If your cat bites when you’re trimming their nails, stop them by:
- Trimming their nails correctly so they aren’t in pain
- Introducing your cat to the nail trimmers slowly
- Having someone else hold your cat for you while you cut their nails
- Trying different claw cutting methods until you find one that works for you
- Hiring a professional to trim your cat’s claws
As someone with nine cats of my own, I know that nail trimming can be a difficult task, as I do it for my cats. Each cat is different, and some are more stubborn about the process than others!
In this article, I’ll teach you how to hold your cat and where to trim their nails to avoid hurting them. With this information, you’ll be a pro in no time!
And if your cat just won’t accept a nail trim, we’ll talk about your options for hiring an actual professional to handle your cat’s manicures.
Learn to Trim Cat Nails Correctly
One of the biggest reasons a cat bites when having their nails trimmed is due to pain or the memory of pain. If you don’t know how to cut your cat’s nails properly, you will hurt them and might even cause trauma that makes future nail trimmings difficult.
Follow the steps below to trim your cat’s nails without hurting them.
1. Practice Extending the Claw
Don’t try to cut your cat’s claw without extending it first, as without this you have very little visibility to see where you’re cutting.
Before you cut, practice extending your cat’s claws. You can do so by holding your cat’s paw in your hand. Hold one toe between your thumb and index finger, and press gently on the knuckle with your thumb.
Very little pressure is needed for the claw to extend. Once you can see the whole nail down to the quick, that’s the position you should be holding it in when trimming.
2. Identify the Quick of the Nail
Like cutting human nails, trimming a cat’s claws doesn’t hurt them when done correctly. But when you cut too deep, it’s painful.
This is because of the structure of our cat’s nails. If you look at a retracted cat claw, you’ll see that the part closest to their paw pads is pink. It’s easy to see in lighter claws, but if you have a black cat you might have to look more closely.
This part of the nail is called the “quick.” It contains blood and nerve endings that cause your cat pain if you cut into it.
The nail can also split down to the quick if you cut too short, but not into the quick itself or if you use cutters that are too dull.
Once you know where the quick of the claw is, you’ll be able to stay away from it when cutting.
3. Use a Sharp Tool
If you’ve noticed your cat’s nails splintering when you trim them, or they aren’t being cut all the way through, it’s time to buy a new tool.
It’s important to use a sharp tool when cutting your cat’s nails. A dull pair of cutters can cause your cat pain by splintering the nail too close to the quick, even if you cut much lower. It can also make nail trimming more difficult for you, as it’ll take more effort to make each cut.
With a sharp pair of nail trimmers, you’ll be able to trim each nail in under a second. This is especially important if your cat isn’t patient during nail trims or tends to misbehave, wiggle around, and bite.
4. Cut Only the Tip of the Claw
Now that you know to avoid the quick, where on a cat’s claw should you cut?
It’s best to start by trimming only the very tip of your cat’s claws. If you cut them too long, you can always go back later to cut more off. But if you cut them too short, you’ll injure your cat.
For this reason, it’s best to err on the side of caution until you gain more confidence knowing where to cut.
Never cut right up to the quick. It’s best to leave plenty of space to avoid injuring your cat, especially when you’re still learning.
Always ensure you cut the claw from the proper angle. The cut should be straight across, not angled, and you shouldn’t cut from side to side but rather perpendicularly.
5. Don’t Forget the Dew Claw
The dew claw is the most difficult nail to cut in my experience, but it’s also the most crucial. This nail gets worn down the least when your cat scratches, so it’s the most likely to grow too long and dig into their paw pads.
If you’re unsure what the dew claw is, it’s your cat’s fifth claw located on their “thumb,” a little further up the paw than their other nails.
6. If you Cut too Short, Stop the Bleeding with Flour or Cornstarch
If you do cut your cat’s nail too short and it bleeds, stop trimming and dip the claw into flour or cornstarch to stop the bleeding.
Keep a watch on your cat afterward to ensure the bleeding stops. If your cat is still bleeding after a few minutes, bring them to the veterinarian.
If you continue to have trouble cutting your cat’s claws, hire a professional instead. Nail trims are fairly cheap at the groomer—mine charges only $10.
It’s better to take your cat in every few months than to continue hurting them, which will in turn make them more averse to nail trims.
Have Someone Help you Trim Your Cat’s Nails
Having someone else hold your cat while you trim their nails can help to restrain them and stop them from biting.
The other person should hold the cat gently but firmly in their lap in a way that keeps their head away from your hands.
For instance, I have someone hold my cat Frank by the scruff. Remember to always hold cats gently, never with too much force. Don’t lift a cat by the scruff of the neck, as this can hurt them.
You can also try setting your cat on a surface and having someone hold them for you.
If your cat tries to kick and scratch instead of or alongside biting, try wrapping them in a towel and taking one paw out at a time.
Try Different Methods
You may need to try various methods of holding your cat before you figure out what works for you. Every cat is different, and I have a few methods that I use even in the same, multi-cat household.
My oldest cats weren’t trained from kittenhood, so it’s a bit trickier to get their claws cut. I hold them upright in my lap in an armchair, ensuring there isn’t any space behind me for them to wiggle into.
If I hold them on the floor or a kitchen chair, I’ve found they’ll back away and even slip through the holes of the chair!
When it comes to most of my cats, I’ve trained them since they were kittens to accept nail trims. I flip them onto their backs on my lap. This gives me easy access to all four paws, but I wouldn’t do this if they were aggressive or unused to nail trims; it also gives all four paws a chance to scratch me!
Lastly, I have one stubborn cat who needs to be held by the scruff for nail trims. When he’s sleepy, we leave him where he is, one person grabs his scruff, and the other trims his nails quickly. When he’s more awake (and usually a bit meaner!), he’s held in someone’s lap.
You might also consider wrapping a towel around your cat to restrain them. Take one paw out at a time to trim, then wrap it back up in the little “cat burrito” you’ve formed.
The best way to know what works for you is to experiment. Begin with the methods that use the least restraint to avoid stressing your cat unnecessarily, and work your way up from there.
Try holding your cat and not holding your cat. Attempt to trim their nails during nap time and see if they give you an easier time.
Hold them in various ways with various levels of restraint, such as with a towel, with their scruff held, or just sitting comfortably in your lap.
Ask various family members for help holding your cat and see if one of them keeps the cat calm better than the others.
Because every cat and every human is different, there’s no telling what will work best in your situation until you’ve tried.
Make Sure They’re Tired First
Sometimes cats bite because they’re wound up or bored, not out of aggression! If you haven’t played with your cat today, don’t try trimming their nails yet.
Playtime is crucial for keeping cats stimulated and giving them their needed daily exercise. If you don’t play with your cat, they’re likely to misbehave in a number of ways.
- Chase and pounce after your feet or another cat
- Run through the house at odd hours in the night, waking you up
- Bite and scratch when they aren’t supposed to!
Your cat should have 30-45 minutes of play every day, broken into short 10-15 minute sessions. I like to play with my cats before meal times, but other great times to play are before you leave for work or right before bed.
The best thing to do before trimming your cat’s nails is to play with them and really tire them out! Don’t go in for their nails right away after this, but wait a few minutes, maybe until they begin to settle in for a nap.
Now that they’re good and tired, you’ve found the best time to cut their nails. If they’re still biting, follow the steps below to train them out of this behavior.
Train Your Cat to Accept Nail Trimming
Training your cat to accept nail trimming is a process that requires patience. Ideally, it begins when a kitten is young and has no negative experiences with nail trims.
However, this isn’t always possible. You might have accidentally cut your cat’s claws too short and made them fear nail trims, or perhaps you’ve adopted a rescue who was never trained to accept having their paws handled.
No matter the age of your cat and their past experiences, here’s how you train a cat to accept nail trimming:
1. Introduce the Clippers
Show your cat the clippers and allow them to interact by sniffing them. They might even paw at or try to bite the clippers when you do this.
Reward good behavior, like sniffing the clippers or even if your cat stays calm while the clippers lay beside them. Give your cat pets praise, and even a treat or two.
If your cat bites the clippers, hisses, or otherwise shows aggression, move them further away and give your cat a chance to calm down.
Don’t punish or scold them for their reaction, however. Punishing your cat for being afraid will just make them more fearful.
Repeat this step until your cat can remain calm when the clippers are nearby.
2. Touch your Cat’s Feet
Don’t cut your cat’s claws just yet. Instead, handle their paws with your hands. Pet them gently, hold them, lift them, and extend the claws.
If your cat bites or shows signs of fear or aggression, stop and give them time to relax before trying again.
When your cat allows you to handle their feet, reward them with praise, pets, or treats. This is also a great time to familiarize yourself with your cat’s claws, like I discussed above.
Learn how to extend their claws, where the quick is, and where you should cut.
Try your best to stop touching your cat’s paws before they get upset. This way, you can end on a positive note by telling them how good they were, and it will make the next experience go more smoothly.
3. Start with One Claw
Once your cat can calmly be around the clippers and they’re letting you handle their paws, it’s time to make the first cut.
Start with just one claw and see how your cat reacts. If they do well, try to clip another claw, and so on.
If your cat tries to get away, let them go. It’s better for them to know they can leave when they like—if they feel trapped, they’ll be more likely to bite you.
The same goes for if your cat bites, growls, or is otherwise aggressive.
The goal is to make this experience as positive as possible for your cat so that they associate nail trims with good things like pets, praise, and treats—not bad things like feeling trapped, yelled at, or injured.
4. Continue Until You Can Trim all Nails
Continue these steps until you can trim all of your cat’s nails. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean you trim all of their nails in one sitting, however.
Maybe it takes you a week, trimming two claws a day. That’s perfectly fine! So long as your cat’s nails are being trimmed regularly and you aren’t being bitten, you’ve reached your goal.
Remember to have patience with yourself and your cat through this process. Some cats might breeze right through it, while others will need lots of time before they accept even one nail being trimmed.
If your cat has had negative experiences in the past or has been able to get out of it by biting, it’s going to take longer to train them.
Older cats who haven’t had to have their paws handled or nails trimmed will also take longer than young kittens.
Allow your cat to set the pace as much as possible. If their nails are getting too long, such as if they’re beginning to curl into your cat’s paw pads, bring them to a groomer or veterinarian for a nail trim.
This might set you back a few steps, and that’s okay! Start at step one if you have to, and keep on going.
If you need to give up in the end and just have a professional cut your cat’s nails, that’s also okay! Sometimes that’s the best thing for you and your cat.
A Calm Person Equals a Calm Cat
Remember that our pets take cues from us. Your cat can feel if you’re stressed about trimming their nails, and they will feed off of that energy.
Instead, approach the situation with calmness and confidence. This will help the process go smoothly for you and your cat.
If you’re afraid of being bit again, find a way to make it so that your cat can’t bite you, such as having someone else hold them. This will help you feel safer, and in turn, your cat won’t be as fearful either.
Hire a Professional
If you can’t get your cat to behave during a nail trim, or you can’t figure out how to trim your cat’s nails, it’s time to hire a professional.
I recommend finding a groomer who works with cats. Don’t hire a dog groomer—cats are different animals, and you need someone who is used to working with them.
If the groomer cannot trim your cat’s nails either, you’ll need to bring them to a veterinarian instead. This will be pricier, especially if they need to sedate your cat in order to get their nails trimmed.
Don’t make your cat go without a nail trim, as their nails will begin to curl into their paw pads and cause them pain.
Don’t declaw your cat either, as this practice is inhumane. It involves removing not just the claw, but also the knuckles of your cat’s feet. It can cause lifelong health problems for your cat, and might cause litterbox avoidance as well.
Lastly, declawing might make your cat bite more often because they feel vulnerable with no claws to defend themselves.
I am a freelance writer who specializes in the pet industry. My full bio