How to Cut Cat Nails & Other Cat Nail Care Tips

22 Minute Read
Updated March 1, 2024

Are you sick of your cat shredding your couch, your carpet, or your hands? Learn how to cut cat nails at home to keep them healthier and you and your home safer.

Trimming your cat's nails might seem like a difficult task, and granted it can seem a little scary for beginners, but with the right tips and some practice, you can safely and easily keep your kitty's nails properly trimmed. 

Making nail trimming a regular part of your cat's grooming routine will help prevent damaged or overgrown nails, accidental injury to themselves or you, and limit your cat's ability to scratch and claw your furniture.

Cutting your cat's nails might seem a bit intimidating for beginners. How short do you cut cat nails? What are the best cat nail clippers? Is cutting nails painful for cats? 

Read on to get the answers to these questions and simple tips and tricks to help get you started.


Why Do Cats Have Claws?

Your cat's nails may seem like a nuisance, but cat nails serve several very important functions, even for your lazy indoor prince or princess of a cat. For their feline ancestors, sharp, strong, and healthy claws were a matter of survival. Hunting, climbing, and self-defence were constant concerns and something that would be impossible without claws. 

Modern domesticated cats may not be dealing with the same life and death issues as their wild progenitors did, but healthy nails and paws are still vital tools for living active, safe, and enjoyable lives. Even if that life is in the comfort and safety of your home. 

Let's look at all the ways that common pet cats use their nails:


Wild cats hunt for food, but the average household cat may hunt for fun. Whether they are hunting bugs, toys, or that pesky ray of sunlight that dances across the walls, your cat uses their claws to pounce on, leap to, and hold their "prey." In place of opposable thumbs, cats can use their claws to grip objects securely.


Though predators may be few and far between in your living room, your cat still instinctually uses their nails as a mechanism of self-defence. They could be scrapping with their furry siblings, play fighting with you, or finally claiming victory over the tail that seems to always be following them around. For outdoor cats, healthy nails are a must, as your cat may need to defend themself from other pets or wildlife.


Cats are typically very athletic, at least when they want to be, and part of their natural and nimble ability is thanks to their nails. Whether they are climbing real trees outside or a carpeted cat scratcher in your house, cat nails provide a safe grip allowing them to use their muscular legs to quickly scale almost any texture structure. Climbing is an excellent and full-body exercise for your cat and should be encouraged under safe conditions during playtime.

Marking Territory

If you've ever wondered why your cat claws, kneads, and paws at things, it's because they are marking those objects, locations, or people as theirs. Cats have tiny scent glands in their paws that release pheromones when the paws are stretched or the nails extended. Next time you catch your cat kneading your leg, consider that it might be because she kind of likes you, or at least wants others to know you belong to them.


As natural self-groomers, cats spend a strange amount of time cleaning themselves every day. A lot of this grooming happens by licking, but their nails are also used to satisfy itches, remove debris, and loosen dead fur.


Cat Nail Anatomy

Learning to trim cat claws is easier when you understand the different parts of the nail. This can help you understand how cat use their claws, how short to cut them and why regular maintenance is so important. 

Cat nails can be broken down into three main sections - the nail, the quick, and the bone.

    • Nail: The nail itself is the hard outer sheath that grows. It's made of keratin, just like human nails, and will continuously grow. Cat claws are hard both to protect the inner parts of the nail, and to make the nails functional for climbing, hunting, and self defence.
    • Quick: Inside that tough shell of the nail is the soft inner core, called the quick. This middle layer of the nail structure is the cuticle of your cat's nail and it contains blood vessels and nerves to help the nails grow strong and healthy.
    • Bone: The innermost section of a cat nail is the bone. A cat's claws are attached to the last bone of each toe and are controlled by muscles and tendons in the toes. This arrangement allows cats to control their claws with precision, extending or retracting them as needed.


How Often Should You Cut Your Cat's Nails


Much like your nail care needs, a regular cat nail trimming routine will be needed to keep nails healthy and manageable. But how often should you cut cat nails?

Well, this can depend on a few factors. Again like people, nail growth is different for every cat, and other factors like lifestyle and even breed may determine how often a cat nail trim is needed.

On average, most cats benefit from a nail trim every 2-4 weeks, however, some cats will need less frequent trims. For example, indoor cats may need their nails trimmed more frequently than outdoor cats since they don't have the same opportunities to wear down their nails naturally. Cats who spend a lot of time outdoors may not need nail trims at all as long as they are regularly filing down their nails.

It's a good practice to at least check and inspect your cat's nails monthly to determine if they need nail care and help you catch any injuries or damage before they become a more serious problem.

Additionally, cats with long nails are more likely to accidentally scratch furniture or people. By keeping your cat's nails trimmed, you can help prevent these issues and promote your cat's overall well-being.


Dangers of Overgrown Cat Nails

Maintaining your cat's nail health will prevent them from becoming overgrown or ingrown. Both can be painful and can lead to more issues.

Overgrown cat claws can pose several risks to your cat's health and well-being:

    • Ingrown Cat Nails: An ingrown cat nail means that the nail has grown so long that it has curled back and punctured the paw pad or nail bed. Not only is this extremely painful, it can lead to infection and abscesses if not treated quickly. This is more common in dewclaws, as they are not as naturally ground down by walking and climbing as the other nails. Regular paw checks and anil care can easily prevent this situation saving your cat the discomfort and you the vet bills.
    • Difficulty Retracting: When a nail becomes overgrown, your cat may not be able to retract the claw comfortably. This can affect the way they walk and climb, and could lead to accidental injury as the nail can easily get caught on fabrics. Imagine walking on your nails. Ouch, right? The problem nails can also affect your cat's balance, as they won't be able to evenly distribute weight as they walk and climb. 
    • Damage to Their Environment: Long and sharp cat nails are going to do more damage to your house than properly trimmed ones will. Overgrown nails, especially if they can't be properly retracted are going to scratch up furniture and floors without your cat even trying to do any actual damage. Save your leather couch and get some cat nail clippers. 
    • Friendly Fire: Even if your kitty is a big furry cuddle bug, extra long and poorly managed cat nails are going to lead to some accidental injury to you, your family or even other pets. Playtime and wrassling can quickly turn into a bloody mess when your cat no longer knows how to function with her giant nails. She may not mean to cause damage, but her unruly nails will practically have a mind of their own. 
    • Gait Changes: Over time, your cat may adjust to an overgrown nail by changing how they walk, stand, or sit. This unnatural positioning and body movement can lead to permanent hip and joint problems, especially in older cats. Just like our hips and shoulders, symmetry is important to prevent unnecessary wear and tear, so an uneven gait will strain one side of their joint structure.

Regular nail trimming is essential to prevent these issues and keep your cat healthy and comfortable. If you need help with how to trim your cat's nails or if your cat has overgrown nails, consult your veterinarian or groomer for guidance.


10 Steps to Trimming Cat Nails


Cutting cat nails may seem like a challenge at first but with the right tips, steps, and tools, you can become a pro cat pedicurist and train your cat to not fear the clippers.

Follow these ten simple steps to trim your cat's nails safely and effectively, ensuring your feline friend's paws stay healthy and your furniture remains scratch-free.

Step 1: Choose the Right Tools

Set yourself up for successful cat nail trims by choosing appropriate nail trimming tools. Cat nail clippers or files are a must for safe and effective nail trimming, but don't forget to have other tools you may need close by.

Stock up on tasty cat treats to reward calm behaviour, or maybe a lick mat to help distract them if they are anxious about the process. Check out our top recommendations below to help you find the best cat nail tools.

Step 2: Wait for the Right Time

If at all possible, it's best to wait until your cat is calm and relaxed. Grabbing the clippers right after a rousing play session or case of the zoomies is going to end in your hyped-up cat refusing to sit still and maybe even feeling overstimulated by the process. Wait until they are ready for a nap or lounging peacefully to hopefully work on a more amenable cat.

Step 3: Prime Your Cat

Preface the nail trimming session with some gentle pets. Slowly work your way down to their paws, and offer some tasty rewards when your cat lets you handle their little toe beans. Gently massage the paws to help determine your cat's level of comfort.

If your cat is hesitant to allow you to touch their paws, you may need to practice this step daily before you start clipping. Keep treating and keep your sessions short to keep them relaxing.

Step 4: Examine the Nails

Inspect your cat's nails to determine exactly what needs to be done. Look for cracked or damaged nails and try to look for the quick of each nail so you know how short to clip them. 

Also, take this opportunity to check their paw pads for wounds or irritation. If you see any signs of injury, it's important to contact your vet before proceeding with the nail trim.

Step 5: Find a Comfortable Position

Keeping your cat comfortable will help keep them calm, so choose a soft, warm surface to work from, like a cat bed. Also, make sure they are in a position that allows you complete access to their limb and offers sufficient lighting and line of sight.

You will likely need to move or shift yourself or your cat for each paw. The better your angle the safer the cut. Avoid trying to twist or contort your cat's limbs for trickier nails, like dewclaws.

A common position is to put your cat in your lap with their back against your chest so that you can access their paws and use your forearms to gently hold their torso in place. Laying them on their side is also an easy way to allow you to manipulate their limbs and still use your forearms to encourage them to stay.

Check out our tips for dealing with feisty and uncooperative cats below.

Step 6: Clean the Nails

This is a step that most people skip, but it could prove to be an important one. Using a pet wipe or even just a damp paper towel, wipe down your cat's paw, and each nail if possible. Cat feet are pretty gross because they walk in cat litter every day, which means they are likely to carry plenty of bacteria.

If you accidentally clip your cat's quick, you could be introducing all that bacteria into the open wound which could lead to infection. The simple act of cleaning their paws before the trim could save your cat some discomfort and both of you a trip to the vet.

Step 7: Trim the Nails

Hold your cat's paw gently but securely, and using your thumb and forefinger, press together at the toe pad and top of each toe to extend the claw. Don't press too hard, just enough to flex the joint.

Your cat's nails grow on a slight curve after a certain length. This is important because the angle you cut the nail should follow the angle of growth. This is typically a slightly forward angle.

Position the clippers just past the tip of the nail on that angle and make sure that the quick is a safe distance from the blades. Make a quick and smooth cut. It should be one swift motion.

Start with small clips. Just the tip is plenty for your first time. You can always make a second or third cut depending on how tolerant your cat is and how well you can identify the quick. Check out this explainer video to demonstrate the process.


Step 8: Reward Your Cat

After trimming each paw, reward your cat with a small cat treat and praise. Repeated positive reinforcement will help your cat associate nail trimming with a positive experience. In time this can take away the fear or uneasiness about this cat grooming practice.

Step 9: Repeat Regularly

To keep your cat's nails at a manageable length, trim them every 2-4 weeks. Not every nail will need to be trimmed every time, as your cat may naturally file down some nails faster than others, but regular checking and practice will help make the process more comfortable for both of you.

Step 10: Monitor for Signs of Discomfort

Be on the lookout for signs of discomfort or pain before during and after nail trims. This can help you identify issues quickly, and find safe and prompt solutions.

If you notice any visible signs of damage, strong reactions to your touch, or sudden behavioural changes around the nail trimming session, it's time to call your vet. Proceeding with a cat nail trim on an injured paw or nail could lead to further damage and even permanent injury.

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Are My Cat's Nails Healthy?

Cat nails are similar to your cat's skin and coat in the sense that they can show symptoms of poor health quicker than other areas of the body. Poor cat nail health can be a telling indicator of your cat's overall health, so checking their nails regularly can help you spot and correct issues quickly. Look for damage, deformity, appearance changes, and signs of pain.

Here are some signs of healthy cat nails:

Smooth Texture

Healthy nails should have a smooth texture, without any rough patches or irregularities. Some flaking is a natural part of nail growth, but excessive nail shedding, dryness, or splintering is not a good sign.

No Redness or Swelling

The nail bed should not be red, swollen, or inflamed. These could be signs of infection or injury. Not every injury is an emergency, so minor areas of concern may heal on their own, but you should monitor the healing process and contact your vet if symptoms worsen or do not seem to resolve on their own.

Normal Growth

Nails should grow at a consistent rate. If you notice rapid or irregular growth, it could indicate an underlying health issue. Keep in mind natural filing patterns.

Poor nail health can be a symptom of many things, like poor diet, digestive issues, injury, or even disease, so it's important to take note of changes and abnormalities and connect with your vet to diagnose or solve the issue. 


Best Cat Nail Clippers and Nail Care Tools


There are plenty of options for pet pedicures, but not all of them are suitable for your cat's size and temperament. Choosing the right tools will make nail trimmer easier, quicker, and safer.

Scissor-style pet nail trimmers are offered in smaller sizes allowing you to maneuver better and give you a safer line of sight. Other tools such as files and grinders are also an option but don't always work for impatient and anxious cats.

Here are some of our favourite and most popular cat nail-trimming tools:

Bella & Baxter Cat Nail Scissors

These small scissors are perfect for beginners. They are easy to use, durable, and perfect for smaller cats, kittens, and curved nails. If you are starting with just clipping the tips, then cat nail scissors are going to be your bread and butter.

Bella and Baxter Cat Nail Scissors are big enough to clip thicker claws, like dewclaws, and are great for getting hard-to-reach nails that may be overgrown or awkwardly angled. They also fit in the palm of your hand, making them less conspicuous and less intimidating to your scaredy cat.

Cat Nail Clippers

For thicker and harder nails, Bella & Baxter Cat Clippers are a better choice. They allow for quick and smooth cuts and give you more leverage to snap off denser cat nails without applying unnecessary pressure, which can splinter the nail.

Clippers are a little bulkier, which can make it harder to see around the blades as well, so it's always best to work your way up to this style of clipper or stick to shallower cuts until you can better identify where the quick it is.

Cat Nail Grinder

If you are very unsure of where to cut and fear cutting your cat's quick, a cat nail grinder, like the JW Gripsoft Plam Pet Nail Grinder, can be a good alternative. This allows you to slowly grind down the nail one layer at a time giving an even and smooth finish to the nail.

The downside is that cats rarely enjoy the whir of the grinder motor and may react poorly to the vibration and sound. More tolerant cats can easily learn to trust the process, but it's not ideal for beginners.

Cat Nail Caps

Though not an alternative to cat nail trimming, cat nail caps can be helpful for those pet parents who are at their wit's end when it comes to unwanted scratching and destructive behaviours.

Nail caps for cats are soft, rounded nail covers that can be applied to each nail after a trim. They will still be able to extend and retract their nails normally and will be able to walk comfortably, but won't be able to scratch or puncture anything with their sharp talons.

Cat nail caps should never be used on cats who go outdoors. Your cat's claws are their first line of defence against other animals and are a key component of their climbing ability if they need to quickly abscond from a dangerous situation. Never leave them vulnerable to predators.


How Short Should I Cut Cat Nails?


When trimming your cat's nails, it's important not to cut them too short. The general rule of thumb is to trim just the sharp tip of the nail, avoiding the pink part known as the quick.

The ideal length for your cat's nails depends on their environment and day-to-day activities. In general, you should aim to keep your cat's nails short enough to allow your cat to fully retract the nail, but long enough that they can still use the length to grip and climb.

Regularly trimming your cat's nails can help you maintain the optimal length. If you're unsure how short to trim your cat's nails, start by trimming a small amount and gradually trim more if necessary.

Cutting the nail too short may lead to cutting the cat nail quick. The quick contains blood vessels and nerves, so cutting into it can be painful and may cause bleeding. Making multiple small cuts to play it safe is always preferable to making one big cut that leads to injury.

Pay attention to your cat's reactions during the trimming process. If they seem uncomfortable or if you notice any bleeding, stop and check the nail for damage.

In time and with practice, you will become more familiar with your cat's nail anatomy and will be able to cut a little closer to the quick without incident but start with just the tip.

Also, consider that going as short as possible isn't always the smartest option. Your cat's nails should be short enough to retract properly and not affect how they walk, but leaving some length will help them climb and jump safely.

Instead of wondering how short you should cut their nails, think of how dull your cat's nails should be. You want them to be able to rely on their nails for agility and grip, but clipping the tips will make them less able to cause damage to you or your house.


What If I Cut The Cat Nail Quick?

If you do accidentally cut the quick, don't panic. Yes, it's painful, but more of an annoying pain, like a paper cut or splinter. Let go of your cat's paw, but hold them in place. Give them a few seconds to self-soothe, and reassure them with some gentle pets and a tasty cat treat.

Next, you'll need to stop the bleeding by using styptic powder, cornstarch, or flour.

    • Styptic Powder - Antiseptic powder with a clotting agent that will quickly stop bleeding and clean the wound.
    • Cornstarch or Flour - Alternative to coagulation agent that slows the flow of blood to encourage clotting.

Press a small amount of powder against the end of the nail, applying firm and constant pressure. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then check the nail. Repeat if needed.

If bleeding persists, keep applying pressure but also call your vet. They may be able to offer solutions over the phone or may recommend you bring your cat in to have the wound treated.


Trimming Uncooperative Cat Nails

Some cats are just less tolerant of cat grooming practices, especially nail trims. If your cat hates their paws being touched, doesn't enjoy being picked up, or is generally a spaz, then cat nail cutting is going to be one or two degrees more difficult for you. 

Though you'll be playing the game on hard mode, you can still master this process and keep both you and your cat safe in the process. 

Here are some tips to help you safely restrain an uncooperative cat for a nail trim:

  1. The Purrito Method: Roll your cat up into a little purring burrito to keep them safely restrained and give you access to one paw at a time. The purrito takes a little practice to get right, but it's essentially like swaddling a baby. You want the snug and immobilized, but still comfortable. 
  2. Call a Friend: Some jobs require more hands than one person has, so grab a friend or family member to help you hold the cat and soothe them during the process. They can also be the official treat dispenser to help keep your cat calm and positively reinforce tolerant behaviours.
  3. Try Calming Aids: Calming aids for cats can be an effective tool for destressing your wild kitty before and during the nail trimming event. Calming sprays and diffusers can prep your cat and set the mood for the whole process, and calming cat treats may help take a little extra edge off to make your cat a little easier to handle.

It's important to approach the nail-trimming process calmly and patiently. If your cat becomes too stressed or agitated, it may be best to stop and try again later or seek the assistance of a professional groomer or veterinarian.


How To File Down Your Cat's Nails Naturally


For some cats, nail trimming is just such a hassle or stressful experience that it's best left to the professional, but you can help keep your pet grooming expenses down but getting your cat to naturally file down her nails at home. 

Here are a few ways that cats naturally file their nails:

    • Cat Scratchers and Posts: Providing your cat with a variety of scratching posts and pads made from different materials can help naturally file their nails as they scratch. Sisal, cardboard, and wood are good options.
    • Outdoor Exploration: Allowing your cat to spend time outdoors (supervised, if necessary) can help naturally wear down their nails as they climb trees, dig in the dirt, and explore rough surfaces. Leash training your cat can be a good way for indoor cats to get this experience.
    • Regular Play: Interactive play sessions with toys that encourage scratching and clawing, such as feather wands and cat snuffle mats, can help keep your cat's nails in check.

While these methods can help naturally file down your cat's nails, regular trimming is still necessary to prevent overgrowth and associated problems. If you need help with how to trim your cat's nails or if your cat has overgrown nails, consult your veterinarian for guidance.

Also, remember that dewclaws are not going to file down as quickly or at all in some cases, so these nails will need to be closely monitored to prevent overgrowth.

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Some Cats Do Their Own Nails

You might catch your cat chewing on her own nails and think "Omg she's sharpening them!" And she kind of is, but for good reason.

This nail-biting practice has two useful purposes. First, some cats recognize that long nails can be a hassle when walking and playing, so they will try to do some trimming on their own, either to dull or shorten them.

Secondly, as the nails grow, the outer layers will eventually shed, leaving little cat nail-shaped husks hanging on at the nail bed. These can catch on to things as they move around and will be generally annoying for your cat, so they will instinctually remove them while they groom.

A Cautionary Note About Declawing Cats

Did you know that declawing is banned by the Veterinary Association of almost all Canadian provinces? This is because it offers no medical benefit to cats, except in rare cases of injury or deformity. Additionally, it is painful and can have life-altering effects, including nerve damage, lameness, and anxiety, and can affect mobility.

Declawing was long seen as a solution for problem behaviours like scratching furniture and aggression, but the reality is that this is an irreversible and damaging solution to a behavioural problem that can be solved with training and lifestyle changes. 

The process of declawing is much more than just removing the nail. An onychectomy or a partial digital removal, is actually an amputation of the last joint of your cat's toes. They remove the bone, quick, and nails. 

Instead of resorting to such extreme measures, it's important to learn how to correct unwanted behaviours naturally and talk to your vet or a cat behavioural specialist. 

Check out How to Stop Unwanted Scratching for tips and tricks to alter and redirect these behaviours safely and non-surgically.


Cat Nail Trimming FAQs

When should you start cutting kitten nails?

The earlier the better. Starting regular kitten nail trimming as early as 8 weeks will not only help to dull the tips of those tiny little razors but will help your kitten learn not to fear the nail care process. Just clip the sharp tips and try to make the process as relaxed and enjoyable as possible.

What to do if your cat won't let you cut their nails?

Lots of cats need time and practice to adjust to this routine so don't give up too easily. If your cat is too aggressive or too anxious, it may be best to leave this task to your vet or your groomers. Provide scratchers and cat furniture to help them naturally file their nails in between professional nail trims.

Will my cat hate me if I cut her nails?

Your cat may not enjoy this nail care process, but they will get over it. The younger you start cutting your cat's nails, the quicker they will learn to accept it. Plenty of treats and attention before and after can help, too.

Will cats nail stop bleeding on its own?

In most cases, yes the cut quick will stop bleeding on it's own within a few minutes, but it's important to monitor the wound and keep it clean. Stopping the bleeding quickly will help seal the wound from bacteria and reduce the risk of infection.


The Importance of Cat Nail Care

Trimming your cat's nails doesn't have to be a stressful experience. Following these ten steps and approaching the task with patience and care can help keep your cat's nails healthy and your furniture scratch-free.

In conclusion, keeping your cat's nails healthy is an important part of their overall well-being. By providing them with appropriate scratching surfaces, regular playtime, and a balanced cat diet, you can help promote natural nail filing and prevent overgrowth. Additionally, regular grooming and nail trims are essential to maintain the health and comfort of your cat's paws.

If you're unsure about how to care for your cat's nails or if you notice any signs of nail problems, such as overgrowth, discoloration, or swelling, don't hesitate to consult your veterinarian.

They can provide you with guidance on how to properly care for your cat's nails and address any underlying health issues that may be affecting them. With proper care and attention, you can help ensure that your cat's nails stay healthy and happy.

In addition to regular care, understanding your cat's individual needs and preferences is key to maintaining their nail health. Some cats may require more frequent trimming or prefer certain types of scratching surfaces. By observing your cat's behaviour and responding to their needs, you can create a nail care routine that works best for them.

Remember, nail care is just one aspect of your cat's overall health and wellness. Providing them with a stimulating environment, regular veterinary check-ups, and lots of love and attention are also essential for their happiness and well-being. By taking a proactive approach to your cat's care, you can help ensure that they live a long, healthy, and happy life.

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Written by

Krystn Janisse

Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She is currently working for one very rebellious cat, Jack, and hanging out with a goofy but loveable doggo named Roxy.


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