6 Tips and Tricks for Effective Cat Claw Maintenance
Cat claw maintenance is more than just trimming your cat’s nails. You also need to provide plentiful scratching opportunities for your cat (so they don’t ruin your furniture!), and you might even want to consider claw caps for your feline friend. Here are six tips for ensuring your cat’s nails stay healthy and strong.
Understand Your Cat’s Claws to Better Care for Them
In order to provide the best cat claw maintenance for your feline friend, you need to understand how this part of their body works. So let’s look at:
- The anatomy of a cat claw
- How cat claws are used
- Why scratching is important
The Anatomy of a Cat Claw
While they are in the same location and appear somewhat similar to our human finger and toe nails, cat claws are fundamentally different from nails. We use the phrase “cat nails” and “cat claws” interchangeably in this article because many people still refer to their cat’s claws as nails.
Cats have eight claws – four on each foot – and a dewclaw on each front leg, located a little higher up the leg. Each claw is attached to the end of a toe bone. Like human fingernails, cat’s claws are made up of dead cells that have keratinized.
Ligaments in the toe allow the cat to retract and protract their claws. In the center of each claw is the quick, which is rich with blood vessels and nerves that help the claw grow.
How Your Cat Uses Their Claws
Cats use their claws for a variety of reasons. Watch your cat for a little while and you’ll likely see an example of how they use their claws: climbing, scratching, and digging. Claws are also important to help your cat maintain traction and balance.
Many of the functions of the claw, such as securing prey, evolved from when cats were wild and are less relevant for domesticated felines. Despite this, claws are still an important part of your cat’s anatomy and a cat should never, ever be declawed. Not only is this surgery unnecessary and puts the cat at risk of infection and a multitude of behavioral issues, but declawing also leaves felines with no method of self-defense should they ever find themselves outside.
Scratching Is an Important Cat Behavior
Most of all, cats use their claws to scratch – on posts, toys, furniture, and sometimes their human and animal friends. Scratching, while destructive if misdirected and sometimes painful for cat owners, is an important part of cat behavior.
Scratching allows your cat to express things, like discomfort or excitement. It also acts as a natural form of maintenance to keep their nails trimmed. Cats also have scent glands in their paws, so scratching can allow them to mark territory with their scent.
Use Proper Technique to Trim Your Cat’s Nails
Here are steps for trimming your cat’s nails properly:
- Start early with cat claw maintenance
- Get your cat used to physical touch first
- Introduce the instruments and go slowly
Introduce Your Cat to Claw Maintenance Early
Similar to the way you have to introduce your cat to dental care slowly, you’ll need to take your time while introducing this hygiene routine. It’s also advisable to do this early on in your cat’s life, as they will find it easier to adjust when they are young. You can start trimming a kitten’s nails as early as four weeks old.
Start with Touching Your Cat’s Paws and Toes
Start by getting your cat used to physical touch. Cats can be very sensitive on their feet and paws, and it can be very dangerous if they flinch while you are using the nail trimmers. Use your hands to touch their toes and paws and let them get used to the physical contact.
Introduce the Trimmer Before Your Start Trimming and Take It Slow
Once your cat seems comfortable with having their paws touched, you can let them sniff and get familiar with the trimmer. You might only get one or two toes done the first time you trim your cat’s nails – that’s okay. With time, you and your cat will both become more comfortable and adept with the new routine.
Choose the Best Cutting Tool for Trimming Your Cat’s Nails
While some cat owners choose to use human nail clippers for cutting their cat’s nails, it’s generally recommended to use specific cutting tools designed for cat claw maintenance. Most are made to ensure that you don’t cut too far down on the nail to prevent hurting your cat. You’ll need to figure out what works best for you and your cat. Some of your options include:
- Mini pliers
- Guillotine-style cat nail trimmers
- Grinders and dremels
You’ll also want to make sure you have styptic powder on hand to staunch the bleeding in case you cut the quick of your cat’s nail. This will cause extensive bleeding and you’ll need a way to make it stop quickly. A shampoo bar also works in a pinch.
Cat Trimmers in a Plier or Scissor Shape
Some cat nail clippers look like miniature pliers or scissors, with a long, curved blade. The length of this trimmer makes it a little easier to maneuver instead of using the short, stubby blade on a human nail trimmer.
Mini Guillotine Cat Nail Trimmers
These nail trimmers are especially easy to use because they provide a hole through which you place the cat’s nail. A sharp blade drops down once you have the nail in the proper place.
Dremels and Grinding Tools Can Be Used on Some Cats
While the noise and slow nature of a grinding tool won’t work for every cat, it can be a wonderful tool for ensuring you don’t cut the nail too short or cause bleeding. Dremels and other grinding tools allow you to file down the claw slowly rather than making a single cutting motion.
Establish a Consistent Nail Trimming Routine
A consistent nail trimming routine is crucial to your cat’s nail health. Establishing this routine will be different for every cat, so use these tips to create a schedule that works for you and your feline friend:
- Most cats need their nails trimmed once or twice a month
- Your cat’s personal behavior will impact the trimming schedule
- Your pet’s age will determine how regularly they need cat claw maintenance
Cat Nails Need Trimming Every Two to Four Weeks
Typically, a cat needs to have their nails trimmed every two to four weeks. Your cat’s nails are ready for a trim when they are super sharp, getting long, or starting to be deeply curved.
Behavior Impacts Your Cat’s Need for Nail Trimming
Your cat’s activity level and how much they scratch will obviously impact the regularity with which they need a nail trim. Similarly, the rate of nail growth for each individual cat will be slightly different. When setting an appropriate schedule for your cat’s claw maintenance, you’ll need to learn about your cat’s personal needs.
Older Cats Might Need Trims More Often than Kittens
Older cats’ claws grow differently than kittens. Furthermore, as cats get older they tend to be less active and participate in less scratching that will naturally reduce their claw length. Older cats also lose some of their ability to retract their claws, so it’s very important to keep them trimmed regularly.
Make Sure Your Cat Has Plenty of Scratching Opportunities
Scratching is how your cat will maintain their nails in between trims. Because this is a normal behavior, it’s important that you provide plentiful opportunities for scratching by:
- Choosing the right location and type of scratching post
- Considering other scratching toys
- Keeping your cat from scratching furniture
The Right Location and Type of Scratching Posts
Scratching posts are a must for almost any cat. First, you’ll need to determine if your cat has a preference for vertical or horizontal scratching. Some love to stretch upward to scratch, others would rather reach outward, and some cats will do both. Once you know how your cat likes to scratch, choose a scratching post or pad that is made of a material your cat enjoys, often carpet, rope fiber, or even cardboard.
Once you’re confident about your cat’s preferences, purchase a strong scratching post or pad and place it someplace in your home where your cat will be inclined to use it. This might be in an area where they are already scratching, such as near the side of a couch.
Other Types of Scratching Toys
A scratching post isn’t your only option, and a post might not be the best choice for cats with mobility issues like senior cats. There are also flat scratchers that you can mount on a wall or even leave on the floor for easy access.
Another type of scratcher toy comes in a lounge shape, where the scratching surface is lifted up on feet, sort of like a cat daybed. Some scratchers even come with additional interactive toys like feathers or pom poms to really encourage your cat to get scratching and keep those nails in shape.
How to Discourage Your Cat from Scratching the Furniture
Even when you provide scratching posts, pads, and loungers, your cat might still seem to prefer your furniture as a scratching surface. Luckily, there are a few ways to deter your cat from destroying all the fabric surfaces in your house.
Spraying a repellent on your cat’s favorite furniture may keep them away, but some sprays might stain. You can also place double-sided tape, plastic, or foil on the furniture where they’ve chosen to scratch. After your cat has started to avoid the surfaces, you can remove the material from your furniture.
Consider Nail Caps: Pros and Cons
Another consideration for cat owners looking to reduce scratching behavior is claw caps. Let’s look at:
- What are nail caps for cats?
- What kind of cat can use claw caps?
- Tips for applying nail caps for cats
What Are Claw Caps for Cats?
Claw caps or nail caps are simply small pieces of plastic that cat owners glue onto their cat’s nails to eliminate their sharpness. Nails caps can be applied at home with adhesive, and they’re generally inexpensive. They also come in various colors, which many cat owners enjoy.
You still need to remove the claw caps and trim your cat’s nails regularly, often every four to eight weeks.
Wearing Nail Caps Won’t Work for Every Cat
While claw caps allow for a cat to retract and protract their claws, the claws will have no sharp scratching power or traction. For this reason, nail caps should never, ever be used on a cat who spends any time outside. Claw caps are exclusively for use with cats who live their entire lives indoors.
While some cats will adjust to nail caps quickly and easily, others will find the caps very annoying and might never get used to them. Furthermore, the process of applying the nail cap can be a daunting one for both cat and cat owner. Every cat is different, and you shouldn’t force your cat if wearing nail caps is traumatizing or uncomfortable for them.
What You Need to Know About Applying Nail Caps for Cats
Applying a set of nail caps doesn’t have to be complicated. The first step is choosing the right size claw cap, which will be determined by your cat’s weight. Soft Paws Nail Caps are a popular choice for many cat owners.
Trim your cat’s nails before applying nail caps. Fill the nail cap with a small amount of glue – you don’t want any to spill over onto your cat’s toes or fur – and apply it with gentle pressure over the nail. Monitor your cat for a few hours afterwards in case a cap falls off and you need to reapply it.
You might not get all of your nail caps for cats applied in one sitting. Take your time and ensure your cat is calm and rewarded throughout the whole process, even if it takes a few days.
Caring for Your Cat’s Nails Is Part of Caring for Your Cat
If you’re a cat owner, cat claw maintenance is going to be a significant part of your life. Your cat’s nails are an important part of their body that allows them to stay active and play, so regular nail trimming will be an important part of your cat grooming routine. Whether you choose to use claw caps or scratching posts, make sure your cat has everything they need to keep this part of their body healthy.