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If you have a cat, you’re already familiar with the damage it can inflict with its razor-sharp claws. Claws, like our fingernails, grow constantly, and cats enjoy “kneading” their claws on just about any surface with special fondness for upholstered furniture and carpets. After awhile, the object of all this feline attention can be reduced to tatters.

A few moments a week is all you need to minimize this damage and protect your furniture from snags and your ankles from scratches. Learning to cut your cat’s claws is easy. All you need is patience and the proper equipment.

Equipment

I recommend a regular fingernail clipper, the kind you can pick up at any convenience store or drug store. You might even try a baby-size nail clipper, depending on the size of your own hands. Most, scissor-handled clippers, designed for dogs, are much too large to use on cat’s claws. The small size and easy maneuverability of the typical fingernail clipper makes it the ideal tool.

Preparation

If your cat is not a kitten and is not accustomed to having its nails clipped, you should take some time over the course of a few weeks to get your cat comfortable with you handling its paws.

Whenever your cat is in a cuddly mood, simply pick up one of its front paws and hold it gently for a while. If your cat doesn’t object to this, try to extend its claws so you can take a look at them and get a feel for the technique, which is described below. If your cat struggles or growls, immediately let it go. At this point, all you want to do is introduce your cat to the idea of someone touching its paws and manipulating its claws. With older cats, this may take some time. You can smooth the way some by offering your cat a little treat if it allows you to handle its paws for a time.

Technique

Once your cat is used to the idea of its paws being handled, it is much easier to approach the task of clipping the nails. Hold your cat on your lap, sitting up, and take one of its front paws in your “grasping” hand; the other hand will be the “clipping” hand. Generally, if you are right-handed, you’ll want to clip with your right hand and grasp with the left, but experiment and find which works best for you.

The first thing to do is extend the claws. Grasp the paw firmly with your fingers underneath and your thumb on top. The pad of the cat’s foot should rest on your fingertips. Comparing the cat’s paw to your own hand, your fingers would be on the palm side, with your thumb resting behind the knuckles.

Using gentle pressure with your thumb, press down behind each of the toes to extend each claw. If you squeeze gently in the center, sometimes all the claws will extend; it can be easier to extend one at a time, though. Again comparing how this would work on your own hand, pinch your hand between your forefinger and thumb, just behind each knuckle.

With very little pressure, the claw will extend, and you can easily see the sharp tip you need to snip. Using the nail clippers, snip just the sharp tip, certainly no more than 1/8 of an inch. If you cut off too much, you will injure your cat. If you snip quickly and carefully, the cat may not even react. Typically, it tries to pull away, but try to continue, making reassuring sounds as you go.

Once you have clipped the first nail, extend the next, and clip it. Keep extending and clipping until all five nails (for front paws) or four (for back paws) have been trimmed, or until your cat lets you know that it has had enough.

Don’t try to trim the claws of an angry or impatient cat. You know your cat’s temper, so if you detect the sure signs of an attack, back off quickly. It is very common to have to trim one paw at a time, or even just a few nails.

Reward your cat’s patience by extra cuddles or games, or perhaps a treat. You will probably not have to repeat this process weekly, but you should check your cat’s claws frequently so that it remains accustomed to the feeling of you extending its claws, even if the claws don’t need trimming. Back paws need less maintenance than front paws, too; you won’t need to trim them every week.

Once established as part of a regular routine, nail clipping is quickly and easily done and is a life preserver for the upholstery in your home.