Outdoor vs. Indoor
Most outdoor cats, and some indoor-outdoor cats, keep their nails well-maintained by scratching on trees, logs, fence-posts and other rough materials. Cats that are kept strictly indoors will need help from their owners to keep their nails in tip-top shape – especially their front nails. Indoor cats should be provided with one or more scratching posts, which they can be trained to use to keep their front claws worn down and to remove the older outer nail sheaths as new sheaths grow in. However, even if an indoor cat uses its scratching posts, it probably still will need to have its front nails trimmed to keep them tidy and to “take the edge off.” This not only will help protect furniture, but it also is important to prevent injury to people and other pets. Most outdoor cats won’t need this attention until they are older or arthritic, in which case they may not be active enough to keep their nails in shape. Outdoor cats also need their nails to be razor-sharp, so that they can defend themselves from other animals. Cats that have extra toes need special nail attention, because their nails tend to grow around and into their foot pads if not trimmed regularly.
Nail Care Tips
By far the best way to get a cat used to nail care is to start handling its paws and trimming its nails from early kittenhood, using lots of positive reinforcement. Older cats that have not had their nails clipped regularly can be extremely difficult to handle and may actually need to be sedated by a veterinarian for nail trims.
The typical way to trim a cat’s nails is as follows:
- Put the cat on a stable raised surface, or on your lap.
- Lift one front paw and gently squeeze a toe between your forefinger and thumb, which will make the nail pop out.
- Look at the nail. It usually will have a clear, sharp pointy tip, which is the part of the nail that you want to clip. There will be a pinkish band running inside the nail, called the “quick,” which contains nerves and blood vessels. You don’t want to cut this part; it will hurt the kitty and bleed profusely.
- Clip the sharp nail tip in front of the quick. Usually, you will only be taking off a very tiny piece of the nail.
- If you do nick the quick, put pressure on it with a paper towel, regular towel, cotton ball or square of gauze. This will help the blood to clot. You also can put styptic powder, or even corn starch, on the bleeding nail to hasten clotting.
- If the cat’s nails are dark, just trim the part at the very end, right before it starts to curl down. If your cat is especially calm, you can shine a penlight on the dark nail, which may help you see where the quick ends.
- If the cat is cantankerous, it may be best to clip the nails on one foot and call it a day. Try another paw later.
- Be sure to use sharp clippers with two cutting edges that are made to clip pet nails.
- Work under bright light.
Usually, only the front nails need to be trimmed. The dewclaw, which is the cat’s equivalent of the human thumb, doesn’t touch the ground and probably will need to be trimmed more frequently than the other nails.