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Ask Dr Elliot: Is it ok not to clip my indoor cat’s nails?


cat_clawsA Pawfun Blog reader asks: Is it OK to just let indoor cat’s claws go without trimming? They have things to claw on. They won’t sit still for trimming.

Dr Elliot says: A lot of people are afraid to clip their cats nails and some think the cat can take care of its own nails.

I think it is better to clip the nails as often as needed, generally once a month or once every other month.

My own cat is very difficult when it comes to clipping her nails. I need to take her into my vet office to get assistance. I’m a veterinarian, and I need help, so don’t feel badly if you need help trimming your cat’s nails!

Even though the cat may use a scratching post their nails can get very long. This can cause the cat problems. Reasons to clip your cat’s nails:
• The nail can turn into the cat’s pad, especially the dew claws on the inside of their front feet. (These nails are not able to make contact with a scratching post.) This can be painful and lead to a serious infection.

The cat can inadvertently get its nails caught in a carpet or fabric when walking and jumping around the house.

• One of the most important reasons to me is that your cat may inadvertently scratch you when playing or jumping on you, a child or another animal in the household. Cat scratches can easily cause infection.

Just clipping off the points of the nails will make a big difference. If you can clip further down the nail, avoid the pink part (the vein inside the nail, which is called the quick). If your cat has all black nails and you can’t see the quick, just cut the points off.

If your cat is like mine, and likes to scratch furniture try Soft Paws (plastic covers for the nails). I use the colored ones (pink) so I can see if they accidentally fall off and when they are getting too long and need replacing.)

When they get long, usually in one to two months, you can cut them off just like you were cutting the regular nails. Then reapply. I’ve used these for my Persian cat for the last few years and it’s made a tremendous difference for my furniture.

Start when your cat is a kitten
Like any other form of grooming, this process is easiest when you begin it while your cat is still a young kitten, but it can certainly be done with adult cats as well. The best time to trim your cat’s nails is when she’s sleepy or relaxed.

First, spend a few days getting your cat used to the idea of you holding and examining her paws. While you’re relaxing together, try gently squeezing the toes apart to extend the claws. Praise kitty as you do this, and give her a small treat if she tolerates you touching her feet. When she’s no longer startled when you squeeze her toes, you’re ready to try clipping her nails. Hold a paw in one hand and press the toe pad gently to extend the claw.

Some tips:
o It may be easier if you have a second person hold the cat. Make sure the cat is relaxed before you begin!

o Never try to clip the nails of an anxious cat! If at any time your cat becomes anxious, stop immediately. Even if you only do one nail a day, don’t try to force the cat to let you clip its nails.

o Keep a styptic pencil or styptic powder handy in case you accidentally clip the quick. If that happens, apply the styptic, stop the bleeding, and stop the procedure for the day.

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I was always led to believe that nail-clipping (along with de-clawing) was cruel. I’ve had both indoors and indoor/outdoor cats, but none of them have needed their nails clipping. Scratching posts / trees outside seem to work fine with them.

Jill Elliot, DVM

Thank you for bringing up the issue. Declawing is definitely cruel. It is removing the first digit of the fingers on a cat’s foot, usually on the front feet. This can be painful and certainly be judged as cruel.

There is nothing cruel about clipping a cats nails on indoor cats. Many times their nails if too long can accidently scratch a house mate (cat), you, your children or your furniture.

Yes, scratching posts are great but the nail can get very sharp and do damage.
I’ve seen many cats with ingrown nails that turn into their pads, causing the cat undue pain, discomfort and infection.

I recommend cutting the nails of indoor cats. If you choose not to and it is not a problem for you and your cats, then do whatever works for you and your pets.
Have a great day,

Jill Elliot, DVM
NY Holistic Vet


My 12 year old male cat has claws that seem to be separating from the pad. I checked my 3 other cats and they are normal.