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Learning how to trim your cat’s nails may seem daunting, but regular nail clippings can vastly improve quality of life for you both. Use this guide to get started, and remember to be patient. Many cats need time to get comfortable with the process, so take baby steps and keep things positive with lots of affection and rewards for good behavior!

Start Early, If Possible

The best time to start trimming your cat’s nails is while they’re still a kitten. It’s much easier to teach younger cats to tolerate nail trimming. If you have an older cat that’s never had its nails trimmed before, or if you’ve adopted an adult cat that hasn’t formed a strong bond with you yet, you’ll need to have more patience.

How to trim a cat's nails

Your Cat Should Be Comfortable

Before you begin, it helps to make sure your cat is comfortable with the different aspects of the nail trimming process, including:


There are different types of tools designed for trimming a cat’s claws, and it’s fine to use whichever type you feel most comfortable with. The important thing is that the cutting blades are always sharp. Dull blades can make the nail split, which can hurt your cat. If you’re not sure where to start you can ask your veterinarian or a professional groomer for their recommendation.

If possible, expose your cat to the tools you plan on using when trimming their nails so that they don’t come as a surprise when it’s time to use them. Allow your cat to be curious about the tools and remember to reward them with attention and reassurance to form a positive association with the tools.


Your cat’s paws are packed with nerve endings and very sensitive. This allows felines in the wild to pick up on a lot of information about their environment such as the vibrations of prey or a predator approaching. It also explains why some cats don’t like having their paws handled or even touched. You might have to start very softly, stop when your cat gets uncomfortable, and gradually work towards holding their paw in your hand. When your cat allows you to touch or hold their paw, reward them to reinforce the behavior.


Try out some different options for positioning your cat as you trim their nails to find the right fit for both of you. Some cat parents cradle their cat in the crook of their non-dominant arm, while others can get their cat to recline back against their stomach while sitting. Other options include letting your cat lie across your lap, or letting your cat stand up while you pick up one paw at a time. There’s no right or wrong way as long as you’re both comfortable and you can safely access their nails.

Once you have your ideal position, regularly get your cat situated in that manner so it’s familiar when it’s time to get the job done! Just like with any other training, be sure to reward your cat with treats and praise throughout the process.


If you don’t want your cat to be fearful of the sounds that your nail-trimming tools might make, give them proper exposure to the noises before you begin trimming their nails. This is especially important if you’ll be using a nail grinder rather than a cutting tool. Doing this will hopefully desensitize them to the sounds so they don’t feel afraid. Make sure to have your cat’s favorite treat handy too so that they can be rewarded with something tasty, and your positive affirmations along the way!

Once you’re feeling good about your cat’s comfort level with the tool, paw handling and position, it’s time to get started trimming those nails.

Steps for trimming my cat's nails

Steps for Trimming Your Cat’s Nails

Choose the time and place thoughtfully. Don’t try to trim your cat’s nails if they’re in a bad mood, hungry, overstimulated, or still adjusting to a change in their routine. Pick a time when your cat is content and relaxed. Some cat parents even trim their cat’s nails while they’re snoozing! 

Find a location where you won’t be interrupted, away from small children, other pets or anything that might startle your cat.

  1. Get your cat situated in the preferred position and wait for them to relax.
  2. Pick up your cat’s paw firmly but gently using your non-dominant hand, and ensure that you have a stable grip. Press your thumb against the paw pad as you press your finger on top of one of the toes to extend the nail. 
  3. Hold the tool in your dominant hand. Go one by one with your cat’s toes and only clip the tip of the nail. You don’t want to go past the tip as this risks hitting the quick, which is the pink area of the nail where blood vessels are located. Remember to trim the dew claw too– the one a little higher up and off to the side on their front paws, like a thumb.
  4. Once all of your cat’s claws are trimmed, be sure to give them a treat, their favorite toy or lots of snuggles, whichever they prefer!

Helpful Tips

If these steps seem scary or trimming your cat’s nails is something that just isn’t up your alley, you’re not alone! Many pet parents seek out a professional when it comes to grooming their cat, including nail trims.

Sometimes It Takes a Professional

Depending on your schedule and comfort level, it might be easier to call for help when it comes to trimming your cat’s nails. Making an appointment with a professional groomer or veterinarian is something that many cat parents do and it can make them feel better to know that their companion is being groomed by an expert. For professional recommendations, don’t be afraid to ask the people closest to you or give your vet a call.

How Often to Trim

Most indoor cats will need their nails trimmed every 2-4 weeks, depending how active they are and how much they scratch. Each cat is unique, and some cats’ nails grow faster than others.

Cats that regularly spend time outdoors might need a trim less often since things like walking on concrete and climbing can help wear down nails.

Signs your cat’s nails need trimming include:

Trimming a cat's nails

Should You Trim Your Cat’s Back Claws?

You should trim your cat’s rear claws as needed, but it’s likely they won’t need trimming as often as the front claws. Rear claws tend to be shorter to begin with, and they also grow more slowly. Cats only have four toes on their rear paws (no dew claws in back) so it might be a little easier!

What Can Happen If You Don’t Trim

In addition to the possibility of very painful scratches, it can be a risk to your cat’s health if you don’t trim their nails. Long nails can cause injury to your cat’s paw or leg because when their long nail touches the ground it adds pressure to the nail bed. This causes them to walk differently which can lead to joint pain over time. Your cat’s nails can also grow so long that they curve and dig into the paw pad, causing pain and possibly infection.

Additionally, if left unkempt, long nails can be dangerous for your cat when they want to retract their claws. Can you imagine how painful it would be for them to try and retract nails that are too long and won’t fit in place? Whether it be the pet parent doing the trimming or seeking out a professional, we encourage all pet parents to keep their cat’s nails short.

Will a Scratching Post Help Keep My Cat’s Claws Short?

Scratching posts or pads are a great way to let your cat act out their natural scratching instincts and get some exercise, but they don’t file down their nails. Scratching posts help remove the outer sheath of your cat’s claws, which keeps their claws healthy and sharp. If your cat regularly uses a scratching pad it might help maintain the length of their nails (preventing ingrowns) but it won’t shorten them.

Do Cats Trim Their Own Nails?

Some cats will groom their own nails by biting or chewing them. Your cat may also bite their nails to remove a broken piece (like how humans trim hangnails). If nail biting is a new behavior for your cat, or becomes more frequent, take a closer look at their paw to check for injury or infection.

Learn More from Stella & Chewy’s

At Stella & Chewy’s, we always want pets and pet parents to live happy and healthy lives! To learn more tricks and tips, check out our guide to promoting cat wellness.