Nail Clipping 101 - Our Top Tips for Keeping Claws in Tip Top Condition
Dr Caity Venniker
As with the grooming of cats in general, when it comes to maintaining healthy claws, some cats require more help from their owners slaves humans than others.
Cats have retractable claws which in abstract terms gives them wolverine-like superpowers and in practical terms means that they do not wear down as easily as dogs during exercise. Usually, regular scratching keeps claws in good condition, but they can become very sharp, which can be hazardous to both you and your furniture. Certain cats, especially indoor and older cats, are predisposed to excessive nail length, and sometimes a claw can become so long that it curls over and grows into the pad of the toe. This is a very painful condition and requires veterinary attention.
Regular nail trims will help to avoid any problems but for creatures renowned for their enjoyment of leisure and luxury, most cats do not relish a pedicure! Today we share our top tips for how to keep those claws in tip top condition:
1. First and foremost, our furry friends appreciate a little tact! It’s a good idea to only try to cut your cat’s nails when they are calm and relaxed – after a meal is often the ideal time. Start slowly, by simply touching your cat’s feet and gently extending a nail, and then rewarding them with praise or even a treat. Once they are tolerating this step without fuss you can move onto clipping a nail. To begin with, one or two nails per session is enough. Try to keep your expectations low initially, as pushing your cat so that they feel stressed or claustrophobic will only make them aversive to having their nails cut in the future (and do you really want to wrestle with a tiny tiger with razor sharp claws?).
2. The aim is to be able to cut your cat’s claws without much restraint, either on your own or with the help of another person to gently hold and comfort them. Some cats need to wrapped in towels to have their nails cut, but this level of restraint is only necessary when cats are stressed by the procedure. Other cats may be so vehemently opposed to having their feet handled that pedicures require veterinary assistance. All cats are different, but frequent, short, gentle practice sessions will help many learn to tolerate nail trimming while staying relatively relaxed and cooperative.
3. Most cats have 18 toes – five on each front paw and four on each hind paw. Generally, the claws of the back feet do not grow as long so may not need regular clipping. The main focus will usually be on the front feet, and the dewclaw is most prone to growing excessively long, as it often does not make scratching contact as well as the other claws.
4. Claws are made up of an outer layer of keratin and an inner layer composed of nerves and blood vessels, known as the quick. The quick can usually be seen in cats as a pink area, roughly triangular in shape, at the first part of the nail, closest to the toe. Cutting the quick is painful and will cause bleeding so take care to only cut beyond this point, with a safety margin of a few millimetres. If you cannot see the quick clearly, aim to cut the nail from the point where it curves downwards into a point.
5. If you do happen to cut the quick, the bleeding should stop within a few minutes, but it helps to apply a little stypic powder to the end of the end of the nail if possible. In this unfortunate scenario, first forgive yourself (it’s not nice but it can happen) and then start the long process of gaining forgiveness from your cat! Good luck. My advice is to stop the session immediately, apologise profusely, offer treats and return to step one in a week or two!
6. Older cats may require nail trims as often as every two weeks, but active cats usually require less frequent attention. It is preferable to trim the nails a small amount more frequently than to risk accidentally cutting the quick.
7. Trimming is most efficient if the cutting blade makes contact with each nail from top to bottom. When the blades make contact from the sides of the nail there is a slightly greater risk of crushing the nail and causing discomfort. This is great in theory but when I brought it up in discussion with a group of vets, the general consensus was that the best way to cut the nail is the way that the cat allows you to! It is however very important that the nail clippers are sharp, as blunt clippers are much more likely to crush rather than cut the nail.
8. One of the most creative tips I’ve come across about how to desensitize a cat that is frightened of the sound of the clipper (this can happen if a quick has been cut before, as the sound is associated with pain) is to practice extending the claw; clipping a piece of uncooked spaghetti and then rewarding the cat! I have never tried this personally but let us know at KatKin if you have, we’d love to hear about it!
When it comes to pedicures, patience is key. Cats are individuals with strong opinions about things, that’s part of what makes them such fascinating pets. Their moods also play a role so be prepared to cut your losses (rather than any nails) if it is not going well on a particular day. Above all, you do not want to get into a “We’ll See Who’s Boss,” scenario with a cat, ever. Because, aside from being counter productive, let’s be honest, is that something you really want to know?
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