A cat's claws are his all-purpose tools he uses in just about every situation he encounters. He needs them to function properly, kind of like a human needs to have thumbs. While it’s possible for him to live without his claws (just as we’d figure out a way to live without our thumbs) he’d be at a major disadvantage. A cat uses his retractable claws for climbing, scratching, pouncing, turning, balancing, sometimes for eating and always for self defense. Kitty doesn’t scratch the sofa or the drapes to make you mad – he’s got a deep instinctive need to scratch at things that will help him keep those indispensable claws in tiptop shape. Read more about why kitty scratches the furniture and what you can do about it.
If you feel that kitty’s nails are still too sharp even after he’s done his own routine scratching post maintenance on them, you can give your cat’s nails a regular trimming yourself. Like any other form of grooming, this process is easiest when you begin it while your cat is still a young kitten, but it can certainly be done with adult cats as well. Regular human toenail or fingernail clippers work fine, as do the special guillotine-type cat clippers.
First, spend a few days getting kitty used to the idea of having his paws held and examined. While you’re relaxing together, take a paw and gently squeeze the toes apart to extend the claws. Praise kitty softly all the while, and offer a small treat afterward. Once he’s no longer startled when you squeeze his toes, you’re ready to give it a try.
The best time to trim your cat's claws is when he’s relaxed or sleepy. Hold a paw in one hand and press the toe pad gently to extend the claw. Notice the pinkish nail tissue (the quick) on the part of the of the claw nearest the toe; avoid the quick when you trim the claw - cutting into it will cause pain and bleeding. Remove only the sharp tip of the claw, as far from the quick as possible. Repeat with the rest of the front claws (it’s probably not necessary to do the back claws). If kitty becomes impatient and squirms to get away, take a break and do the other toes later. If you accidentally clip into the quick, don't panic. The claw may bleed for a moment, but it will usually stop right away. If the bleeding hasn't stopped after a minute or so, touch a styptic pencil to the claw end to help staunch the bleeding. When you’re finished, praise kitty for being the good, kind, patient and clever animal that he is, and give him a delicious little treat as a thank you.
Clip every couple of weeks, or as needed. If all else fails, ask your vet to demonstrate the procedure for you, or schedule your cat for regular nail clips from a vet or groomer. Most vets will perform this service for a minimal fee.
Is declawing an option?
Most vets and cat lovers would say no. Declawing is a major operation: kitty is put under general anesthesia, then the vet performs a series of ten amputations - each amputation removes not only the claw but also the bone into which it is firmly rooted. The supporting tendon and ligament for each claw are then severed, and the surrounding soft tissue and flesh is cut away. Not only is your cat now at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to basic survival, he’s likely to be in a fair amount of pain for awhile.
Complications of the amputation can include severe pain, damage to the radial nerve, hemorrhage, bone chips that prevent healing, or painful regrowth of the deformed claw inside the paw, which is not visible to the eye. Some complications necessitate a second round of anesthesia and surgery.
If all else fails and your cat’s claws have become impossible for you to live with, a more humane (and far less costly) solution could be to apply soft nail caps over kitty’s trimmed claws. These soft nail sheaths are applied with an adhesive, similar to human cosmetic nail products, and have been found to work quite well as an alternative to declawing.