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I Don't Want My Owner to Give Me a Manicure!

You haven't had your claws clipped in a while, but if it's done the right way it's painless.

 |  Feb 3rd 2014  |   6 Contributions


Dear Einstein,

I admit I’m a diva. I’m very proud of my razor-sharp nails, but they are so long they get caught in the carpet when I walk. They also snag on the upholstery all the time. I feel like a strip of feline Velcro. My human mom complains that I scratch her whenever she picks me up. What a baby! All that commotion over a few drops of blood. Why doesn’t she understand that a girl has to keep herself beautiful … and ready for combat?

Ke$ha

Vanity, thy name is Kitty. 

No self-respecting feline will argue that the claws are an extension of our personalities. In the wild, they give us our prowess as hunters and protect us from those who would turn us into digestible protein. Unfortunately, at home they make shreds out of furniture and puncture furless skin. For these reasons few humans are fans of paw daggers.

Clipping claws of a cat by Shutterstock.com

If you’d like to lose 120 pounds and get your mom off your back, I suggest you consider letting her give you a mani pedi every two to four weeks. 

Best case, your human would have started claw-trimming as soon as you came to live with her. That didn’t happen. Since you are a more mature type who has never even seen a pair of claw clippers, your mom needs to take it slow or the task could turn into a painful ordeal for all parties. Here are a few steps that can decrease the chance of blood loss. 

Get the tools together

Your human should assemble a few things before she starts. A bottle of Rescue Remedy, cat nail trimmers, styptic (to stop bleeding), and the most important tool, treats.

Use proper clippers

She should only use cat claw clippers that look like little scissors. If she approaches you weilding a pair of guillotine cutters or those trendy new nail grinders, run like a cheetah. Guillotines are hard to control, and it’s easy to cut very deeply into the quick of a struggling cat. Even many professional groomers refuse to use these on a kitty cuz of the potential for injury. Also, guillotines tend to split the nails lengthwise.  Not only can that be painful, if the nail cracks along the length of the quick, styptic powder won’t necessarily stop the bleeding. Human nail cutters are also notorious for splintering claws.

Despite the lies of television-product windbags, pet nail grinders can hurt like crazy. The vibrations follow the nail into the nerve, and the friction heats the nails up. If your human gets conned into buying one, she should try it on her own paws first.

With some human patience, even mature kitties can get used to having their feet handled. Mom can start by giving you a little Rescue Remedy to help calm you. She doesn’t have to pry your mouth open with a crowbar; she can put a drop or two on her finger and massage it into the hairless area inside your ear tip. 

Have treats on hand

Cat Eating Treat by Shutterstock

She needs to have ready your favorite treat in the whole world; my human bribes me with pea-sized chunks of low sodium deli turkey. Other kitties would sell their souls for tuna flakes. But from now on you only get it at nail-trimming (or medicating time.) It helps if your pedicures occur before mealtime, so you’re more inspired to cooperate.

Rather than going straight for the claws armed with a pair of clippers, Mom should start by handling your paws and massaging your pads. Then you get a treat. You may resist. That’s okay. Repeat, especially the treat part. Once you’ve gotten the hang of the paw massage, your human can press gently on your toe pad to push the claw out. Treat. Repeat the process except for a longer period each time. Treat. Treat. Treat.

Know the anatomy

While she’s getting you used to toe touches, she can locate your quick. That’s the pink area inside the claw. The quick is actually the vein that carries blood to the nail. If your claws are dark, she can dab a drop of baby oil on the nail to make the quick more visible.  

When you’re comfortable with her handling, she can try cutting a nail. The safe thing is to nip off only the small hook or about 1/8-inch of the claw.

She must take care. Cutting into the quick is very painful. People believe kitties have short memories, but I guarantee her if she quicks you, you’ll never forget. Taking her time and making a safe cut is the best strategy. 

Since your claws are extremely long, she shouldn’t try to make up for lost time. Just trim a little and wait a week to trim again. This will allow those blood vessels to retreat back into the nail. She can give you a weekly trim until your claws stop getting stuck in the carpet. And don’t forget the treats. Lots of treats.

Cat cleaning her paw by Shutterstock.com

I promise you, if the treat is good enough you’ll soon be on board for the nail trimming. Smokey, a Russian Blue-wannabe, got his nails trimmed every time my secretary Dusty visited his mom. Because he only got tuna flakes when during nail trims, he followed Dusty around until he got his pedi and his reward. 

If you’re still less than enthusiastic about your manicure, Mom might have to wrap you in a towel with your paw exposed, or fit you with a cat muzzle or use a soft Trimline Recovery collar. Even with restraints, treats are in order.

Mom should be glib throughout the procedure, talking baby talk and praising you after she cuts each claw. “What a brave kitty. Have some turkey!” 

If she can only finish one paw at a time—fine. Even if she can only cut one or two nails before you become anxious, you’ve both accomplished a great deal. Tomorrow she can try for the other paw or a third toenail. At that rate it will only take a week to finish. If it’s too scary for you, or if she quicks you, you’ll hide whenever the torment device appear. I hope she remembers, “Less is more”. 

Some cats simply will not allow their humans to cut their nails. Mom may have to raise the white flag and take you to a groomer or a vet to do the dirty deed. If she must to resort to this, she can ask them to show her how to do it, and try again in a few weeks. The pros should also give you your reward. 

Once you’re used to having your feet handled and you’re confident it’s not going to hurt, you should be able to expect an uneventful and profitable manicure every few weeks.

Got a question for he who knows everything feline? Just Ask Einstein in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Letters don't have to be written from the cat's point of view.) Remember, any change in your cat's behavior or activities could be a symptom of disease and should be investigated by your vet, even if it unfortunately involves glass tubes and cat posteriors.

Einstein’s assistant, Dusty Rainbolt ACCBC, is the vice president of the Cat Writers’ Association, editor-in-chief of AdoptAShelter.com and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the award-winning author of eight fiction and non-fiction books including her most recent paranormal mystery, Death Under the Crescent Moon

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