Cat Nails

Q. Does clipping my cat’s nail tips keep him from scratching the furniture? If not, what’s the point?

A. The point is to get rid of those sharp points. There are actually a handful of reasons why it’s a good idea to clip your cat's nails, and reducing your cat’s ability to shred your furniture is just one of them. Really, though, I wouldn’t rate that at number one, especially since redirecting your cat’s natural desire to scratch isn’t that hard. With so many incredible choices in cat trees, and scratching pads, posts, trays and more, your furniture is unlikely to be your cat’s first choice.

So why nip the tips? It makes life more comfortable for both you and your cat. If you have one of those cats who needs to knead you — and who pokes those sharp tips into your skin — you know what I’m talking about. Taking off the very end of those claws will make this loving gesture something you can enjoy, rather than dread. For your cat, clipping his tips can prevent painful broken claws that can result when a sharp tip gets caught in the carpet. And yes, having those claws a little less lethal will reduce the damage should your fashion-conscious cat decide to give the corner of your sofa a hip new “distressed” look.

Get Your Cat Comfortable With the Clipper

Clipping your cat’s nail tips doesn’t have to be a struggle. If you start when your cat’s a kitten, it will probably never be a big deal. (And clipping is a far better strategy than declawing.) But even if you start today, with an adult cat, you’ll probably both get through it just fine. You can use a small clipper made for feline nails, or you can use a human nail-clipper — I’ve used both, and both work equally well. Since nail clippers work best when they are sharp, be sure to change the blades or replace the entire clipper regularly, depending on the model. You should also have styptic powder on hand, just in case you nick the quick, which shows as a pink center in light nails.

If you’re working with an adult cat, begin with no clipping at all. Use treats, gentle caresses and loving words to get your cat used to being relaxed and happy in your lap. Slowly introduce touching, then handling, your pet’s paws. Watch for negative body language: If your cat’s tail becomes more active, or his ears flip back, stop until he relaxes again. Force never works with a cat; it’ll damage your relationship and may get you both hurt. If at any point your cat flips out, don’t fight to hold him — just let go.

Once your cat is comfortable letting you handle his paws, move on to pressing gently to expose his nails. Next, introduce the trimmer, but go slowly; touch it to his paw and then put it away. The goal eventually — and how long it takes will depend on the cat — is to get your cat to let you clip just one nail tip. And that’s really all you’re doing with a cat: Blunting the very sharp edge, as opposed to shortening the nail, as we do with dogs.

Give Your Cat Regular Manicures

The nail tips will be sharp again within a couple of weeks if left alone. To make maintenance easy, keep the clipper next to the chair where you’re most likely to sit with the cat in your lap. Check nails frequently and clip as needed. You’ll also be less likely to draw blood if you trim his nails on a regular basis — which means that your cat will be less likely to draw your blood in return. If you do draw blood, however, press a little styptic powder gently against the bleeding with the tip of a cotton swab.

Some cats may eventually allow you to trim all the nails in one session, but if your cat draws the line at one or two a night, let it stand at that. Always end a session in a positive way: Your goal should be a happy, purring cat who no longer has the nails of Freddy Krueger. If you need help with the clipping technique or have any questions or concerns, ask at your cat’s next wellness check. Your veterinary team will be happy to walk you through the steps.