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Cat Nail Care

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orange maine coon cat having their nails trimmed

Although your feline friend is typically in charge of their own grooming habits, they will still require your help on a few matters, such as trimming their nails. Learn about how to cut a cat’s nails, treat a cat nail infection, and whether it’s OK to declaw your cat.

How to Care for a Cat’s Nails

One of the major responsibilities of cat parents is to ensure that their four-legged friend has a well-maintained grooming routine. From their coat and ears to their teeth and nails, a cat’s grooming habits mean much more than keeping them looking good—these also help them have good hygiene.

Thankfully, practically all the nail-related care your cat requires can be given from the comfort of your home. Before diving into the specifics, however, it’s natural for pet parents to have a few questions concerning the nail care of their cats.

  • Do cat nails need to be trimmed?
    Like dog nails or people’s nails, cat’s nails also need to be trimmed. While many activities in a cat’s everyday schedule can help them wear down their nails naturally, our feline friends will still need their nails cut in order to keep them at a healthy length. Plus, keeping up with your cat’s nail care could mean fewer scratches on furniture, no more snags on your rug, and possibly even reduced scratches on you.
  • How often should you trim a cat’s nails?
    When figuring an average timeframe, cat parents can usually go around 3 weeks between trimming their cat’s nails. Though this is a typical schedule, it’s possible that your cat may need their nails trimmed closer to once every week, or if their nails grow slowly, then it’s likely that they could go longer in between getting their nails cut.

    You can typically tell when a cat is due for a trim because their nails will begin catching on more items such as the carpet or toys. Even when playing with them, you may notice that you are accidentally getting scratched more often than normal—this could also indicate that their nails need cut.
  • Can cat nails get too long?
    Simply put—yes, cat nails can get too long. If your feline friend’s nails are overgrown, they can become quite a nuisance to the cat, with them constantly getting caught on items around the home. Not to mention, this could become a safety hazard for your cat if their nail gets caught in the fabric and they are unable to get it loose.

    At a certain point, if your cat’s nails are left to grow horribly long, it can also become a health issue. Cat nails can eventually start curling under the paw, which could cause pain or discomfort when your cat tries to walk, the nails could puncture the paw, and your cat will no longer be able to retract their claws.

    It's best to figure out early on how often your cat needs their nails trimmed and to stick to that schedule.
  • Do scratching posts file cat’s nails?
    Scratching posts certainly help cats file their nails. Cats may also find scratching posts enjoyable because it gives them something to do, it allows them to mark their territory, and they can get a good stretch on these posts.

    Not only do scratching posts help file down your cat’s nails, but they also help redirect your cat from scratching on things they shouldn’t, such as furniture or draperies. Pay attention to the type of fabrics your cat likes to run their nails through and if they prefer horizontal or vertical scratching toys. There are many options, from fabric to cardboard, and it never hurts to have a few different ones throughout your home.

    Keep in mind that while scratching toys can help file your cat’s sharp claws, they are not an alternative to nail trimmings altogether. You will still need to cut your cat’s nails as necessary.

If you are nervous about trimming your cat’s nails on your own, ask your local veterinarian or cat groomer if they could show you how to trim your pal’s nails properly.

How To Cut a Cat’s Nails Without Hurting Them

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons cat parents are apprehensive about cutting their cat’s nails is that they are afraid to hurt them. To avoid this, learning the proper nail-cutting techniques, along with some helpful tips, can ensure that your cat is comfortable and safe.

A great place to begin is learning how to hold them. Some felines may prefer to lounge on the floor or their bed, and you can trim their nails while they are relaxed. Other cats may require you to hold them, in which case you can try having them sit in your lap with one arm wrapped around them. Another option, particularly for the cats that like to squirm around, you can gently wrap them in a towel or blanket, only keeping one leg at a time unwrapped, allowing you to focus on trimming that paw’s nails.

If you have a roommate or family member who can help hold on to and comfort your cat while you trim their nails, you may find that this could also be helpful. It’s crucial that your cat is not jerking their paw around too much as this could cause you to accidentally cut their quick—a group of nerves and blood vessels in the middle of the nail. Cutting the quick can cause some discomfort and pain to your pal.

It's best to have some styptic powder readily available, as this can help stop the nail from bleeding. Be sure to keep an eye on your cat’s nail and paw to ensure the cut is healing correctly.

chartreux cat paw with a nail injury

How To Tell if a Cat Nail Is Infected

There are many ways a cat can get a nail infection, including when their quick is cut. Other cats may have naturally brittle nails, and their nails could get injured either through playing or an accident. They could also have another type of infection or an underlying health issue.

You can usually tell when your cat has a nail infection because they will begin displaying symptoms such as difficulty walking, excessive licking or biting at their feet, swelling around their claws, and overall discomfort or pain in their feet. If you notice some of these signs appearing in your cat or that they refuse to let you handle their feet, it’s crucial that you take them to see their veterinarian. A few tests may need to be run to determine the underlying cause of the issue.

In most cases, the infection can be treated with either an oral medication or a topical cream. It’s essential that you follow your veterinarian’s treatment plan (some may require medicine for a few weeks or a month) to help your cat make a speedy recovery. In more serious cases, it’s possible that your feline friend will require minor surgery in order to fix their nail.

No matter, be sure to keep a close eye on your cat’s progress as they receive treatment. Make sure their nail is healing as it should and that they are treating their paw normally again. In some instances, you may notice that your cat is not recovering quite as quickly as the veterinarian had mentioned, in which case you can contact them once again to receive further instructions. After all, you want your cat back to their usual happy and healthy selves as soon as possible.

Is nail polish safe for cats? No, human nail polish should never be used on pets since it has many chemicals that are harmful to cats and dogs. Instead, look for cat-safe polish.

Is It Ever OK to Declaw a Cat?

As a cat parent, you may wonder if it is OK to declaw your cat. Our strategic partner, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®), is strongly opposed to this choice, particularly when it is performed solely for the convenience of the pet parent.

A cat’s claws are an integral part of them and their natural behaviors. They allow them to hunt (though this isn’t necessary for indoor cats), protect themselves, stretch, play, mark their territory, and even relieve stress.

Onychectomy, or declawing, is when a cat undergoes anesthesia and has their last digital bone amputated. This not only removes all current claws, but it restricts them from ever regrowing. This surgery is not seen as a favorable option for felines since there is risk involved with any type of surgery. For instance, your cat could get post-operative infections, and they could experience discomfort or pain in their paws.

The ASPCA deems declawing an option only when all other behavioral and environmental options have been exhausted and any alternative is found ineffective—resulting in the cat facing possible euthanasia.

Thankfully there are many alternatives to help resolve the issues your cat’s claws may be causing. A wonderful place to start is to keep up with trimming your cat’s nails on a regular basis and provide them with scratching posts. You can deter them from ripping up your furniture by using double-sided tape. Soft cat nail covers could also be an option if you have an incessant scratcher on your hands. If you believe the issue is rooted more in a behavior problem, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional who could help you get your feline friend’s unwanted habits under control.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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