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Home > Cats > How Often Should You Trim Your Cat’s Nails? (Vet Answer)

How Often Should You Trim Your Cat’s Nails? (Vet Answer)

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Dr. Chantal Villeneuve Photo

Written by

Dr. Chantal Villeneuve

Veterinarian, MS BVetMed

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Whenever our cat starts scratching on the furniture or “making biscuits” on our laps, we might think about whether we should trim their nails. But when do cats need their nails trimmed? How often you should trim your cat’s nails depends on your cat’s lifestyle. Indoor cats may need their nails trimmed every 2–4 weeks, but an outdoor cat may be able to go months between manicures.

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How to Decide When to Trim

Outdoor cats need long nails for traipsing across the great outdoors for grip and traction, for climbing, and for fighting. If their nails are too short, they can fall when they climb, or they can get beat up during a fight.

Indoor cats do not wear down their nails as fast as outdoor cats, and they do not need particularly sharp nails for climbing or defense. In fact, sharp nails can cause problems when cuddling with their human friends or crawling across soft bedding.

cat pawing on mouth
Photo Credit: isumi1, Shutterstock

Cats’ Nails and Their Feet

Cat feet are difficult to visualize because of all the fur, plus their claws are retractable. Cat nails retract so they can control when their sharp claws grip a surface. The sharp nails are perfect for gripping the ground and for climbing trees but are not as useful when walking across hard or extra soft surfaces such as rock or carpeting.

When the sharp nails do not retract on a rock, the nails act as stilts and push the toes away from the rock, reducing the use of their paw pad, which is grippy and thick, perfect for walking across something slippery like a rock.

If their nails do not retract when they walk across a textured surface, such as carpet or grass, the nails get caught in the substrate. This can sometimes be seen in weak and/or older cats or cats with a neuromuscular abnormality that causes them to lose some control of their feet. The nails stay extended and get caught on carpets or bedding.

How Do Cats Keep Their Nails Short?

Cats keep their nails short and sharp in two ways: by wearing them down when they climb and by scratching and kneading them on surfaces that are perfect for polishing and filing, like trees, furniture, bedding, or fence posts.

Indoor cats, however, not only do not walk and run on hard surfaces as much as outdoor cats, they also do not climb as much. So they do not wear down their nails, and they get longer faster.

Providing indoor cats with scratching posts helps them keep their nails at a more comfortable length. And it can help stop them from scratching your furniture. But it might not be enough to keep everyone comfortable.

Trimming an indoor cat’s nails helps keep them more comfortably short and can protect both you and your furniture from getting scratched.

cat claws when kneading
Photo Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

Why Are My Cat’s Nails Suddenly So Long?

Cats are famous for grooming themselves. And while that is mostly true, many suffer from this assumption when something prevents them from properly grooming themselves.

Many older cats suffer from arthritis or other degenerative conditions which make it difficult for them to groom. Or, sometimes a physical abnormality, an injury, or sickness can prevent a cat from being able to groom and sharpen their nails properly.

It is important to continually monitor your cat’s nails, especially if they are going through something. This is why it is good to trim even the most independent outdoor cat’s nails every few months to make sure they are keeping up with the maintenance.

How to Trim Nails

The trick to clipping a cat’s nails is to remain calm and encouraging.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:
  • Cats are particularly sensitive to noise and commotion, so be sure to create a quiet area where they feel safe.
  • Some cats may need to be gently hugged while you trim their nails, while others will do better with less restrain—less is often more with cats. And some may need two people to help, one to hold the cat and one to trim the nails.
  • If you do need to hold them, the idea is to make them feel comfortable and secure in your arms and lap, so they don’t feel pinned down and restrained.
  • Use your non-dominant hand to gently press the top and bottom of the central foot pad between your fingers. This should splay the nails out in extension.
  • Make sure to visualize the nail itself. Using your nail trimmers, aim to just cut the tip of the nail without the quick.
  • Don’t forget the dewclaw.

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The Dreaded Quick

In white or light-colored nails, the quick is usually easily visible, but even in dark nails, if held against the light, you can usually see its outline. The quick nail has lots of blood vessels and nerve endings, which is why it bleeds a lot if it gets cut and why it is so painful.

Only trim a small part of the nail at a time to avoid cutting the quick. A benefit of trimming nails more frequently is you can trim less of the nail at a time.

trimming nails of cat
Photo Credit: Yimmyphotography, Shutterstock

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What to Do With a Bleeding Nail

If you do cut the quick, remember to stay calm for your cat and offer them reassurance. Try to hold them still, gently on your lap, so movement doesn’t aggravate the bleeding nail, and so the blood doesn’t get everywhere.

There are styptic powders that can help slow and stop the bleeding; always keep it handy. Gently tap the powder onto the nail right in the center of the bleeding spot.

Just wait it out, but if the nail does not stop bleeding after more than ten minutes, call your vet so they can make sure nothing else is going on.

Once the nail stops bleeding, be sure to check the nail two or three days later to make sure it is healing properly. Be on the lookout for redness, swelling, or discharge.

When Trims Go Wrong

If something does not seem right, if the nail does not stop bleeding, or if it is still painful after 15–20 minutes, call your vet because something else has probably gone wrong.

I have seen nail trims go wrong so that the skin or the toe is accidentally cut. Or sometimes, the nail only gets partially cut or is torn from the nail bed, turning into a painful hangnail.

The thing to remember is to not be embarrassed, these things happen, and if you are taking the time to trim your cat’s nails, we know you care and are trying to do the best things for your cat.

veterinarian holding a cat with bandage on paw
Photo Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

Practice Trimming Your Cat’s Nails

Even if you decide not to trim your outdoor cat’s nails frequently, still practice with them. Get them used to people handling their feet and giving them nail trims. That way, as they get older or if they get sick, they are not overly stressed when they have to get their nails trimmed.

The worst time to train a new trick is when they are already not feeling well and are extra fragile.

Start slowly. Start with just a gentle massage or even a touch. Many cats do not like their feet to be touched initially, but with practice, you can convince them that it is alright, especially with patience and treats.

divider-catWhat to Do If They Refuse

If your cat simply will not let you trim their nails, it is important to still monitor them as closely as you can. Make sure they do not get too long, and if/when they do, bring them to a professional for help.

woman trimming the nails of sphynx cat
Photo Credit: Reshetnikov_art, Shutterstock

What to Do When Your Cat’s Nails Are Too Long

Long nails grow into a hook that can get caught on objects. Cats can get stuck with a nail tangled and become very stressed because of it.

They can also rip their nail completely off if they pull it away hard enough. This is very painful and usually bleeds.

Sometimes the torn nail is only partially ripped off, and it hangs off the nail bed. This is painful to walk on and usually needs to be pulled or clipped off. A vet can help, especially since many cats get defensive of the painful toe and will not let anyone help them.

Extra-long nails can also curl around until they dig into the foot pad, which is painful and creates an open wound that easily gets infected.

Bacterial and/or yeast infections of the nail bed can also happen to otherwise healthy nails. The nail bed usually turns bright red, swells, and sometimes has a discharge or even smells. These nails need to be treated by a veterinarian.

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Conclusion

Nail maintenance depends on your cat’s lifestyle and age. Get to know what is normal and healthy for your cat. Practicing and trimming their nails helps keep a cat healthy and less stressed.

See also:

Sources
  • Scherk, M., Little, S., Maddison, J. E., Murrell, J., Hibbert, A., & Taylor, S. BSAVA Manual of Feline Practice. A Foundation Manual. BSAVA British Small Animal Veterinary Association.
  • The Merck veterinary manual. Whitehouse Station, NJ :Merck & Co., Inc. 2023
 

Featured Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

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