Nail trims with a cat typically look like a battle of wills, owner wrestling the cat into position while the cat makes desperate attempts to escape. What if I told you it didn’t have to look like that? With the right training, trimming a cat’s nails can be a calm, positive experience.
Many cat guardians prefer to avoid the hassle all together, but there are some important reasons to trim your cat’s nails. It can help minimize scratching damage to furniture or people and prevent long claws from getting caught in carpeting. Senior cats may particularly need help with grooming and nail trims will help keep them in top shape.
The stress of nail trims usually happens because well-meaning guardians try to do too much at once. The unfamiliar tools and sensations can be too overwhelming for a cat and quickly push them into a fear response. The goal with training stress-free trims is to go slow; take small steps to keep things positive.
Most importantly, you will need a sharp pair of nail clippers made for cats to cut the nails cleanly. Dull clippers can squeeze or crack the nail, so they need to be replaced regularly. You will also plan where you will perform the nail trim, making sure your cat has a comfortable non-slip surface to sit on. To make the process positive and fun, have plenty of your cat’s favorite treats on hand.
Before getting started, you may also need to rethink how to approach this training. Cat nail trims are traditionally accomplished by restraining them and preventing escape. Any kind of restraint can be a scary experience for an animal, so we want to avoid holding the cat down. Keep in mind that this process gives the cat control to tell you when they are comfortable with each step. If they decide to walk away or pull their paw away during a session, let them go and try again later.
Training Steps for Nail Trims
It is easiest to start working on this training with a kitten, but cats of any age can learn to accept the clippers. An older cat that already has negative experiences with nail trims might just take a little longer to be okay with the process. It may take several days or many months to get through all of the steps.
The training process is broken down into small steps. Take one at a time and repeat until the cat shows no signs of discomfort like leaning away, pulling foot away, looking away, pinned ears, or struggling. If they appear uncomfortable, go back to the previous step for a few repetitions. If they look comfortable, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
- Place the clippers on the ground near your cat and let them sniff or investigate it. Give a treat. Move the clippers closer and give a treat.
- Simulate the sound of a nail clip by clipping a piece of dry pasta near your cat’s paw. Give a treat.
- Get your cat used to you touching their paws. Start with your fingers near their shoulder or hip and move down the leg to touch the paw. Give a treat.
- Now practice holding the paw. Move your fingers down the leg and gently handle the paw while feeding treats. Then try gently squeezing a toe and give a treat.
- Gently hold the paw and touch the clippers to the nail (no clipping yet!). Give a treat.
- If your cat is comfortable with all previous steps, you can try clipping one nail. Give a treat right away. One nail might be enough for one session, or they might be okay with one or two more. You don’t have to trim them all in one sitting.
For more help, contact us at Pawsitive Vibes Cat Behavior and Training for one-on-one guidance to take the stress out of nail trims.