Humane Society of Central Illinois

How To Trim Claws

During the training period you may have to trim your cat's claws in order to avoid furniture damage. Trimmers for human nails are satisfactory for trimming cats' claws, or you may use nail trimmers designed especially for pets, such as the White's type. Resco trimmers, usually used for dogs' toenails, also work fine for cats (see Figure 1).

To trim your cat's nails, extend the claw by grasping the leg in the palm of your hand, placing your index finger on the pad of the toe you want to trim and your thumb over the top of the same toe at the joint between the first and second phalanx, then squeeze your fingers together (see Figure 2).

When you do this you will find that the toenail and first phalanx come into view and will remain extended until you release your fingers. If you do this in good light and your cat's claws are not darkly pigmented, you will be able to see the pink dermis (the quick). Cut the nail just beyond the point where you see the dermis end (see Figure 3).


If you cut into the dermis, it is painful to the animal, and some bleeding will usually occur. The bleeding stops, but the pain will make your cat reluctant to have a nail trim the next time. Pigmented nails are harder to trim, since the color obscures the quick. However, with good, intense light you can often see the quick even if the nail is dark colored. If you can't see the dermis, the easiest rule to follow is to cut the nail just beyond the point where it starts to curve downward. If you accidentally trim the nail into the quick and the bleeding doesn't stop quickly, you can apply a styptic powder or pencil, Monsel's solution (ferric subsulfate, available from pharmacists), cornstarch, or a black tea bag that has been moistened then squeezed out, or you can bandage the foot firmly for about an hour. A light bandage for a foot can be made by placing an infant's or doll's stocking over it and taping the sock to the leg with several wraps of adhesive tape applied to the top of the sock and the leg. (Be sure the tape is loose enough to allow normal blood circulation to the foot.) This type of wrap leaves most of the sock loose and allows some air circulation. It is best for covering the nails of the rear feet to prevent damage when a cat is scratching an area or to protect the bandaged foot from licking. Ointments can be applied under such bandages, and the sock will keep the medication on the foot and off the carpet.

If you have accustomed your cat to being handled at a young age, nail trimming should be a one person job. If your cat seems particularly disagreeable, try to accustom him or her to the procedure gradually, trimming a few nails at a time and correcting bad behavior before resorting to a second person for aid. Cats who are over restrained for nail trimming will become aggressive before having a chance to learn to cooperate. An alternative to nail trimming is the application of commercially available tiny wooden or shell beads or clear plastic nail covers to the cat's claws with adhesive. These nail protectors need to be replaced every few weeks.