Saturday, 16 August 2014

Rule of Thumb

This is written in response to The Stunning Keisha's Claws post as it would have been too long for a comment. I am no expert and neither would I advocate something for another cat I've never laid hands on. However, I am happy to tell my story of how I trim my cats nails. It works for us so I am happy to share on that personal basis.

I only realised when I was rereading this before posting that it probably says more about me than about nail trimming. Obviously, anyone knows the theory of how to trim a cats claws as all you do is clip the very end of the claw avoiding the red vein...seeemples! Well, it would be, but we all know about the gap between theory and practice when working with a cat who has other ideas.....!

Magic and Red have been having Mani-Pedi's since kittenhood but it was on Cat, their predecessor, that I first started doing nail trims. Cat was a much trickier proposition with an overdeveloped sense of ego and we were inexperienced cat owners. Nail trimming started when she was an adult cat and serious wrangling was often needed as she was an outraged ninja cat. There was always protest but as the years went on it became token noises just to save face! I don't always win the first couple of rounds and have received a fair few 'second prizes' for my troubles as I posted last year. 

Nail trims are essential around here every 3-4weeks. Magic in particular shares her love by hanging on in a fierce cuddle over my left shoulder. She's so secure I have actually been able to take both hands away and she stays in place. Unfortunately if her nails are not kept under control she unintentionally shreds my shoulder. Red has huge soft long fingered paws which I suspect may have an opposable thumb. He uses them very dextrously and I fear him getting a nail caught and ripping it off. It is fine if someone is around and knows not to help him pull the nail out but to do the converse and stroke the top of the paw to make him retract it. 24hr supervision is not possible but regular nail trimming sorts this.

Both sleep well but neither does the profound 'sleep of the dead' that Cat used to achieve so I always do it with them awake as they would trust me less if they woke to find me attacking their nails. I also don't do it in their sleeping or resting places as that would make these places seem less safe. I tell them what needs done in advance and ask for their permission and help. Yeah, I know.... how nuts am I?

I quietly get a bath towel and some toenail clippers which are only used for the cats. Don't open the nail clippers in advance, they can hear them from a hundred paces and vaporise! I don't use the curved vet nail clippers as I found them awkward to know where I am cutting and the nail shredded which still makes me sick to think of it-eeugh. When they were kittens the small fingernail clippers worked fine.

I go and collect the victim cat and close the door of the room I am using which doesn't have inaccessible hidey holes. I settle us down and offer lots of reassurance and an opportunity to do it by cooperation without a restraining towel. It is soon clear whether this is going to be possible and if not I go straight to the towel to save prolonging any distress. I reckon the towel is used around half the time. I am very purposeful about nail trimming and I like to think both of mine are secure in knowing it is not a battle to the death to escape but a fairly short procedure with a fixed end and cuddles to signal it being over.

I normally sit on the bed cross-legged holding the cat like a baby with their spine to the crook of my left arm and rest their bottom in my cross legged lap as this gives a little hollow to sit them on and make the back legs stick out. This means I can restrain them by trapping them between my arm and side/tummy and still have the left hand for securing the paw and extending each claw. If I'm using a towel I use a kidnap style wrap crossing it over tightly at the neck, not too tight but firm enough to repel an escape. It can be useful to lay the towel out across your lap for quick access. The right hand is the clipping hand. If you are a leftie, just read this in reverse :-)

Shouts of outrage I ignore and talk softly and reassuringly as I work, but if they get very distressed I release them and restart within an hour. Usually, I just do the other one then come back to the protester. This allows them to settle but also underlines that when I say it is nail cutting time then it is! I think this cuts down on confusion and lessens distress.

If the cat is not very compliant I always cut the back claws first so that if a rogue paw escapes I don't end up with the skin flayed from the underside of my forearm. Alternatively if everyone is playing nicely then either I pick up the first paw or loosen the towel a fraction and 'allow' a front paw to pop out then retighten the towel and start the snipping.

I only snip the tips and avoid the red area with the vein because it is correct and also because the thought of a bleeding one makes me want to vomit and my tummy flip inside out! Be prepared for your otherwise normal cat to appear only to have three legs. I have no idea how they do it but both seem capable of secreting a back leg about their person at nail trimming time!

I don't stop for treats or draw it out in any way. I do lots of reassurance but make it clear this is happening, I am totally on their side but it needs done, and I am doing it. It is very purposeful and over as quickly as possible then I use final words like 'all done', 'finished' and do lots of petting or a big cuddle. Sometimes they just want to jump down which is fine and I fill the food bowl or crack out the really good treats all with loads of praise.

I prefer to do nail trimming at home. It isn't exactly fun but this way there are no scary trips to the vets. It is all done at home by the beloved human and it is all very routine, firm but fair. It doesn't always go to plan but I will win the war if not every minor battle. The job doesn't involve the use of sedation but with Red I very occasionally use zylkene when other situations are distressing him. It is a milk protein derivative and doesn't cause any of the scary side effects of the traditional sedations. I wrote a pile of posts between here and here on my experience of using it on Red. Our vet recommended it and I wouldn't suggest anyone tries anything without checking with a vet.

In the past this used to be a two or even three person job but in all honesty early on I realised it was much easier by myself. Involving the rest of the family meant coordinating holds and changing positions and I found that more stressful. I also think the cat felt more distress at being outnumbered. Doing it one-on-one with the cat means the focus is exclusively on the cat, they are in a cuddle hold and facing outwards without being crowded and it is easier to adjust the hold and pace more easily.

If anyone has good tips of their own I am always opening to learning something new.


  1. Thnks for writing this. TW used to be good at trimming claws. She could even trim one of the outdoor cats years ago. Nicky was her heart cat but he was sensitive about his claws. A mobile groomer used to come to the house every month or so. She will not work with me. I have too many “issues” both emotional and physical. We may ax about that zylkene. I am a very strong willed cat. PS: I’m glad you didn’t recommend scruffing me.

  2. When we had Kitty and Fred I used to clip both of their claws, neither liked it but I sat on the floor and flipped them on their back like a sheep being sheared to do it. They both hated it but I'm glad to say that so far I haven't had to do this lot. You made me laugh about not openening the clippers because they hear them, your're so right there. lol

  3. Wow, those are some great instructions. I can't see all my wild ones letting me do that. Maybe one or two but that would be it. It might be kind of fun to try though. Good for some laughs. Great post and thanks.

  4. My human considers herself lucky that none of us kitties poses much of an issue when it comes to claw trims. Even Binga, our complainer, can be done one-person. The other day, my human trimmed ALL of Boodie's claws with her sitting on her lap - and she wound up with the furry skirt to prove it!

  5. I know this was intended as a serious post but I found it really funny at the same time as being useful!!! Cats are a humorous business!! X

  6. Chris is the holder,I am the clipper.All but three are easy peasy,Heathcliff and Jacob I have to stealth clip when they are half asleep on the bed...William is so terrified that he gets done at the vets...for now!
    Jane x

  7. I am so very lucky that I started all of my cats young and the trust is there, because with seven cats if I weren't able to do it efficiently I'd have to take a week's vacation to get them done :)


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