Nail Care

A spoonful of sugar helps the Medicine go down.

By Margie Scherk DVM, Dipl ABVP (Feline)
Vancouver, Canada








Your cats’ nails are extremely important. As well as using their nails to apply scratch marks, they also communicate by marking their territory with pheromone from their pads. Nails are needed for climbing, and, of course, for self defence. While scratching a solid, sturdy vertical scratching surface will help cats stretch and tone their muscles, scratching is also critical in shedding outer layers to help keep their nails sharp and strong.


However, cats’ nails grow continually (just like our human nails do) and sometimes the sharp points get caught on furniture or carpets, making it difficult for the cats to free themselves. This is especially troublesome in older cats who may already have strength problems and often have painful arthritis. Additionally, untrimmed nails can grow back into the cat’s pads, which can lead to infection and other severe complications. Obviously this is very painful for your cat, and it is essential that this is prevented.


So why is this important to you?

Nail care is important for your cat – so it is vital that YOU are able to trim your cats’ nails. Trimming nails doesn’t have to be difficult. Like anything in life, your cat can be taught to associate the task with a positive experience, not only will they be less resistant, but they may even actually come willingly when it is time for their mani-pedicure.

Here’s how:

It’s important for your cat to be comfortable. Rather than using a table surface, I like to sit with my cat sitting on my lap in what I call: “people sit”. In other words, I have the cat’s back against my torso and their tummy facing away from me, just as if they were a child. Make sure your lighting is good (and wear reading glasses if necessary!).


Courtesy of Dr Terry Curtis

With treats at hand (kibble/biscuits), firmly grasp one front foot and gently press down on the front of the foot (over the pads) in order to protrude the nails. Trim the nail towards the tip, just past the pink ‘quick’.

After each nail give your cat a treat. Remember to breathe and mentally give YOURSELF a pat on the back. Take your time. Don’t feel rushed. If kitty decides one paw is enough, stop and pick up where you left off later. It’s very important that the process remains as stress-free as possible; but you DO need to get all four paws done.


Clipped Claw

After a few sessions of one treat per nail you will be able to reduce the calorific treating to one treat per paw, and eventually to a few treats per session. If your cat isn’t food motivated, you can comb the top of their head or stroke their cheeks as a reward. Catnip, valerian, witchhazel wood, or silvervine should be reserved for after the session as it can make cats more aroused instead of mellow.

Ordinary human toe-nail clippers are easy to use and are better suited to the flat shape of a cat’s nail than the circular cat nail clippers. The opening on fingernail clippers is too small for all but kitten nails. Some people prefer small hand held cat nail clippers with a scissor action and a circular opening. Avoid the guillotine-style nail clippers as they are bulky, might spook your cat unnecessarily, and can crush nails.

As your cat learns that the procedure isn’t terrifying, you will also relax. In fact, if you can work with your cat starting in a relaxed and non-anxious frame of mind, it will be easier for both of you. And sometimes your cat will squirm, growl or vocalize. Stay calm and carry on, even if it means getting the job done over a few hours.

In general, cats’ nails need to be trimmed about once a month. Prepare yourself with your cat’s favourite treat, patience, persistence and exhale. You can do this!

Don’t forget that, if your cat just won’t tolerate you clipping his/her claws, then your vet will certainly do it for you. There is always help out there !

For my video go to:

For more ‘in-depth’ illustration go to:

"A rose has thorns, a cat has claws. Certainly both are worth the risk."