By Dr Reeja George P*

Though Kitty’s claws appear markedly different from ours, they have many things in common, from delicate cuticles at their bases to very sensitive nail beds that hurt if we press them too much. But unlike humans, Kitty sheds the covers of her nails as thin layers as they grow, discarding in the process the old material, giving way to shiny and sharper new claws.  Kitty has a way of aiding this shedding process; she sheds as she scratches on the scratching posts that you give her, or any other easily accessible material such as the living room couches and sofas! Regular scratching is a routine part of her life as she gets about keeping herself impeccably neat and tidy. In case she has any underlying health issues that prevent her from engaging in her ‘scratchy’ activity, it will be reflected in the general dull and thick appearance of her nails.  A critical point that a cat parent would always have to keep in mind is that the cat nail grows directly from the last bone of her toe.

The In and Out Claw Game

Cats, and all members of the Felidae family, except for the cheetah, are endowed with sharp claws/nails that can be retracted within protective skin folds. Kitty uses these very sharp and strong claws for climbing and catching prey and when the job is over, these are retracted and safely stored away in protective skin folds.  A superficial layer of cornified claw sheath is shed when Kitty sharpens her claws by scratching them on rough surfaces.

Claw Tools

There are different types of nail trimmers available in the market. These include the following:

  1. The Scissors Type: Though it looks like scissors, this type of nail trimmer has an additional notch like structure to hold the claws steady as one clips the nail. The scissors type is easy for beginners to use.
  2. The Plier Type: This type is relatively stronger and comes with broad handles that make it easy for cat owner to hold on to. This type is especially convenient to use in older cats, where the nails may have a tendency to be thicker and heavier, when compared to younger cats. The plier type is more popular among cat parents and cat beauticians.
  3. The Guillotine Type: This type is featured with a loop through which you have to pass the cat’s nail after which it would be cut with a blade. The Guillotine type generally has a tendency to lose its sharpness faster as compared to the other types and this would affect smoothness of the nail cut, causing the nail to break on cutting.  Other disadvantages of this type include the limited visibility that it offers to the cat parent as they cut the nail.

Nailing the Cut!

  1. Go Gentle With Her

Never make her apprehensive about what’s going to happen. Let it all begin like a routine petting event. Keep her in your lap and gently massage her paws for a few seconds. If she pulls away, she may, don’t retaliate by grabbing her paw, be the gushy parent and gently, playfully follow her paw once again. After a few more rounds of this ‘touch me – touch me not’ game, proceed gently to press her pads so that her claws extend out, keeping the atmosphere cuddly with those crooning parent mews! Remember that cats vary in their ‘touch permissive nature’; some like it, some just tolerate it, some detest it. In the last two cases, you will need time to gain her trust by playing the ‘touch me – touch me not’ game and rewarding her with a treat just after this, so that she gets to  associate nail trimming with pleasant experiences.

  1. Getting Used to the Clatter of the Trimmer

Cats are very sensitive when it comes to unfamiliar sounds; it just gets on their nerves. Anything that they are not used to would frighten them and get the adrenalin pumping. Allow her to get used to the ominous sound of trimmer as she lazes in your lap. As a first, play the ‘touch me – touch me not’ game with her paws and nails and after extending her nails out of their pouches, trim a little thin twig that you have in your lap instead of her nails! Follow this episode of nail peeping and popping and twig trimming with a treat for her.

  1. Making the Cut

Making the cut is a crucial moment for Kitty and you as a cat parent. Be very careful and correct in making the cut. There should never be any pain in the process. For this, you have to ensure that both of you are relaxed and in a quiet room, with no people, animals or blaring sounds in the background.

After the initial cuddling and nail pop in – pop out game, ensure that she is restrained gently by placing her in your lap and draping your forearms over her head, neck, and hind end.

Gently press her nail pad again and check the nail carefully to identify the part of the nail where you see a small triangle like part just below the base of the nail, which is pinkish in colour and is called the nail quick. This is a very sensitive part of the nail with blood vessels and nerves. You have to leave a space of nearly 2mm above the quick and clip the white part of the nail only. Remember that it is always safer to cut less off than to cut more off.  Never attempt anything below this 2mm area; if you do, you could be cutting into the sensitive quick area, which would be painful not to mention the bleeding part.

Always keep your clipper at 90 degrees to the nail and make sure that you cut from top to bottom and not from side to side. Placing the trimmer parallel to the claw so that you cut side to side would result in crushing and splintering the nail.

Always ensure that the trimmer is sharp and top this process up by filing the cut end of the claw.

See how Kitty has taken the episode. If she is unperturbed by the events, go on and cut the next one in a similar fashion. Some cats allow only one or two nails to be trimmed at a time. Suit her demands, there’s no short cut! Anyhow, after any trimming, reward her with a treat so that she keeps this association of nail cutting and treats.

Cats have a claw that lies on the inner side of the cat foot, this is the dew claw, and it requires special attention because these are not worn out through regular Kitty scratch expeditions. If left unattended, these could grow inwards, curling into a circle, into the skin of the foot. Dew claws should be cut from top to bottom as well and not from side to side using the scissors type of nail trimmer.

Frequency of Nail Trimming and Help If Needed

Generally Kitty will need a nail trim every two weeks, if she has limited scratching activity. You have to check her nails and see if they are over growing or not. In case you cannot identify her nail quick, or she remains very uncooperative, allow her to be so, in such cases don’t force her. In such cases, just see your vet who will ensure that Kitty is kept calm as her nails are trimmed.

*Author is Associate Professor, Department of Veterinary and AH Extension, College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Mannuthy, Thrissur, Kerala 680 651, Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University.

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