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How Often Should You Trim Your Cat’s Nails & How (Vet Answer)

Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS (Vet) Profile Picture

By Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS (Vet)

Cat in a veterinary clinic hairdresser cutting nails

Cats use their claws for a variety of reasons, including jumping, climbing, and hunting. They’re a very important feature, but there are times when they require a trim!

Why should I trim my cat’s nails?

It is preferable to let your cat wear their nails down naturally, as opposed to regular trimming.

However, there are times when clipping your cat’s nails is necessary:
  • If your cat is getting their nails caught on your furniture, carpets, or clothes, as this can be painful for them and damaging to your belongings
  • If you can see their nails whilst they are resting. Their front nails are retractable and are only usually out during play or when they are ‘kneading’, so if they are visible when they are relaxing, they are likely too long!
  • As cats get older, their nails thicken so they are harder to retract and they could develop arthritis, so it is harder and more painful to wear them down themselves

If we let our cat’s nails get too long, they could curl and pierce their paw pads. This can result in discomfort and infection, so it’s important to regularly check their nails to avoid this happening. If your cat is long-haired, it is even more important to routinely check them, because the fur could be hiding the true length of their nails.

tabby cat biting its nails
Image Credit: Magui RF, Shutterstock

How often should I trim my cat’s nails?

Most cats won’t need their nails trimming regularly, if at all, though this is heavily dependent on their lifestyle. If your cat has access to the outdoors, they will be wearing their nails down naturally by climbing up fences, hunting prey, and walking or running over rougher surfaces, such as pavements.

On the other hand, if your cat is an indoor cat, they may need them doing more regularly so they aren’t as sharp. This will help avoid them getting their nails caught in carpets and furniture. You can also introduce enrichment in the home which will help your indoor (and outdoor!) cat to reduce the sharpness of their nails themselves, such as a scratching post.

Senior cats, classed as those aged 11 and over, may also need their nails trimming more regularly. Older cats are less mobile and may suffer from arthritis in their joints. They may find it difficult to reduce the sharpness of their nails or get them caught, causing pain in their limbs.

Some cats need their nails trimming every 2-4 weeks, especially if they are an indoor or senior cat, whilst others only need it doing every few months. Outdoor cats may never need their nails trimming. The frequency of how often the nails require trimming does increase as cats get older.

How can I tell if my cat’s nails are too?

Luckily, most cats have light-colored nails, so you are easily able to see the blood vessels which supply the nail. This is referred to as the ‘quick’ and is the pink part of the nail. If we were to cut into the pink part, this would cause pain and bleeding.

If the white part of the nail is beginning to curl, then your cat’s nails are definitely in need of a trim. Outdoor cats can afford to have longer nails, as they aid them in their outdoor adventures, but their nails should not be left to curl towards the pad.

Cats’ nails are retractable — they should be hidden in the toes most of the time, meaning we often need to pinch their toes to expose the nail. If you can see your cat’s nails when your cat is resting, chances are they are in need of a trim!

cat having nails trimmed_RJ22, Shutterstock
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

How else can I keep the nails in good condition?

Cats are capable of wearing their nails down themselves, but there are ways in which we can help them do this:
  • Keeping them active – this can be achieved with indoor cats too, by playing with them using a variety of toys.
  • Providing a good quality scratching post – it can take a bit of ‘trial and error’ to establish whether your cat prefers horizontal or vertical posts. The post should be placed in a place where your cat has been scratching or showing interest in scratching. Pheromone sprays can be sprayed on the post to encourage them to use it.
  • Keep them in good body condition – overweight or obese cats will be less likely to exercise, so it’s important to keep them slim. There are many other reasons to keep your cat slim too
  • Regular vet checks – did you know that a recent study indicated over 60% of cats have evidence of arthritis on x-ray? Although often mistaken for aging, arthritis is a manageable condition, and effective medication and care can help a cat cope with the pain. This will allow them to perform natural behaviors more easily, such as scratching and wearing their nails down themselves.

Is there an alternative to nail trimming?

 No, there is no suitable alternative to nail trimming. Cats use their nails to perform natural behaviors which usually wear them down naturally, but if their nails are too long, then trimming is the only way to shorten them.

Declawing is illegal in many countries. It is a practice where the nail and end bone of each toe is removed — without nails or a nail bed, the cat cannot scratch or destroy furniture. However, for the purpose of preventing scratching, or to avoid having to trim nails, it is an inhumane procedure that should not be carried out. It provides no benefit to the cat, but has many negatives — such as removing a defense mechanism and preventing them from being able to behave as a cat should. Declawing can also result in pain, mobility issues, and an increase in unwanted behavior, such as aggression, as the loss of their claws can make them feel vulnerable and insecure.

trim cat nails
Image Credit: Yimmyphotography, Shutterstock

How do I trim my cat’s nails?

Trimming your cat’s nails is something you can do at home. Most cats don’t like having it done but can be trained using positive reinforcements and patience. Your veterinary clinic can also trim your cat’s nails and teach and support you in doing this too.

Top tips for trimming your cat’s nails are:
  • Use good quality animal clippers
  • Have a second pair of hands available if your cat will need holding still
  • Do not cut the nail too close to the quick, to reduce the risk of bleeding. If in doubt – just trim the tip!
  • Don’t forget the dewclaws (‘thumbs’), slightly higher up their forelimbs — these aren’t worn down as quickly and are prone to growing over and into the pad.

Conclusion

To conclude, cats use their nails for hunting, climbing, and as the first line of defense, so it is often not necessary to trim their nails, and some may go years without needing their nails trimming. However, as cats get older, they may be less able to wear down their nails themselves, so will need nail trimming more often.

There are plenty of enrichment toys available to help cats keep their nails a suitable length, particularly if they are an indoor cat, such as scratching posts and cat trees. Keeping them at their ideal weight and body condition is also very important.

If your cat does need their nails trimming, this is something you can do at home, or your veterinary clinic can help you with.

Perhaps a picture of an over-long nail?


Featured Image Credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

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