The decision to trim a cat’s claws has always been a controversial topic. Some people feel that it is cruel, comparing it to a human getting their fingers cut, while other people think it is perfectly fine to do so. But before we dive into the dos and don’ts regarding cat nail trimming let’s breakdown the anatomy of a cat’s claw.
Is it necessary to trim a cat’s claws?
No it is not necessary to trim a cat’s claws in most cases.
First and foremost, trimming is different from declawing. Declawing is done through a surgical process called onychectomy, wherein the entire claw is removed. This is a barbaric practice that should not be done to any cat. Just imagine your entire nail being removed, that is what it would feel like when done to a cat.
Trimming, on the other hand, is similar to when we clip just the tips of our fingernails when they get a little too long. When it is done correctly, it will not be painful for your cat. That is not to say that your cat is going to enjoy this experience. It is also important to note that it is very easy to hurt your cat when you clip its nails, so be careful.
You should also consider the need to trim a cat’s claws depending on whether your cat is an indoor or an outdoor cat. Outdoor cats need their claws sharp for climbing trees and catching prey. On the other hand, indoor cats usually have scratching posts to help with filing down his/her claws. But if an indoor cat scratches your furniture, a trim can help so they do less damage on your property.
The older cats get, the less physically active they become, which mean they won’t be able to walk or climb as much so their nails are going to keep growing. This is not good for the cat, since the nail may start to grow inward and penetrate the cat’s footpad, causing an infection. This is an instance when trimming may be necessary.
How do you trim a cat’s claws?
The younger a cat is accustomed to trimming, the better. This means that they feel comfortable with the practice and will not fuss around as much, which lessens the possibility of accidentally hurting them. Trimming an adult cat who has never had its claws trimmed before is close to impossible without sedation.
Choose a quiet place to do the trimming so the cat doesn’t get startled by any sudden noises or movements.
- Hold the cat against your body. If necessary, wrap the cat in a towel to minimize movement.
- Take your cat’s paw between your thumb and index finger and hold it. Your cat may try to fight you on this. Just keep trying until you have a firm but comfortable grip.
- Press your thumb into the footpad. This will make the claws splay making it easier to trim the tips of each claw.
- Trim a few millimeters off the top, making sure to only clip a little above the transparent claw edge. Never go past the transparent edge.
Are there alternatives if I don’t want to trim my cat’s claws?
If you don’t feel comfortable or confident enough in trimming your cat’s claws, you don’t have to. There are other ways to deal with your situation, either for your cat’s claws or for how you, as an owner, will approach these scenarios in the future.
1. Let your cat outside.
If it isn’t too much of a hassle, or if it is even at all possible, let your cat outside. Letting your cat walk on rough surfaces, like dirt, concrete, brick, rocks, and letting it climb trees is going to naturally file down your cat’s claws. If there are no known predators or wild animals in your vicinity, this is a great option to consider for your cat. But if it isn’t feasible, that’s okay.
2. Be more understanding about your life with your cat.
When you decided to own a cat as a pet, you should’ve assessed and considered the changes it might make to your life. If you have expensive furniture all over your house, you should be open to the possibility of your cat scratching on it, because the chances that it will happen is never going to be zero.
That is simply the reality of being a cat owner. If your cat is a priority in your life, above any other material possession you own, then, in the end, you should always just be fine with whatever it may do to your things. Because you could trim a cat’s claws, but if it loves scratching on your couch, it’s going to keep scratching on your couch, no matter what.
3. Get a scratching post for your cat.
A scratching post is a fair middle ground for you and your cat. When it has something that it can destroy with no consequence, it won’t bother scratching on your furniture. A scratching post is also good for filing down a cat’s claws, without having to put a cat through the possibly traumatic experience of trimming its claws.
Cats in the wild scratch on tree bark, so a scratching post is a good mirror to a cat’s natural behavior.
There are different designs of scratching posts. Ones that have toys dangling on them, and ones that are tall enough to reach the ceiling. There are even ones that are mounted on walls, kind of like your cat’s very own jungle gym.
Whatever they may look like, the important thing is that they are made to keep your cat busy for hours, and draws their attention away from scratching your furniture.
Some cats take to using their scratching posts immediately, but some cats may need training on how to use it, which may be difficult.
It truly is a win-win purchase all around.
What is a cat’s claw?
A cat has five toes on each front leg, and four toes on each of his/her hind leg. The fifth toe on the front leg is called a dew claw, similar to the human thumb. This appendage is what helps the cat climb trees or posts.
A cat’s claws are retractable, meaning they are visible, with the help of the flexor tendons, when they are extended. A cat exposes his/her claws when it needs to defend itself, when it is hunting for prey, and when it has to climb an object. This means the claws never touch the ground; hence they do not get naturally filed down easily, unlike a dog whose nails wear down when they dig or just run around.
The claw is made up of two parts, the nail pulp at the center which has all the nerves and blood vessels; and the keratinized part which is made up of the superposition of the horny layers. Just like our nails, a cat’s claw will keep growing. This means that if a cat accidentally loses a claw for whatever reason, it’ll grow back.
Image: istockphoto.com / demaerre