Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Paws and Claws Part Two

I promised in the last blog to write some claw clipping tips.  There are many sites and videos you can Google on how to trim a cat's claws; Cat Scratching Solutions is really informative.  Every expert has their own method, but I'll just mention what techniques work best for me and my cats. 

In general, an adult cat needs its claws trimmed every 3-4 weeks.  Kittens grow at such a rapid rate, it's better to trim their claws once a week until they pass their major growth spurts.  When the claws are allowed to grow and hook around like scythes, they get caught on bedding, rugs and furniture.  The cat is at risk for injury if she jumps down from the bed and her claw is hung up, suspending the cat by one nail.  Something has to give; either the fabric or the cat's claw.  Also, a cat with long claws can't fully sheathe them and the sharp, pointy tips can hurt someone unintentionally.  The goal with trimming the claws is simply to blunt the claw by eliminating the sharp point on the end. 

Each of my kitten buyers receives claw clippers with their Kitten Kit so they don't have an excuse.  Human fingernail clippers will work for smaller claws if they are turned sideways so you don't crush the claw.  As cats age, their claws get thicker and tougher, so a good, sharp clipper is necessary.  The best claw clipper for my adult Maine Coons is one designed for dogs. 

The best advice I can offer is to be firm in your approach.  Too many people are intimidated when clipping their cat's claws and the cat will take advantage of your wimpy attitude.  You are in charge.  I usually tell the reluctant feline that we can do this the hard way or the easy way, but we will do it.  Actually, those words are mainly for myself, but I say them out loud just to get my point across.  You need to be in a patient, yet determined mood yourself if your cat is not the best at claw clipping. Also, if your cat is really difficult, you may have to resign yourself to doing one paw at a time, giving kitty time to calm down before the next pedi session.

My next advice is to handle your cat's paws frequently.  If your cat likes to sit in your lap, play with his feet, extend his claws gently.  Most cats don't seem to like the feeling of having someone manually extend their claws for them so the more you can get them to trust you with their feet, the better.  I think this feeling is the main reason cats naturally don't like having a pedicure.  That, and a fear you're going to hurt them. 

The other tip is timing.  Cats are most active in the early morning and evening hours.  Trying to convince your cat that it's time for a mani/pedi when she'd rather be chasing imaginary creatures on the wall is not the way to go.  She has to be in a relaxed mood.  Cat nap time is ideal (theirs, not yours) as sleepy cats make the best patients. Since cats sleep an average of 16-20 hours a day, the opportunities are there.  I keep claw clippers in several easy-to-reach places in my house, especially where I sit, like by the television or the computer.  Then if a cat lies in my lap and I determine that her claws are past due, the clippers are right there.  If I have a litter of kittens fast asleep, my first thought is, "Oh, how adorable! Where are my claw clippers?" 

To me, kittens are the most difficult to give a pedicure because they are small and squirmy.  I can usually get a head start if they are sleeping, but for the very wriggly ones, I resort to scruffing them.  Most of the time, simply holding a cat or kitten by the scruff briefly gets her attention and causes her to submit.  Remember, you're the boss here.  I may have to scruff, clip, scruff, clip, but it'll get done.  Keeping a long-haired kitten still while clipping her nails is important because unlike the short-haired cats, it is harder to find the claw with all the cute little hair tufts obstructing your view. 

By far, the easiest and most efficient way for me to clip a kitten's or moody cat's claws is to have someone else hold it still by the scruff.  It doesn't have to be a major inconvenience for your helper.  I have often taken a cat or kitten that isn't cooperative, plopped him on the lap of whomever is watching TV, and said, "Here, hold this."  My kids and husband are well-trained in reluctant cat holding.  I treat the scruff of the neck like a handle on the cat, using my whole hand to gently but firmly grasp the loose skin while keeping the animal on a table or lap to support its weight.  Suspending a fully grown cat by the scruff where all its weight is on the skin is NOT recommended except in emergencies.  The goal is to teach the cat that clipping his claws is not painful and submitting is better than fighting.  I don't like to scruff the cat automatically unless necessary in order to keep him still or from biting me.  I see scruffing as cat language for "I'm in charge here.  Give it up and cooperate."  

For most of my cats, I clip claws by myself while she is in my lap or on a table.  The cat's behind is against my stomach so she can't back away, my arms around her with one hand holding the paw and the other has the clippers.  This approach is to keep the cat contained, giving no options for easy escape.  Back claws don't grow as quickly as front ones, so I often just extend and look at those, clipping only the necessary ones. 

Most of my Maine Coons are cooperative with having their claws clipped since they have had this done regularly since they were babies.  All cats that are shown are required to have their claws clipped for the judges' safety and since my cats are shown during their first year, they get used to being handled a lot.  Our European Burmese cat, Bubba, is another story as he would rather slice your head off than let you win.  Bubba requires two people, scruffing, and determination greater than his.  For cats such as Bubba, the less brave may find that wrapping the cat in a towel or blanket to contain him may be a safer solution. 
Bubba, our moody European Burmese pet

Enticements such as kitty treats are helpful to distract the reluctant cat while you give it a pedicure.  Also, stroking the ears or sides of the muzzle can do wonders for calming a scared cat.  With my big boy, Bugger, I stroke his muzzle after each paw to keep him calm and relaxed.  The feline cardiologist I use reinforced my theory when he told me that it actually slows their heart rate, something that was supported when Bugger had his heart ultrasounded.  I stroked the sides of his lion-like muzzle while he was on the exam table and watched the results on the monitor as he relaxed.  Make sure you speak softly and reassure a scared cat during the process.  Praise your kitty and give him a treat after a pedicure.  Human baby food like Gerber's chicken, turkey or beef (all meat, no veggies) is like crack to cats.  Open a jar and let your cat chow down while you clip.
Bugger protects his pencil with his giant mitt

Another point to consider is that if you consistently keep your cat's claws cut, the quick (pink part of the claw) will naturally recede, enabling you to maintain shorter, more blunt nails.  If you allow the claws to grow for months each time before cutting them, it not only doesn't train your cat to let you trim, but the quick will have grown longer also, so you can't clip it as short.  Most people know to avoid cutting so short that the nail bleeds.  It can be intimidating to think you might hurt the cat.  Styptic powder is recommended to apply in that instance almost as if it's assumed that making your cat's claws bleed is normal.  It isn't normal and shouldn't be a problem.  I can count on one paw how many times I've caused a claw to bleed when trimming.  Everytime was with a squirmy kitten and I couldn't see well enough due to the kitten's movement and cut too short. 

Image from Cat Scratching Solutions
The more often you clip your cat's claws, the more comfortable you and your cat will be with it.  My tips summarized and bulletized:
  • Handle your cat's feet often
  • Keep claw clippers handy where ever your cat sleeps
  • Timing is key - trim claws when the cat is sleeping or relaxed
  • If your cat is in a bad mood, get help or just wait until he calms down
  • Hold the cat in your lap or on a table with his back to you, your arms around him
  • If necessary, scruff the neck as a reminder to the cat who is in charge, then release
  • Distract your cat with treats while you clip
  • Get someone else to hold the cat if it's more stressful for you to do it by yourself
  • Try to make it a positive experience for your cat by following up with praise and a treat


  1. If I have a litter of kittens fast asleep, my first thought is, "Oh, how adorable! Where are my claw clippers?"

    In other words, you like to clip the sleeping kitty litter. I am confused by the reference to claw clippers. I thought you used seam rippers.

    My kids and husband are well-trained in reluctant cat holding.

    The cat is reluctant, or the kids and husband are reluctant? My guess is all of the above.

    For cats such as Bubba, the less brave may find that wrapping the cat in a towel or blanket to contain him may be a safer solution.

    Or dressing him stylishly as in your picture. Of course, with a name like Bubba, I would expect a nice, cold one with BBQ brisket would probably calm him down better than a towel.

    Human baby food like Gerber's chicken, turkey or beef (all meat, no veggies) is like crack to cats.

    And you would know how crack is because…?

  2. clippers definately are part of the living coffee table

  3. I enjoyed reading this! I currently have 3 adult cats, the oldest of which (14 yrs-female) has NEVER liked ANY kitty maintenance. However, she knows I win. I have also learned to be 'tricky' as she's figured out the sequence...overhead light on, glasses, clippers out...and she will scoot quicker than a snake! So I have learned to put everything out a day or two before the 'event'. I sit her in my lap and can get through about 3 nails before the 'growlies' start, but they are harmless growl's..just letting me know of 'her' displeasure! Timothy (11 yr male) loves ANY attention and is a breeze! Milo - started him from a kitten and after the first couple trims, he learned he wasn't going to get hurt, and doesn't mind it at all. =)

  4. I am going to get my chocolate burmese
    Kitten declawed. I have a 9 yr old
    pomeranian and a 10 himmilayian. They constantly get scratch by Spenser the Burnese. Only will get the front one cut. My himmilayian Bailey we got his front claws removed. They are NOT outd or csts

  5. Eula Mae, I really wish you'd reconsider and just keep your kitten's claws trimmed instead of having his finger tips amputated. Cats scratch. They also can bite one another when playing, but you wouldn't have Spenser's teeth removed would you? As more people are becoming educated these days about the cruelty of declawing, they realize there are better solutions. The practice has been outlawed in many countries because it is considered to be so cruel.

  6. Are Burmese claws sharper than other breeds? I've been clawed by many cats with only a modicum of pain. A Burmese cat, however, was hideously painful while only kneading his paws, not actually putting any pressure, just kneading.