You won't have to worry about claw-trimming if your cat spends a lot of time outdoors, as rough surfaces tend to take care of things. Indoor and elderly cats, however, may need to have their claws trimmed every few weeks. Also if your cat is one of the usual few with an extra toe (polydactyl) then the claw that doesn’t touch the ground may overgrow. Trimming the claws prevents them growing inwards into their pads, causing pain and infection.
The urge to scratch is part of being a cat, so all cats should have a scratching post at home. This will save your furniture and wear down the claws so you can minimise how often you need to trim them. This is especially important for indoor cats as they can’t scratch on trees/fences outside.
Older/senior cats often suffer with overgrowth of their claws. This will be uncomfortable for them so it is important you trim the claws regularly. However, overgrown claws can also be a sign of osteoarthritis, which will also mean you need to be extra-gentle when cutting them. Consult your vet to discuss your senior cat’s claw care and to check whether any treatment for osteoarthritis is needed.
How to trim your cat's claws
- It is important you know exactly how to trim the claws correctly to avoid causing pain and bleeding by cutting too far up the claw (into the ‘quick’ or sensitive part). Ask your vet or veterinary nurse to demonstrate and check your technique.
- Get your cat used to the idea of claw-trimming from an early age, preferably from a kitten. 'Pretend trim' by applying slight pressure to your cat's toes and then offer a reward.
- You can keep the soft toenails of a kitten in trim just by filing them. This is less likely to cause pain or bleeding but may not be tolerated as well as clipping.
- Check your cat's claws once a week, including the ‘dew claw’ or the claw on the inside of the legs. If they show when the cat is resting - normally the claws would be completely retracted and tucked away - then they may need trimming.
- If you suspect any claw is growing into the pad consult your vet straight away as these claws are painful to cut and your cat may need painkillers/antibiotics.
- For adult cats, use specially designed cat-claw clippers - and keep them sharp and well maintained. Ask your vet which type of clippers will be best for your cat.
- Press your cat's paw between your finger and thumb gently to unsheath the claw. Snip off just the transparent tip of the claw; always avoid the blood vessel in the centre of the claw; and never clip higher up than the pointed tip.
- Have silver nitrate sticks (available from your vets) and cotton wool balls nearby in case you do accidentally nick the claw quick. If so, and it bleeds, don't panic. Calmly apply the silver nitrate to the end of the claw and press with a cotton wool ball for a moment. If the bleeding doesn’t stop then consult your vet immediately.
- Silver nitrate may sting, so you might want to enlist some help to hold your cat if the need arises.
- If you do cause bleeding have a chat with your vet/vet nurse about avoiding this complication in future.
- When you check the claws, also check the paw pads for any cuts or foreign bodies. Check between the toes for any signs of soreness. Contact your vet if you find anything unusual.
- Don’t forget the ‘dew claw’ - the claw on the inside just below the wrist (carpal) region. This may not touch the ground so can be prone to overgrowth - particularly in older cats.
Cutting your cat’s claws is not easy so don’t feel guilty if you can’t do it! If in doubt consult your vet or vet nurse.