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How to Keep Your Cat’s Nails Healthy in 3 Steps

With a little bit of careful introduction, grooming can be a positive and stress-free experience for you and your cat!

Written by: Sassafras Lowrey

Last Updated on January 14, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Trimming cat's nails using human nail clipper

How to Keep Your Cat’s Nails Healthy in 3 Steps

There is a common misconception that cats are capable of completely grooming themselves and keeping their nails in good condition. While many cats do self-groom, they need some help to make sure their nails stay in the best condition possible. With a little bit of careful introduction, grooming can be a positive and stress-free experience for you and your cat!

How to know if your cat’s nails are healthy

When you are petting or cuddling your cat monitor their cat’s nails to ensure they are clean and healthy. Cat nails can either be clear/white or black/brown and in healthy cats “the nail itself should be relatively smooth without fraying and without any crusting/debris at the nail bed,” explains Dr. Richardson Medical Chief of Staff at Small Door Veterinary.

The most important thing to check with your cat’s nails is their length. The proper nail length for a cat’s nails  is slightly elevated from the floor when a cat is standing. When nails become longer than that it will cause “deviation of the toes as the nails hit the floor, which also gives them less traction on wooden or tile floors” advises Dr. Richardson. This is uncomfortable for cats and in addition,  “overgrown nails can become stuck in blankets and carpets, leading to the nail becoming caught and becoming injured as the cat tries to free itself” notes Dr. Richardson.

Overgrown nails are not only uncomfortable for our cats they can also become a larger health issue. If a cat’s nails become overgrown, they will eventually keep growing and curl around to puncture the footpad and which will not only then need to be removed but can also then lead to infections.

Photo Credit: IcemanJ/Getty Images

Should you trim your cat’s nails?

Regular nail care in the form of nail trimming is particularly important for cats who live indoors. How often your cat’s nails need to be trimmed will depend on your individual cat and how quickly their nails grow, and how much your cat wears nails down via scratching posts. In general, though, every two weeks is a good frequency to trim your cat’s nails. Dr. Richardson though does offer the caution that outdoor cats should not have their nails trimmed regularly unless they are becoming dangerously overgrown. Because “they need their nails sharp to be able to climb trees and therefore avoid potential dangers.”

The 3 Steps for trimming your cat’s nails

Comfort and familiarity with nail trimming are ideally something that all cats should be familiarized with from a young age so that the process becomes routine and not stressful. With any cat or kitten the key to stress-free nail trimming is to start slowly.

Step 1:

To get started, have treats that your cat is excited about. Start just by rewarding your cat with treats for allowing you to touch their paws without the nail clippers. We want our cats to understand that us touching their feet makes good things (treats) happen.

Step 2:

Get a pair of kitty nail clippers and allow your cat to explore them and offer treats, again helping your cat to create a positive association. Going slowly, short sessions multiple times a day of touching your cat’s feet and nails is going to be much less stressful and ultimately more successful than long nail trimming session.

Step 3:

When your cat is comfortable eating treats with you touching their feet gently use the clippers to cut the very tip of your cat’s nails and give more praise and treats to your cat. Dr. Richardson advises “When you’re ready to start trimming, on white nails look for the pink line running down the middle of your cat’s nails. This is known as the quick and is where the nerves and blood vessels are. If cut, the quick will cause bleeding and pain. Make sure you only cut the white part (the tip or hook part) and not the quick.”

Keep your grooming sessions short.  “Don’t feel like you have to trim all the nails at once. If you can only do 2 or 3 at a time before your pet loses patience, you can always go back another day. The trick is to keep the experience positive, both for your pet and you!” encourages Dr. Richardson.

cat nails
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Accidents happen

No matter how careful you try to be, it’s likely that at some point a nail trimming accident will happen and your cat’s quick will get cut by the clippers.  It’s good to have clotting powder on hand anytime you are trimming nails.

“There are pet-nail-specific clotting powders that you can apply in the event that you trim a nail too short and see bleeding. You can also use flour or cornstarch in a pinch. If you do cut too short, don’t panic. Nails can bleed a lot, but your cat is not going to bleed to death!” advises Dr. Richardson.  In the event that you do quick your cat and are having a hard time stopping the bleeding, or if you are concerned contact your local veterinarian for support.

Read Next: Should You Clean Your Cat’s Paws?

Feature Photo Credit: ashshkna, Shutterstock

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