier. Luckily, you only need to trim your cat's claws every 2-4 weeks, and possibly less if they keep them worn down on a scratching post.

Have any questions regarding trimming your feline friend's nails? Looking for any additional advice on the process or how you can improve it? If so, please feel free to leave a comment down below! As mentioned above, nail trimming does not have to be a traumatic experience for either you or your cat, and I would be more than happy to assist you with improving that experience however I possibly can!

Read More Cat Care Guides

One more thing, if you are feeling like getting a little special something for your fur dog or cat that is unique, made right here in the USA (or anywhere but in China), 100% pup and cat safe, USDA certified organic and brought to you by a US company, check out Toe Beans online pet supplies store!

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 30K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).


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