How best to trim a cat's claws?
July 11, 2009 4:44 PM   Subscribe

Any suggestions on clipping the claws of a reluctant cat?

I've tried a PediPaws (works great for the dogs, just annoys the cats). I've been trying a nail clipper, since it's quiet and I can sneak up on the cat with it. This works with my female cat, and I've got her claws trimmed to a reasonable length.

The male cat, however, hates to have his paws touched. I can maybe get one claw trimmed each week. I've tried various things, from sneaking up on him when he's asleep to holding him down and attempting to trim the claws (this puts way too much stress on him and I usually let him go before I can even get a single claw done).

What would be nicest would be some kind of OTC cat sedative so he'd be half asleep and not resist. But I can understand how that would be dangerous.

Additional info:
Both cats are indoor cats, and don't spend enough time clawing hard surfaces to wear down their claws. So I try to maintain them so that they don't begin to have foot problems.

Despite being indoor cats, I will not consider declawing them. Even aside from the fact that they occasionally run outside, I'm just not of the opinion that a cat would be happy losing such an essential part its personality.

If the best answer is "take it to the vet so they can sedate and trim", I'm okay with that. I don't mind the expense, but it's a lot more convenient if I can find a way to deal with their claws that doesn't require transporting to the vet.

Really I'm just looking for suggestions on ways I can trim his claws that I haven't tried before.
posted by krisak to Pets & Animals (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Wrap him in a towel. Once he's rolled up in a sort of cat burrito, you can pull one paw out (front or back) and clip it with the nail clippers.

Works for me, anyway. That way you can hold/squeeze firmly without risk of hurting anything.

You can also use the "pull scruff of neck firmly" trick, as if you're a momma cat carrying the "baby", which triggers an automatic passive slack in cats for a few moments, at least.
posted by rokusan at 4:49 PM on July 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

Best answer: No medications necessary. Firmly swaddle the cats in a thick towel, and then use a clipper. Then give them a food reward when it's all over.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:50 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:50 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: With ferrets, you put a little ferretone or linatone on their tummy, and then while they're busy licking it off, you can clip the nails. A friend tried it with a cat once using the liquid from a can of tuna, and I'm told it worked, but that it wasn't repeated for some reason.
posted by dilettante at 4:52 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: With my one cat who refuses to submit, we've found that there is one way to clip his claws that works: My taller husband stands up and holds the cat so the cat's head is well above my head. I'm armed with the clippers down below.

Something about being up higher than me makes the cat think things aren't so bad. Worth a shot, if you haven't tried it yet.
posted by divka at 4:57 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I can try the towel, but I doubt it will work. Once he starts panting excessively I let him go. And I'd guess that forcibly wrapped up in a towel he'll do that pretty quickly. But I'll try it and see what happens.

Huh.. Divka... I'll have to ask my wife if she'll help me out with that. Sounds like just enough psychological bizarreness such that it might work.
posted by krisak at 5:08 PM on July 11, 2009

Response by poster: Dilletante - that's a good idea. I'll try some tuna oil on his belly and see if it's distracting enough to let me clip.
posted by krisak at 5:08 PM on July 11, 2009

Best answer: Try handling his paws when you're not attempting to cut the claws. This way, he'll get more used to you doing to without what, to him, is a negative experience.

Once he gets more used to the paw handling, you can begin to clip his claws. Give him encouragement and treats while you're doing so.

It's a process, but over time, he should get better about it.
posted by elder18 at 5:16 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks elder, that sounds pretty reasonable. I'll start on that today (since both of them want to curl up on my desk while I'm using the PC).
posted by krisak at 5:20 PM on July 11, 2009

Yes, having a clipping partner can be key until the cat (hopefully) becomes acclimated. I have never been dextrous enough to wrap a cat up, although that may be a great idea.

I generally sit, place the cat on my lap with all 4 paws sticking out (not so much so they're on their back, but so that they are also in a sitting position). I am right handed, so the cat is placed closer to the left side so I can hold the cat quite firmly against my body with my entire left arm. My left hand is still free to firmly hold the paw currently at issue. I use human toenail clippers.

The second person kneels on the floor, placing a firm restraining hand on the cat in a place (scruff, belly, whatever) that doesn't bother that particular cat too much. Then you just proceed as steadfastly and calmly as possible. I think it's the gentle but firm full body compression tha really helps the cat understand and accept that, for a little while, it's going to be staying right where you put it.

I have gotten cats who would growl and fight to the point where they (reasonably) happily accept regular claw trimming, and so I can do it solo.

It's nice that you are concerned about this. I still have guilt over having gotten lazy about claw-clipping one of my late cats; one of her claws had gone rogue and actually grown around in a circle so that the sharp point was pressing into her paw pad. It had not yet broken the skin, but I'm sure it was uncomfortable.
posted by MsElaineous at 5:24 PM on July 11, 2009

Best answer: To mitigate clawage, we have those cardboard box scratcher things on the floor, our cats use as necessary, especially when frustrated or excited. It's their go-to spot.

Get a kitty condo for them to climb. Seriously.

Cats need their claw-outlets, a small scratcher somewhere out of the way will not do. If you provide enough scratch-safe opportunities, then clipping is WAY easier. There is simply less to trim.

** Make sure you trim above the cuticle*** Google video if you are unsure. A few mis-clips and kitty will resist further attempts because first attempts were too painful.

I SUPER SECOND THE TOWEL AND NECK GRIP. It feels awful and abusive, I know. But it is a language cats understand. And you are doing this for their own good. No worries!

(FYI- I never raise my voice to the pets. But I used the neck-scruff technique with the one feral kitty to teach her not to run in the street, as she refuses to remain indoors. Not only did it work in a minimum of applications, she also looks both ways now before crossing a driveway when following me down the sidewalk. And she follows me everywhere w/out getting into trouble. YMMV, but our Stubborn Kitty def understood the intention that this was for her own good. Also, I've used the neck thing on her the few times I've needed to trim or bathe - again - she hisses for effect, but goes totally limp. Other than that, I give her full fucking props on every other issue. So if your cat is clever like ours, you might try mitigating your demands with rewards. Cats get that stuff. They are weird;))

Also, first few times may be a hassle, but following clippings should go smoother. Regular habits count.

Lastly, when I want to reward the cats (especially the feral one) I feed them raw chicken livers (organic!) or ground chicken w/ shaved bonito flakes (from your Japanese grocer.) My other term for Bonito Flakes is "Kitty Crack."

posted by jbenben at 5:25 PM on July 11, 2009

Doing our cats' claws is usually a two-person job. I sneak up on a cat and grab it (or pick it up while it's sleeping next to me, unsuspecting), and hold out each paw while my husband uses the clippers. Occasionally I can do just the front paws of one of the cats by kind of straddling it from behind to hold it down. Some people say they can do it while their cats are asleep, but our cats just don't sleep that soundly, and I can't believe that many do.
posted by LolaGeek at 5:40 PM on July 11, 2009

nth vote for the towel wrapping. We do this to brush our cat's teeth, the first couple of times he bawled like it was the worse thing in the world. Now he bitches for about 10 secs and settles down to it. It's all about getting them used to it.
posted by arcticseal at 5:46 PM on July 11, 2009

Response by poster: MsElaineous - that sounds good, but a bit too complicated. If I had a partner that was as dedicated, it might work, but I think this needs to be one man operation.
posted by krisak at 5:48 PM on July 11, 2009

Response by poster: That's some good advice, jbenben.

I have multiple cardboard, rope, and wood scratchers available all through out the house. Ever room as at least one scratching post. :)

The neck scruff technique sounds reasonable. My understanding is that once they're adults, you can't lift them from the scruff because it might cause injuries. But it makes sense that you could use it to immobilize and calm a cat.

And yeah, I have plenty of fish-related rewards for them. :)
posted by krisak at 5:52 PM on July 11, 2009

Response by poster: LolaGeek - that sounds reasonable, but I've tried that and my cat gets some serious issues while being held down like that. As soon as someone constrains him he starts freaking out and having respatory issues.
posted by krisak at 5:53 PM on July 11, 2009

Response by poster: I'll try it arcticseal, it's just hard to have the stomache to hold that poor cat down through his initial freakout. And his initial freakout lasts at least five or six minutes until I finally give in and let him go...
posted by krisak at 5:56 PM on July 11, 2009

My cat used to hate having her nails clipped. Now she's ok with it. This is what I did:

1. With nail clippers and dry kitty treats, move to the area where you want to clip the nails.
2. Shake kitty treats. Give one treat to the kitty.
3. Pick up kitty while you are sitting down. Shake treats. Give one to the kitty.
4. Hold kitty so that her back is against your stomach. Take one paw and spread out her toes. With other hand, move in with the clippers.
5. Clip one nail only. Then, say "good kitty," shake kitty treats, and give one treat.
6. Repeat for all nails.

Yes, this gives the cat way too many treats. However, I did this for about 3 nail-clipping sessions, and then the cat would allow me to clip her nails without the treats at all. She doesn't squirm, hiss, claw, or anything; she just sits patiently while I clip her nails.
posted by Houstonian at 6:12 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

My rather cantankerous, 20-pound cat hates having his paws touched too. Towels don't work because he's so big and strong and I'm afraid that to hold him tight enough so that he can't break out would hurt him.

The only thing I've found that works is to wait until he's so deep into sleep that he's twitching and then quickly but gently do as many of his claws as possible. I can usually get through a pair of feet (either front or back) before he wakes. But the key is that he has to be deep, deep into his sleep cycle. Like, feet twitching, eyes rolling, lips quivering, etc.
posted by roosterboy at 6:13 PM on July 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Why do you need to clip their claws? My cat hated it so I just don't do it. Works for me, works for the cat as far as I can tell...I thought the only reason people do it is to keep the furniture safe and she doesn't scratch furniture that I care about.
posted by Maias at 6:34 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some catnip before a trim attempt may make him happy enough to not care what you do.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:39 PM on July 11, 2009

Response by poster: Houstonian - I've tried that kind of thing. What happened was the cat took the treats them freaked the heck out. He really just won't deal with being constrained.

roosterboy - sounds good, and I've tried, but he wakes up pretty quickly.

Maias - I need to do it because they don't wear their claws down. Over time they would end up with the claws curling back into their toes and causing problems.

Supersquirrel - that's a good idea. I'll stock and and see what I can do with a stoned cat.
posted by krisak at 6:44 PM on July 11, 2009

I've got a cat who freaks out with the towel thing and otherwise hates to have his paws touched. I've had a hell of a time trimming his claws--he knows what I am up so as soon as he sees the tiny claw trimmers. [FWIW - catnip seems to have no effect on him]

What I've found that works is to catch him relaxing. I'll come up to him, trimmers out of sight, and scratch the spot above his tail that turns on his purr and makes him stretch out. Then, I'll either maneuver myself so that I can scratch the spot with my bare foot or have my wife keep scratching, while I quickly grab a paw and trim. He still puts up a bit of resistance, trying to pull his paw back, but usually he is relaxed enough to be annoyed but resigned.

Cats are super temperamental, so who knows if this works for any other cat besides mine. Good luck.
posted by sleeping bear at 8:55 PM on July 11, 2009

Put the cat in a pillowcase.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:07 PM on July 11, 2009

I've been following this thread with interest. My kitty bites her front claws if they're too long, but ignores her back ones. Clipping the back ones is at least a two-person job, and if none of the suggestions so far work for me, I may actually order this bizzare thing.
posted by dogmom at 9:45 PM on July 11, 2009

If what Houstonian suggests doesn't work (and it's not a one-shot deal), if that really really doesn't work, then you must have a cat who is just unable to cope with the whole nails thing and will have to be restrained a la Neely O'Hara. (Even if that cat does kind of like it, he'll try to cause trouble so you don't forget who he is.)

Really try training though, and consider being able to hold one paw as though you are clipping, just holding it for three or four seconds, and a successful step.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:45 PM on July 11, 2009

i use a small scissor-like nail clipper -- other kinds i've tried either don't make a good clean cut or are more likely to accidentally end up poking the paw pads and annoying the cat.

nth-ing training and desensitizing the cat to having its paws touched. ideally in a calm and pleasant environment. pat and cuddle the cat before and as you're inspecting the paws.

one of the best bits of advice i got when i got my kitties was to pick them up and touch them and generally handle the cats and look in their ears and inspect their claws a lot so they get used to the idea.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:55 AM on July 12, 2009

I use the clipping while sleeping method to clip one claw at a time. It takes approximately forever to get all paws done, but that's as good as it gets with the particular cat. The rest of them submit to regular claw clippings with a regular human toenail clipper.
posted by crankylex at 6:53 AM on July 13, 2009

Oh, noes!

In no way did I mean to imply one picks up any animal by the scruff of its neck - ouch!!

I always support the cat underneath when I grip its neck, I also put my face pretty close to her's and look her straight in the eye when giving a command, like, "No!" (...going in the street.) I think with cats, if you are going to use the neck grip + verbal command, it has to be in the moment. I use it only for really serious stuff. For jumping on the counter and whatnot, a few squirts from a water bottle does the trick. I'm advocating simple and effective communication, not abuse.

Always grip gently.

For baths and clipping, I grip when necessary to settle the animal down and let her know I am in control. If the first few times you clip you gotta hold the animal by the neck while supporting it inside the towel on your lap...tricky, but the (firm but gentle) neck grip will cut down on the squirming.

And again, def watch a video or two to make sure you know what is claw and what is cuticle. Clipping the cuticle is painful for kitties. If the first few times you only clip the smallest tip off each claw - better than nothing, eh. And the more you do it, the sooner your cat will accept the grooming.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 9:28 AM on July 14, 2009

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