Do cats actually need their nails cutting?
January 10, 2012 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Do (indoor) cats actually need their claws trimming?

This monster is my mother's cat. Aside from the fact that he definitely isn't interested in letting anyone near his feet, my mother's partner refuses to trim his nails on the grounds that it's done only for the convenience of humans.

Now, he has a point, except that Winston gets his claws caught on things because they're so long. They probably also reduce his playing-with-people time as you're liable to get scratched even when he's not trying to scratch you. In theory, I guess cats' claws are supposed to be cut/filed naturally when they scratch things, but his scratching doesn't seem to do much of anything for Winston--his claws are like talons.

This is irritatingly difficult to google. I got as far as a suggestion that British people don't trim cats claws, suggesting it is unnecessary, but, on the other hand, I think entirely indoor cats are rare in Britain.
posted by hoyland to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We have an indoor cat and my husband trims her claws quite frequently. If he doesn't do it, what happens to Winston happens to her - her claws get caught on things, and she'll give you a nasty scratch if she takes a swipe at you.

He has to pin her down to do it, and sometimes he can only get one paw done at a time, but it's convenient to everyone in the long run, I think.
posted by Lucinda at 11:56 AM on January 10, 2012

Yes. They'll get caught on stuff, and if the cat isn't walking around on rocks and sidewalks and climbing trees and things, they may also overgrow - the dewclaw especially - and curl back into the flesh so that it hurts the cat.

Point out to your mother's partner that the cat is living at the whims of humans, and those humans therefore owe it a duty of care, which includes doing things for the cat it can't do itself, because it's living with humans.
posted by rtha at 11:59 AM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Our elderly cat has stopped using the scratching post/pad and wound up with a claw growing back into the pad of his foot. Needles to say, we felt awful about it, and clip his nails regularly now.

The cat hates it, so we get them one or two at a time, while he's relaxing on the couch and too lazy to resist much.
posted by JoanArkham at 12:04 PM on January 10, 2012

We have one indoor only cat and two others who sometimes go outside. Although the outside cats' claws definitely get worn down more, we don't trim the claws of the inside only cat and she has never had any problems. She loves scratching those cardboard scratching things (they seem to be ubiquitous now--we get them at the grocery store). If trimming Winston's claws would be difficult, you might also offer him some new scratching options; some cats really like the sisal rope scratching posts as well.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:05 PM on January 10, 2012

Yes. I have seen cats with nails that curled around and cut into their own paws - many are pathetically grateful to be clipped - and it is a horrible thing to do to a cat. It will become abundantly clear that the cat's claws are too long, but by then there may be a need for a vet.
posted by jeather at 12:05 PM on January 10, 2012

We never trim our cats but have an old chair (an off the curve special) that we have we have provided to our cats as a large, cheap, hideously upholstered scratching post. Of course they've pretty much been conditioned that that chair is a scratching post and all the other chairs bring down the wrath of the spray bottle from kittenhood. If the cat isn't used to sharpening their claws (i.e. grinding their claws down) on something it may be hard to get them to start.

On the other hand, I've seen someone bring a section of tie-side firewood into a house with a long since declawed cat and that cat spent a good minute and a half rubbing it's paws up and down the thing.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:06 PM on January 10, 2012

There may be a few indoor cats with claws that grow slowly, with a bit of scratching post keeping them in control. But most cats need their claws trimmed, and any cat whose claws get caught on furniture DEFINITELY needs them trimmed.

I got behind the claw clipping once, and one of my cats ended up with a claw so long that it curled right back into her paw pad. The vet who removed it, stitched the wound, and bandaged her up -- for a fair bit of money, too -- said this wasn't uncommon at all.
posted by maudlin at 12:07 PM on January 10, 2012

Er, off the curb. But you know what I mean.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:07 PM on January 10, 2012

We have to trim our cat's claws. One cat hates it so, but otherwise the claws become razor-sharp needles of death, attached to an obese, clumsy cat who just wants to LOVE YOU and shows this by WALKING ALL OVER YOU, puncturing your clothes and skin in the process.

And he also gets stuck on the carpet.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:07 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Probably depends on the cat. I have two active indoor cats, and several sisal scratching posts that they both like and use a few times a day. Louie is not as active as Dizzy, so I trim his claws occasionally. Dizzy never needs it, and a good thing too because he won't let me.

If you can see claws when a cat is just sitting doing nothing, a trim is probably required.

(When Louie wants attention he reaches out to gently touch my face. If his claws are not trimmed they will break the skin. I guess you could call not losing blood a "convenience"...)
posted by phliar at 12:08 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had cats living with me for over four decades. None of said cats have had their nails trimmed. For my current kitties, I have a scratching post and a corrugated cardboard thingy on the ground. My cats aren't really big fans of being manhandled so I would only trim my cats' nails if they were under anesthesia.
posted by birdherder at 12:09 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of my cats caught a claw on the rug when he was running and got a bloody paw out of it. My other cat, who uses the scratching post, seems to have less trouble with it, but, yes, in general, they should get their claws trimmed. I'm a wimp, so I have the vet do it when the cats get check-ups. Best part is that it shows up as a "Pedicure" on the bill (and it's only a few bucks).
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 12:11 PM on January 10, 2012

Educate your mother's partner about the purposes of cat claws. Explain that in their natural environment, they would wear down normally. Then explain that living as an indoor cat, he's not using his claws for those purposes and therefore they're not getting worn down.

Could it be this person is just scared? Trimming them with writhing unhappy feline in your arms is a little bit nerve wracking. After all, cut too far and you could make them bleed. Maybe help this person learn how to properly cut nails.

and if all else fails, drag this person to a vet and get the vet's opinion. (Make sure to tell the vet the cat is a indoor only cat)
posted by royalsong at 12:11 PM on January 10, 2012

If trimming Winston's claws would be difficult, you might also offer him some new scratching options; some cats really like the sisal rope scratching posts as well.

He lived with me for a couple months (he was the sparecat of a previous AskMe) and has the same scratching stuff as he has here. I don't really remember his claws being such an issue, though I did manage to trim them maybe once and had the vet do it once (which was hilarious--you would have thought we were torturing him for all the noise he was making), so who knows.
posted by hoyland at 12:11 PM on January 10, 2012

I have owned cats all almost all my life, and it never occured to me to do any "nails cutting" on a cat. Even on cats that were 100% indoor cats. All a cat needs is a scratching post. Regularly mutilations of inanimate objects (hopefully not furniture...) will take care of any trimming a cat needs. You will usually find small pieces of shedded claws near a scratching post - cats are literally sharpening their claws on them by removing blunt and old claw "layers" when scratching hard material. Maybe Winston needs a new scratching post? Some cats prefer old carpet or floor mats, and you can buy special scratching boards that lie flat on the ground. You can sprinkle those boards with cat nip to motivate your cat a bit.
posted by Nightwind at 12:15 PM on January 10, 2012

I trim my indoor cat's claws, otherwise whenever she puts her paws on me, I give a vocal "nyaAAAAaaauggh" reaction that causes her to back away immediately. Little daggers piercing your skin! I have a few things out for her to scratch on but it's not enough. My cat is mellow/passive enough that I have no trouble clipping her claws in one sitting but one time I had cat-sitted a larger tom cat for months, I could only do a few claws before he would get really upset and I'd have to resume again some time later.

I would clip Winston's claws since it sounds like he's not scratching enough to wear them down to a more "reasonable" length/dullness.
posted by Seboshin at 12:25 PM on January 10, 2012

It depends on the cat. I've had indoor cats who were fine and others whose claws would overgrow into their pads to where it was painful for them to walk. Some cats are not as good at keeping their claws down with scratching posts and whatnot. If your mom refuses to trim then she needs to check his paws regularly to make sure the claws are not overgrowing.
posted by schroedinger at 12:39 PM on January 10, 2012

Our cat loves using her sisal scratching post and has additionally torn up the carpeting horribly in the two years-ish we've had her, and I still try to trim her nails every other week. If it ends up going to about a month, she starts getting her claws accidentally caught in the carpet while walking, and in the window screens while she's wishing she could get the squirrels. Sometimes even they'll get caught on the microfiber couch as she walks along it. Not to mention the additional damage she does to my ankles when she chases/herds me up the stairs.

She doesn't like it done, but I *always* give her a bunch of treats after, which mollifies her enough that I'm still alive.

She does trim her own rear claws with her teeth such that they've never needed trimming.

In summary, it likely depends upon the particular cat and the particular environment, but claws which are too long can definitely be an issue (for extra fun, research why vets offer a tooth trimming service for hamsters/rodents).
posted by nobeagle at 12:47 PM on January 10, 2012

What schroedinger said (and what my experience taught me). While cats vary, most cats really need an outdoor life to keep their claws down. Even after I found cardboard and sisal scratching posts that all our cats used enthusiastically, they still developed a few scimitars on their paws and they still needed trimming.
posted by maudlin at 12:51 PM on January 10, 2012

My cat trims his own with his teeth (an act we refer to as "guh-nom gnom gnom") but if they frequently got caught on things, of course we'd trim them. He also likes to claw at our cheap living room throw rug and a cardboard scratching post (liberally sprinkled with 'nip), so perhaps that helps.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:53 PM on January 10, 2012

Speaking as a long term cat owner, I've never had to clip the claws of any outside cat, and have noticed that the pace of claw growth on my geriatric cats has slowed a lot.

But in general, usually indoor cats do need their toenails clipped, to prevent all the problems mentioned above: cats getting stuck, often painfully, to furniture fabric and rugs, human wounds from playful cats, and sometimes disabling injuries to cats with uncut claws.

I try to make toenail trimming as wonderful as possible, preceded by much petting, followed by delicious treats, and also to work fast. But with really recalcitrant cats I've also used the dreaded towel, in which resistant kitty is rolled and paws are permitted out one at a time. Over time use of the towel becomes less necessary, particularly when wonderful things happen before and after the clipping experience.
posted by bearwife at 1:12 PM on January 10, 2012

While my kitty can keep her claws short with a scratching post, it seems like she's actually sharpening them: scratching at the sisal post gets rid of the cracked outer layers, like an onion, to reveal the exquisitely sharp inner core. I don't see a scratching post as an alternative to trimming.
It seems (anecdotal) like older cats lose some muscle tone in their feet and the retractable claws don't retract as far as they used to. She's still a young cat, though, and doesn't really have that problem.
She is, however, really really lovey and affectionate, stares at us and whines if we're too busy to sit down and make her a cozy warm lap in the evenings, and shows her appreciation by giving copious leg massages. If we keep her claws trimmed, then regular jeans are enough to make this clawy massage only mildly uncomfortable; when the massage turns into acupuncture, it's time for a trim. It's not causing her harm to have long nails, but she's ultimately much happier after a trim because we are then willing to let her have her way.
posted by aimedwander at 1:13 PM on January 10, 2012

I was just going to add that my indoor cat didn't particularly enjoy the routine trimming of her nails the first few times. But I made it a big deal with lots of petting and attention and treats before and after. Now she doesn't really mind, and in about 30 seconds I've trimmed both front paws or both back paws. I usually do front or back only in a session. Just another voice in the "if you do it over and over they may get used to it/not mind it as much" camp... Good luck.
posted by Falwless at 1:24 PM on January 10, 2012

My cats dislike having their nails clipped, but when i don't- they get stuck to rugs and blankets, so it's better for everyone to clip them.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 1:28 PM on January 10, 2012

I have a giant scar on my nose that says yes. A trimmed claw wouldn't have prevented the incident (cat went flying over the top of the couch and landed on my head), but the severity of the gash on my poor nose could have been considerably less. It's a safety thing.

Additionally, cats in the wild use tree bark to trim their claws, and us human overloads have an obligation and responsibility to provide the same opportunity, either through alternate comparable scratching services, or just doing the work for them.
posted by cgg at 1:44 PM on January 10, 2012

services -> surfaces. D'oh!
posted by cgg at 1:46 PM on January 10, 2012

In my experience, not really. Provided lots of scratching surfaces are available, they will shed their nails as needed. I live with two 'normal' and two feral cats. The two feral cats would not have their nails cut under threat of death, so they're on their own. In the few years we've all lived together there have been no problems (and no scratches, for some reason everyone is really gentle and retracts the claws voluntarily).
posted by tatiana131 at 1:51 PM on January 10, 2012

Once we found a friendly older stray cat who walked with a very slight limp: when we examined her paw, we saw that her nail had grown so long, it had curved inward and punctured her toe pad, which healed around it permanently. I'm not sure if it was the result of some kind of accident, or merely neglect-- either was it horrible. Thankfully, she was gentle enough we could take her to a vet who was able to cut it so she could walk normally again.

Why not schedule a visit from a local vet tech who does house calls? It's not too expensive and totally worth it, IMO.
posted by aquafortis at 2:36 PM on January 10, 2012

My cats (aged 10 and 12) have never had their nails clipped. It's not been a problem. They don't grow uncontrolled or anything, and I had never heard anything like that until reading this thread.
posted by unknowncommand at 3:52 PM on January 10, 2012

My lil' orange buddy, Steve's scratching post is a homemade carpeted 4x4 attached to a board at the bottom prevent tipping and with a carpeted board on top as a perch. Steve has clawed off most of the carpeting on the 4x4 and left grooves in the wood. Cats claws get shorter, but sharper, with scratching post use. Steve has never even accidentally scratched anyone, but Maude help us all if he ever goes on a rampage.

He will be trimmed!
posted by BlueHorse at 7:49 PM on January 10, 2012

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