Cat who hates nail trimmers
November 16, 2011 6:20 PM   Subscribe

How do I clip my cat's nails (he hates it more than anything)?

Besides being cute and weird, he hate hate HATES having his nails clipped. In most other manners he is fairly easy going. He tolerates being picked up, turned upside down, and having his tummy petted. I can even pet his paws and flex his nails out if he's relaxing next to me. But as soon as something hard touches his nails it's freak out time.

In the past when we've tried to clip his nails he has resisted with full body flailing, scratching, and even biting (and heart wrenching yowling). If we could do one or more nail consistently, maybe I'd put up with that, but usually we can't even get one. After reading some internet I got this kittie straight jacket on amazon. It helped a tiny bit the first time (I think between my girlfriend and I we got 3 nails trimmed before he started squirming too hard and pulling his paw back in).

I spent the past week wrapping him in a towel to try to get him used to that (hint: he didn't like it), and tonight tried to clip a nail. We got one. Previously metafilter has recommended a tight burrito, and perhaps I just didn't tighten him in enough, but it certainly did not calm him down any.

Are there any other strategies I should be trying? Are there drugs that are safe and effective to help us mellow him our for this? I'd rather avoid that, but I really would like to have more success trimming his claws.
posted by Phredward to Pets & Animals (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I was never able to trim Zach's claws without having a second person to hold him in a sort of hogtie, basically.

Sometimes, though, when I went to the vet for a checkup, they offered to do it for me (they charged, mind, but I figured that they had more people on hand and were already holding him down for much more intensive stuff, so this was a minor indignity for him).

He still fought like a badass, though, and the vet always emerged from the back room with mussed hair and an untucked shirt.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:26 PM on November 16, 2011

I sneak up on my cats while they are sleeping stunned under the heat of my desk lamp and trim as many claws as I can before the cat is fully awake. With four cats (80 claws!) it's a bit like painting the Golden Gate bridge in that the job is never fully done but at least there's no big upset about it.
posted by jamaro at 6:37 PM on November 16, 2011 [10 favorites]

Yeah, if your cat is like that, vet is the answer.

But! If you're brave... here's a short video I took of the vet techs doing my lil' DEMON SPAWN's nails the other day:

I think their secret is to really have her by the scruff, and put her on her side. So like one vet tech has MOMMY'S LITTLE SATAN basically immobilized; the other is swiftly trimming (with good cat nail scissors).

I've done it all: burrito-ing, harnessing, drugging... but vet techs do this every day and it's remarkable, so I figure that's the best possible technique.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:38 PM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Hate to say it but I tried this and it really worked. Trick is to just be gentile and quick.

Deactivate a cat

And I just found backup reassurance it's ok!

posted by Rikocolin at 6:45 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, please try the clip (starting while your cat is calm!) and let us know if it works.

I used to bribe my cats with Tonic -Lax (Laxitone in the States) after clipping, but they were generally pretty stoic in the first place.
posted by maudlin at 6:54 PM on November 16, 2011

I'd just send him to a vet or groomer.

That clipping thing on the scruff, I've tried it, and it just pisses my cat off.
posted by sm1tten at 6:57 PM on November 16, 2011

You know cats don't HAVE to have their nails clipped, right? If they have a scratching post, they'll keep them the right length by themselves. If you are worried about hardwood floors or nice furniture, though, I can understand it, but otherwise it might be worth considering this a hill not worth dying on.
posted by lollusc at 7:08 PM on November 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

2nding the scruff!

We used to try wrapping in a towel or blanket and it worked OK but we still got scratched. Then I went to the vet and they showed me the "little Buddha hold".

The little Buddha hold is where you take one hand and scruff them (grab them by the scruff of the neck where they have a bunch of loose skin folds, this doesn't hurt them), and then use the other hand to support them like a seat, so they end up sitting like a 'little Buddha' with your hands safely behind them.

Using this method, we don't even need to use the blanket anymore. Holding them by the scruff is not just a physical immobilization skill. Apparently the theory is that it reminds them of being kittens and being picked up by the scruff of the neck by their mothers, and it relaxes them. It definitely works on our cats who were both madmen with any attempt at nail clipping before. Final pro tip that I used along with the little Buddha hold was to bring the little foil bag of treats (which they recognize very well) and set it right in front of them. It sort of mesmerizes them during the nail trimming, and then I give them two treats after finishing (usually the limit is one per day).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:46 PM on November 16, 2011

lollusc, your cats must be different from ours. Ours tear the heck out of a ceiling high scratching post and several smaller sisal posts, and still have talons.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:48 PM on November 16, 2011

We use a combo of cone muzzle, scruff grabbing, and laying on side to clip our crazy cat's polydactyl claws. If you have a third accomplice, they can gently and repetitively tap the cat's head with a ballpoint pen. The annoying tapping kind of distracts them from the "horror" of the nail trim.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:13 PM on November 16, 2011

(Is there a veterinary reason cat nails should be clipped?)
posted by TheRedArmy at 8:25 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

And, when I had cats that got trims as a kid, I never did it personally but my mother definitely tried to get them when they were asleep or close to it.
posted by TheRedArmy at 8:27 PM on November 16, 2011

I get him when he's nice and snoozy, just woken up from a nap. I start with lots of nice pets (no belly pets, because then he is more likely to get bitey and riled up), then I sit him up on his butt in my lap and hold him against my stomach with my forearm while I hold out one paw at a time and go to work. I used to use human nail clippers but now I have cat claw clippers and they are easier to use. Sometimes I've gotten two paws done in one attempt, but when he's being more difficult, I just aim for one paw, then repeat the process later in the day or the next day to get other paws done.

(FWIW, my cat has several scratching posts, but his nails still grow much too long and have the potential to hurt his little feet, so I watch them and clip them myself because I don't want them to overgrow and cause him pain.)
posted by so_gracefully at 8:46 PM on November 16, 2011

Is your cat ever drugged for any unrelated reason? Perhaps extremely long car trips, or trips to the vet? Because that is an EXCELLENT time to do things like nail clipping.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:57 PM on November 16, 2011

(Is there a veterinary reason cat nails should be clipped?)

Some cats have claws that grow really long and sharp, even if they have scratching posts that they use enthusiastically. My cat Maggie once went too long between nail trims, with the result that one claw grew very long and curled right back into her foot pad, piercing it. Loads of guilt and an expensive vet visit later, she healed nicely, but it's really not something anyone would ever want to happen to their cat.
posted by maudlin at 9:45 PM on November 16, 2011

Cat ownership is a long term training process. I mean a decade or so. Eventually, they get you trained. If you are smart, that is!

I never really had a problem doing this, since it is only on old cats that I ever found it was needed. However, on all the cats I have owned, at least, I get them into the mind set that I am dominant, over time.

The other thing I do is hit and run... super fast manipulation. Got a pill to deliver? I do it in literally two or three seconds, before the cat even has time to realize it objects. Pill is in and the cat is all "WTF"-y. Do one foot fast before the situation escalates. Take the long view. The other three feet will be there when you come back.

Last, realize that it is a training exercise. You've got to train over time. Don't expect any relationship between you and an animal to assume any character instantly. As they grow to trust you, you can abuse that trust as needed (JK). They worry that you want to eat their little kitty livers and will react accordingly, so make them happy, comfortable, warm little snowballs and then hack off their toenails surreptitiously. You outweigh them 10 to 1 or more, have opposable thumbs and a functional and large neocortex. If you can't outsmart your cat.... well... there's always a job in civil engineering, I guess.

If all else fails, email me your cat. I'll send it back with a pedicure!

(I'd love to try the clipnosis trick.)
posted by FauxScot at 1:27 AM on November 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

(Is there a veterinary reason cat nails should be clipped?)

I asked my vet about it at the last visit, and she said no, most cats don't need it. But I do keep an eye on her paws and so I think I'd notice something like maudlin's experience before it got serious.

It might also depend on whether the cat is indoor or outdoor.

I tried the clipnosis trick on my cat tonight just for lulz, and it totally worked, by the way.
posted by lollusc at 3:08 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

My vet offered cat and dog clippings from free, regardless of whether the animal was a patient of theirs or not, no appointment necessary. They did this as a measure against declawing. I realize that this is probably a rare thing, but given that you live in NYC, perhaps you can look into finding a vet who offers the same.
posted by litnerd at 6:13 AM on November 17, 2011

(Is there a veterinary reason cat nails should be clipped?)

Despite scratching posts in every room of my house, one of our cats still has razor sharp nails. Not only is it not fun to be kneaded by those claws, one year a claw grew out so far it curled back into her paw - we had to take her to the vet to have it trimmed properly.

She hates having her nails trimmed, but she loves being petted on the stool in the computer room. So our process is to wait until I'm petting her and she's really happy, then I move my chest and arms over hers so I'm basically holding her down, but still scratching her neck so she's kind in the being petted mood. Then the other person grabs the nail trimmers (if you pick up the nail trimmers beforehand, she bolts) and gets as many nails done as the cat will sit still for. We stop when the cat is obviously wanting to get out of there, but usually we can get at least one paw done. Then we give out some cat treats.

The thing with training cats is, she now knows to bolt if the other person enters the room while she's on the petting stool. But she also knows to run to the treat area after getting her nails trimmed.
posted by Gortuk at 6:58 AM on November 17, 2011

Vet + $7
posted by meepmeow at 7:27 AM on November 17, 2011

In my house, it's a two-person job. We started working on our cats when they were maybe 4 months old, so we had a chance to train them early, but it's gotten to be non-traumatic.

Here's what works for us: bribery.

Initially we gave the cats one kibble before we started, and then one per toe. They squirmed and flailed and were Not Happy, but they're both so food-oriented that they quickly associated claw-clipping with kibble. Now we give them one kibble per paw; they're very relaxed for the first couple of paws and only get kind of antsy by the time we're done. One person holds the cat so that the paws are accessible (not burrito-style or anything) while the other clips.
posted by adamrice at 7:35 AM on November 17, 2011

One of our cats (the Bengal) - one has to hold him tightly while the other trims. This does not work at all for the Tonkinese... we had a hard time finding a way to get him to be ok with trimming. I just started going for it one day when he was being lazy on my lap. It seems to mostly work - he's half asleep and lets me mess with him a little anyway (I think we started grabbing his paws first, fwiw).

(And yes, we also bribe them with tuna fish after their clippings are done)
posted by getawaysticks at 8:07 AM on November 17, 2011

I stand by Pavlov on this one. My guy used to be a two person job, with the yowling. But as soon as we finished, we would give him treats. Basically, one of us would release the cat, and the other would grab the treat bag off the counter where it was waiting, and start shaking it loudly and sprinkling treats.

It took two years, but now, when we open the drawer with the clippers in it, he's up purring. Now it's a one person job, with no holding down, and it's just difficult to finish clipping because he's purring and marking the clippers so hard. And he was eleven when he started, so you can definitely train him on this no matter how old he is. It just takes a really long time. With yours, I might try adamrice's method, and start with one claw at a time. So worth the effort, though.
posted by freshwater at 8:52 AM on November 17, 2011

I used to play with my cat's paws when he was a wee tiny kitten. He got so used to me giving him little foot massages that he never once complained about clipping.

His brother, on the other hand... I never did the foot thing with him (he was squarely my wife's cat, so he asked her for attention rather than me). When I clip his toes, I sit on him. Literally. I find him sleeping on the floor. I kneel down around him, using my feet to keep him from squirming backwards out from under me, then I do one paw at a time, as many toes as I can get before he worms his way out. It took several years of this before he was OK with the technique. At first I could only do a toe or two, but these days he grumpily gives up and allows me to trim all at once.

When he is done - whether I got one toe or all toes - I end with petting, praise and a treat. Seems to work for him.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:37 AM on November 17, 2011

As several others have mentioned, the main veterinary reason for clipping a cat's claws is to prevent them from growing long enough to curl up and cause injury to the paw pad. This isn't a very common thing to have happen but if your cat lives solely or mostly indoors it's definitely worth looking out for, given how painful I'm sure it is for the unlucky cat to experience.

My 4 cats are all mostly-indoor (as in, indoor except in the case of occasional supervised and/or leashed outings in the garden) and they all get claw-clipped a few times a year, but it's certainly not a regular thing. Mainly I do it only once I start seeing them getting "stuck" on things: despite it not necessarily being a medical risk for the cat, I'm sure it's annoying once they start getting themselves snagged on blankets, screens, etc. My 10 year old Siamese recently got a claw stuck in the back security screen to our house, and I literally had to go unhook her as she'd gotten the nail shoved so far into the screen hole that she couldn't retract the claw to free herself. You can bet she received a prompt nail clipping after that!

...and all that said, I'm sort of spoiled in that 3 of my cats (the 10 year old and the two 2-year-old brothers) have no objection at all to being nail-clipped. The fourth, however, makes up for the others' cooperativeness as she's *hated* the slippage since she was tiny. I'm always reminded of how amazingly strong she is for her size when I go to attempt clipping her claws, because frankly if she really wants to get away, she WILL get away. Generally I just put off clipping for her until the need is dire (as in, she's Velcroing herself to everything in the house). And while it's never *easy* to cut her nails, I've definitely found that doing it when she's otherwise distracted is a HUGE help. The best trimming session in recent memory occurred when Cora was watching a squirrel out on the patio (through the kitchen window)...she was so mesmerized by the scurrying rodent that she forgot to protest much when I came at her with the clipper!
posted by aecorwin at 12:21 PM on November 17, 2011

Keep on playing with his paws a lot in general. Also make the clippers part of play. I try to remember to put the clippers down next to the food bowl sometimes and I often pet my cat with clippers in my hand (even when i have no intention of clipping). Then try and clip one...perhaps you only get one tonight. There's always tomorrow night. I think my personal record is 3 in one night.
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 6:52 PM on November 17, 2011

I have one cat that hates having his claws clipped. As long as I whistle while I clip his nails, he won't bite me, but if I stop, here comes teeth. I don't know if it's the distraction or if music is calming his savage breast, but it works on him. You could give it a try! (My cat likes "Black Hole Sun" best.)
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:26 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of my cats required the sitting-on technique described by caution live frogs when I first got her as a young adult. Over a couple months, we progressed to her letting me trim nails while holding her on my lap in a sitting-upright position.

Part of what worked to mellow her to the process has more to do with timing than method. I clip front nails on all 3 of my cats every week or so. This way, there's usually only one or two claws per paw that require a trim. Makes it a quick job, but keeps them used to the idea. When I'd wait until lots of nails were sharp, it was a much bigger job, and they were extra uncooperative with the unfamiliar treatment. Back claws I only do as needed - when I'm getting stabbed when they jump off my lap, everybody gets clipped.

Cat 1 is the sat-on one. Now she mostly holds still on my lap, and grumbles under her breath until we're done.

Cat 2 has never been a problem. Got him as a kitten, and started trimming young. He just cuddles and purrs. Good thing, as he's by far the biggest!

Cat 3 is still a bit of work. She was adopted as a young adult outside cat, and transitioned well to living inside, except for the nails. I was rather afraid of her when we first started clipping. She would seriously bite at me, not little warning nips. Mostly stopped that after I let her chomp down on the clippers instead of my sleeve a couple times. Now she just grrrs and complains, as long as I don't make eye contact with her while trimming. With her, I move through fast, no time for reassuring as we go, and don't to look at her face. If I'm doing back feet as well, they all get treats after. The other two don't really require that, but she's better that way. And if one has treats, they all must!
posted by dorey_oh at 11:35 AM on November 23, 2011

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