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How To Trim Your Cat’s Nails Without Getting Scratched

Trim your cat's nails without getting scratched using counter conditioning and desensitization

Your fluffy, cuddly kitty is equipped with 18 long, razor-sharp claws of death – maybe more if your cat is a polydactyl cat.

If you don’t trim your cat’s nails, they’ll continue to curve downward as they grow. They’ll be more likely to get caught in fabric and cause serious, painful scratches on your skin that can easily become infected. In extreme cases, the nail begins to grow into the cat’s paw pad, making it difficult for them to walk.

Veterinarians are happy to trim your cat’s claws for you. However, your vet will need you or a vet tech to constrain the cat. To get the clipping done in a 15-minute visit, force is your vet’s only option. Repeated forcible trimmings can be traumatizing to your cat, and they’ll only become more agitated every time their paws are touched.

Learning to trim your cat’s nails at home is ideal. Cats are already stressed at the vet. Your cat will be more relaxed in your home. You’ll also have plenty of time to acclimate your cat so they won’t fear the clippers.

You want your cat to experience nail clipping as a relaxing spa treatment, rather than a struggle to the death!

Get The Right Cat Nail Clippers

Using the wrong tool can cause unnecessary discomfort for your cat. Too-large dog clippers may take too much off the nail. Baby nail scissors are not made to clip curved cat nails, and will squish and crumble the cat’s nail in a painful way.

Use cat nail clippers that have sharp, stainless steel edges. They’ll quickly and painlessly slice through the nail without adding pressure. Ones with soft ergonomic grip and easy-to-use scissor design as shown above works perfect.

Buy this scissors style Pet Nail Clipper from our store for $3.99

Before You Clip Those Nails

Whether it’s your first time trimming your kitten’s nails, or you’re trying to re-teach your nervous cat to better tolerate clippings, you need to start slow.

Just like dogs, cats benefit from counterconditioning and desensitization.

Desensitization means to slowly re-introduce your cat to what they fear. Instead of grabbing your cat and attempting to trim all of their nails, you’ll start from the first step that does not totally freak them out.

Counterconditioning means to teach an alternative behavior that makes it impossible for your cat to do the wrong thing – in this case, pulling their paw away, struggling, hissing and scratching when you trim their nails. You want your cat to calmly allow you to trim.

When combined, counterconditioning and desensitization are powerful. You can change the way your cat feels about nail trims by working at your cat’s speed so they’ll never go into full-blown panic mode.

Play With Your Cat’s Paws

The more you stretch out the CC/DS (that’s short for counterconditioning and desensitization) process, the more relaxed your cat will feel when you finally do a full clipping.

Begin the process by playing with your cat’s paws for a few weeks. Massage those little pink or black paw pads. Some people call them “jelly beans” because of their squishy, round shapes.

Reward your cat with yummy food when they allow you to touch their feet. Dry food isn’t tasty enough. Small bites of tuna or salmon, sandwich meat or cooked chicken are all tempting treats that will help your cat feel good about having their toes touched.

When you gently squeeze your cat’s toes, their claws will emerge. Say “good kitty!” and reward your cat when they allow you to expose their nails.

Do this gentle paw play for at least a week before you even pick up a clipper. For paw-shy cats, it can take even slower steps and more time to get them completely acclimated to paw play.

Introducing The Clippers

When your cat doesn’t mind having their nails exposed, you can begin introducing them to the kitty nail clippers.

Don’t clip any nails just yet. Squeeze the toe to expose the nail, then simply wave the clipper just in front of it, and reward your kitty. If they start to panic when the clippers come out, take a few steps backward in the process. Go back to just touching the paws. Then, introduce the clippers at a greater distance, then hide them and reward your cat before they have a chance to panic.

Gently tap the clippers against your cat’s nails without clipping. Again, reward and praise when your cat doesn’t react to being touched. Massage your cat’s feet and pet them in their favorite ways to keep them calm.

Finally, It’s Time To Clip

The ASPCA offers an interesting tip: while introducing your cat to the clippers, hold their paw while using the clippers on a strand of dry spaghetti. That way, your cat can get used to the sound of the clippers. They won’t get startled by the sound when you’re trying to trim their nails, which could lead to slipping and mistakes.

Finally, you can start to trim your cat’s nails. Have those extra-yummy treats ready!

Some people trim just one nail each day, especially when the cat is just learning to tolerate trims. However, it might be easier to trim at least one paw if your cat allows it.


If you cut the cat’s quick, they will bleed – and probably won’t trust you to trim their nails again for a long, long time. You can keep cornstarch or septic powder on-hand to stop any bleeding that may occur.

It’s better to trim tiny fragments of the nail than to risk cutting the quick. Praise and reward your cat between clips.

When Your Cat Is Still Nervous About Nail Trims

If your cat’s nails are too long and sharp for you to take weeks for CC/DS, you’ll need to trim their nails in the least stressful way possible.

Start with a sleepy kitty. If your cat is most active at night, trim their nails in the morning, when they’re too lazy to care as much. Wrap your cat in a thick blanket or towel, like a cat burrito. Then, cuddle the cat burrito, give them some of those yummy treats to get them in a calm, willing mood.

Continuously give your cat food rewards as you trim. It’s even easier if you have an assistant to pet the cat and give them treats at the same time.

Do you have any other tips for trimming a cat’s nails? Let us know in the comments!

Remember to SHARE on social media – more cat lovers should know about counter-conditioning and desensitization for stress-free trimming!

1 thought on “How To Trim Your Cat’s Nails Without Getting Scratched

  1. Your article was helpful but mostly discussed CC/CD I would like to have seen more on tools most helpful. I appreciate your information I’m simply suggesting more information about the Do’s & Dont’s like a video . Thank you so much.

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