Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Trim a Nail, Save a Couch

Nail trimming is one of the basics of cat care that every caregiver and foster parent should try to master. Each and every cat does have claws after all (you know not to declaw, right?). Nail trimming is done by holding your cat’s paw, gently squeezing the toe to reveal the nail, and then clipping off only the sharp point while taking care not to cut too much off by cutting to the quick.

Nail trimming benefits cats by keeping their nails from growing too long and curling under, which can irritate the toe pad and cause pain. For cat guardians, it can reduce the incidence of accidental scratching, such as when playing with your cat, and also can reduce damage to furniture and household items. Trimming also provides guardians an opportunity to inspect the cat’s feet and toes for debris or injury.

Whether loop or straight handles, pick whichever works best in your hands and on your cat's nails.
There are a range of styles of pet nail clippers that can be used. Those labeled for cats are generally smaller and designed for cutting small nails, but small dog and puppy nail trimmers can work well too. Some look like traditional scissors with finger loops for handles, while others have straight handles. (In our experience, trimmers with the familiar finger loops often feel too small for our human hands and are awkward to use. We prefer the straight handles like the model shown below.) Try a few different styles to see what works best for you and your cat.

Perhaps the biggest challenge when trimming nails is finding a way to hold your cat still. The cats in our care span the range of tolerance for and experience with nail clipping, so here at ACR we use a few techniques to get every nail trimmed.

For cats new to nail clipping, it can be beneficial to go through the motions a few times, but skip the actual trimming. Allowing your cat to smell the clippers, or gently massaging her paws and then providing a tasty treat can build trust and help her become comfortable with having her paws handled. As your cat becomes more comfortable, you can start by trimming just one nail or paw and then letting her go for a stress relieving break. Eventually you can work your way up to clipping all nails in one sitting.

Some cats enjoy (or at least tolerate!) the occasional mani/pedi, and will sit in our lap and just let it happen. For a relaxed cat like this, we will hold her on her back in our lap and go from paw to paw, giving treats as necessary if she starts to squirm.

Linus gets wrapped up for his regular nail trim.
For those like Linus who don’t enjoy the process, first we try wrapping them in a blanket (like a kitty burrito) and pulling one paw out at a time for trimming. This serves to gently confine the cat and in some cases wrapping within a soft blanket calms them.

Of course, there are cats who never learn to calmly accept a nail clipping. If you have a helper and are comfortable working with a resistant cat, you can use what we call the scruff-and-stretch technique. This involves firmly grasping the skin on the back of the cat’s neck (i.e. scruffing, which doesn’t cause pain), while holding the cat’s body outstretched on a flat surface. This is a two-person technique, needing one to hold the cat by the scruff and lower body or legs, and another to clip the nails.

If you don’t have a helper or aren’t comfortable trimming on your own, you can always ask your vet or groomer for assistance. You can also use Soft Paws or Kitty Caps as an alternative to trimming. These products are small plastic sleeves that are glued on over a cat’s nail, and can be a fun, colorful alternative.

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