Cat claws have several important functions. Sharp claws can be inconvenient, and even cause injury to your cat.

It’s important to care for your cat’s nails properly. The good news is once you find a routine that works for you and your cat, caring for their nails becomes fairly simple.

Can cats cut their own nails?

No, you won’t catch your cat with a pair of nail clippers.  However, cats are fairly self-sufficient creatures. They do have ways to groom their nails. They will scratch, chew, and pull their nails to groom them.

How Cat Claws Work

Cats claws continue to grow throughout their life, just as human nails do. They are typically worn down as cats play, hunt, walk, and scratch. When the claws retract, they go inside nail sheaths. These sheaths will wear over time. The sheath will come off, and a new sheath will appear.

Cat Scratching

The main way cats groom their nails is through scratching. If you don’t provide them with proper scratching surfaces, they will scratch whatever they can get their paws on. As they scratch, dead nail sheaths will pull away. It also helps file their claws, to prevent them from getting too long.

Cat Pulling and Chewing

I must admit, I have a habit of biting my nails when they get too long. It just seems more convenient than grabbing nail clippers. Cats will also do this when their claws become too long. If they have a dead nail sheath, they will also chew or bite to remove it.

You may also notice your cat licking their paws. They do this to remove dirt from between their toes and claws.

How to help a cat cut their nails

In addition to grooming their nails yourself, which you should be doing, you can help your cat take care of their own claws.

Provide Scratching Surfaces

One way to help your cat maintain their claws is to provide them with the right scratching surfaces. The scratching post should be tall enough for the cat to reach up when scratching. This allows them to stretch and strengthen their muscles. It also satisfies their instinct to scratch vertically.

The post should be heavy enough to remain steady. If it’s unsteady, the cat will not be able to scratch effectively. It can also scare them. Imagine pulling at a tall book shelf and feeling it tilt towards you. You would naturally be scared it would fall on you. Your cat feels the same way about an instable scratching post.

You can purchase a scratching post that is part of a cat tree, or a simple post. Both are great options, as long as they meet the above requirements.

When it comes to material, sisal rope, carpet, and wood are all good options. It’s best to provide different materials, so your cat can decide what they prefer. It’s also a good idea to provide scratching posts in a few areas of your home.

In addition to scratching posts, consider making your cat a horizontal scratch pad. This is simpler than a scratching post. You can use cardboard, carpet, or wood. Place the scratching surface on the floor. If the surface is light, like cardboard or carpet, it’s helpful to attach it so it doesn’t move around.

If you have carpet, Velcro can be effective. Just apply Velcro strips to the back of the scratching surface, then allow it to stick to the carpet. If you don’t have carpet, you can attack cardboard or carpet to a piece of wood, like plywood. This adds a little extra weight, which will help keep it steady when your cat is scratching.

Encouraging Appropriate Scratching

First, what not to do. Never grab your cats paws and place them on the post. This can make the cat more resistant to the post, instead of getting them interested in it. Instead, you’ll need to coax them.

One way to encourage your kitty to use a scratching post is with catnip. Catnip doesn’t have an effect on young kittens, but most cats seem to love it. It typically makes them feel playful and energetic, and attracts them to any object that has catnip.

Place loose catnip at the base and top of a scratching post, or lay some on a horizontal scratch pad. If you prefer catnip spray, simply spray the post. You can also use a cat toy. Get your cat playing with a wand cat toy. Then, move the toy to the post, encouraging them to reach up and touch the post.

Lastly, use treats when introducing a scratching post. Even if you had to coax them to use the scratching post, reward them immediately with a treat. Do this each time you see them using the post until the behavior is well established.

Should you cut your cats nails?

Yes, you should cut your cat’s nails. How often you’ll need to trim their nails depends on their activity level and age. As cats get older, they may require more frequent claw trimming. Indoor cats typically need their claws trimmed every 2-6 weeks.

Getting Your Cat Acquainted With Nail Trimming

The first step to cutting your cat’s nails is to get them comfortable with the process. Start by gently massaging their paw for 2 to 3 seconds. Squeeze gently, causing one nail to extend. Praise your cat and give them a treat. Perform this two or three times a day, until your cat doesn’t mind the process. If they are immediately comfortable with this, you can move on to the next step.

Next, introduce the clippers to your cat. It’s best to leave the clippers lying around the house for a day or two, where your cat can investigate them. You can even place a treat on top of them. This will help your kitty associate them with a positive experience.

Some cats are scared of the sound of clippers. To get your cat comfortable with this part of the process, place them into your lap and massage their paw. Clip a piece of dry spaghetti at the same time. Give them a treat.

This is as close as you can get to clipping their nails without actually clipping their nails. Once they are comfortable with this process, they are ready for you to clip their nails.

Beginning the process in this positive way can help make trimming your cats’ nails simple and comfortable for both of you, rather than stressful. Cats have a long memory, particularly when it comes to negative experiences, so use care.

Trimming Your Cat’s Nails

Choose a time when your cat is relaxed to trim their nails. Place them into your lap, facing away from you. Massage their paws, and press to extend a claw. Only cut the sharp end of the claw. It’s better to leave a little extra rather than cut it too short, which is painful for your kitty.

If they notice what’s going on, give them a small treat before continuing. If they don’t notice or mind, continue to the next claw. Once your cat stops tolerating the trim, end the session and give them a treat. This helps to make it a positive experience.

Later that day, or the next day, have another trim session. Keep doing short sessions if needed until the process is complete. Do not force your cat to stay still so you can continue. It’s much better to wait.

What happens if you don’t trim a cat’s nails?

It may seem like you are being nice to your cat by avoiding trimming their nails, but this is actually harmful to them. Nails that are too long can curl into themselves and grow into the footpad. Sharp long claws also become a hazard for humans, pets, and your furniture.

Paw Pain

Have you ever had an ingrown nail? If you have, you know how painful it can be. Perhaps it’s even more painful for cats. After all, their claws are very sharp and hard. If their claw curls in and grows into the footpad, it will cause your kitty a lot of pain.

It can also cause joint problems, because it affects the way your kitty walks. They will be unable to climb, play, and hunt as they normally would as well.

Hazardous Claws

Claws that are too long are also dangerous. Your cat will likely scratch things they shouldn’t, including your furniture. This isn’t out of spite. Your cat is simply trying to manage their too long claws. In the wild, cats do a lot of walking and climbing, in addition to scratching. These activities keep their claws at the correct length.

Indoor cats don’t have the same access to claw care activities. The only option they have is to scratch and climb whatever is available, which is the last thing you want them to do. Too long claws also increase the risk of you, a family member, or a pet getting scratched and injured. Your cat’s claws are designed to partially retract.

When they are too long, the claws are always partially out. This can lead to accidental scratches, because the cat doesn’t realize their claws are out.

Having sharp long claws also increases the odds that a scratch will cause injury. This is a risk to everyone in your household.

Snag Risk

Because long claws can’t retract properly, there’s also a higher risk of the claws snagging on things. If your cat gets their claws stuck in a blanket, for example, this can injure their paw. If they are walking or jumping, it can cause serious injury to their leg as well.

 

Author

I created and currently run Kitty Cat Tips, the website that you can go to when you have questions about your cat's behavior. It's my hope that you find Kitty Cat Tips to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your cat. You can read more about me and my website here.