Cat Mom Life: How to Cut Your Cat’s Nails Without Splitting the Nail

Trimming Your Cat’s Nails

When I adopted my first cat, Louis, it quickly became apparent that I’d need to trim his nails myself. Some cats seem to manage to file them themselves with scratchers, but this only sharpened Louis’ claws. I am majorly opposed to declawing cats, so I knew from the start that I was going to have to learn to trim the kitties’ nails. Without getting into the reasons for being anti-declawing, it really isn’t too bad to cut your cat’s nails every month or so. It can be intimidating at first, especially since some cats are more difficult than others. However, once you get the hang of it, it’s not so bad.

Gray Tabby Olivia on the couch with a Stewart Tartan Blanket

At First, Get the Vet to Teach You

I highly recommend having your vet trim the nails the first time so they can teach you how to hold or swaddle your cat. More importantly, they can show you how far down on the nail to cut.

While it can be pretty easy to see where the quick starts on your cat’s nails, some nails are more opaque or darker, making it more difficult to see how far is too far. In my experience, when they darker nails and the cat’s nail has split from scratching, it’s even harder to see the quick.

Olivia, for example, has gray-ish nails, whereas Louis has white/clear. Olivia’s are definitely harder to see. That, plus the fact that Olivia is squirmier, means Olivia’s nails are generally a two-person job.

How to Cut Cat Nails

Basic Steps for Clipping Your Cat’s Nails

Like I said above, I do recommend getting a vet or vet tech to show you how far to trim on your cat’s nails the first time, if at all possible. After that, when you trim their nails at home, you’ll have a better idea of how far up to trim.

If you have a particularly squirmy cat, you may want a second pair of hands to help hold the pet. This is what I do with Olivia, who is very squirmy. Some cats, like Louis, are easy enough to manage on your own.

Either way, you’ll want to make sure you have a good grip on the cat along with a good source of light. I find it easier to do so when I am seated, as opposed to standing. Sometimes that can be achieved by swaddling the cat in a blanket or towel. Otherwise, I find that holding the cat on my lap – preferably on their back so their paws are easier to reach – works just as well.

Once you’re set up with the cat and the nail cutters (more on that below), you can extend the nail on your cat’s paw by lightly pressing on the top and bottom of the paw near the toe. I try to do this whole process rather quickly, but you don’t want to rush making sure you can see the whole nail.

Try Trimming One Paw At a Time

If your cat becomes agitated by the process and is visibly upset or crying, consider only doing one or two paws at a time. This means the whole process takes longer, but it’ll be much less stressful on you and your cat. It’s best for everyone if you can get into a low-stress routine with this process.

Human Nail Clippers Versus Pet Clippers

My main reason for writing this post is to weigh in on the nail clipper debate. What should you use to trim their nails in the first place? If you’re wondering how to cut cat nails with human clippers, my personal recommendation is: don’t. Get nail cutters designed for pets.

I’ve generally been a little wary of gimmicky-looking pet products that seem unnecessary and overpriced. But I do not think that pet nail clippers fall into this unnecessary and overpriced category. In fact, cat nail clippers are a complete necessity, in my experience. Getting the proper tools can really help prevent cat nail splintering.

Think about it this way: human nails are shaped very differently than cat (or dog) nails. Ours are flat and fairly thin. Cat nails are rounded and can be quite thick. Have you tried to trim flower stems with kitchen scissors and had a tough time at it? Now, relate that to trimming a round cat nail (which is attached to a likely-squirmy and impatient cat) with nail trimmers designed for flat human nails.

Splitting nails can be painful for your cat; think about a nasty hang nail or a broken nail you’ve had! Plus, it can make it difficult for you to tell when and if the nail needs to be trimmed later on and, if it does, how far to cut.

My Favorite Cat Nail Clipper Style

There are a few styles of pet nail clippers, but the scissor-style are my favorites and the easiest, in my opinion, to cut your cat’s nails. They’re easy and feel really natural to use, which is important when you’re faced with a squirmy cat.

Pick up one of these trimmers to cut your cat’s nails by clicking the links below the picture. Most pairs are pretty cheap, too — generally between $5 and $15. Plus, they’re great for clipping yarn if you’re into crocheting or knitting!

Nail trimmer ideas to cut your cat's nails

Clockwise from Top Left:
Boshel Cat Nail Clippers
Shiny Pet Pet Nail Clippers for Small Animals
Pet Republique Cat Nail Clipper
Poodle Pet Cat Nail Trimmer Clipper Scissors for Small Animals


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*This post was originally published on May 19, 2020. It was most recently updated on August 31, 2021.