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In the wild, cats use their slightly curved claws to; hunt prey, for balance and for climbing and while you may not have a big cat on your hands that doesn’t make maintaining them any less important. Indoor and outdoor cats alike can get infections or develop deformities which can lead to problems with walking and joint issues if they are not properly looked after.
A cat’s claws can also give you insight into where they have been and what they have been doing. For example, if they are short and stubbly this can imply that your cat does a lot of climbing on harder surfaces, whereas if they are thin and needle-like they can be vertically scratching a lot. Cats that have been in accidents will also display scuffing on their claws and may even have the ends snapped off where they have fallen or tried to get away so it helps to keep a close eye on your feline friend.
There are two basic parts to the cat claw that you need to be aware of:
Wounds – Ensure that the claws aren’t bleeding at all or have any open wounds on the paws. This can be caused in a variety of ways but if you find that there is a cause for concern, gently wash and disinfect with salt water and cotton wool and seek the advice of a vet if necessary.
Shedding – It is completely natural for the nail to shed slightly and this can take on all forms but make sure to gently remove any pieces from the main nail to avoid them getting stuck under the claw. (most of these should go on their own after using a scratching post).
Too Short – If for any reason a nail has broken off too close to the quick you may find that it can cause irritation or pain and your cat could be limping. If this is the case try wrapping the claw or paw overnight and it should stop any dirt from getting caught as well as offering some relief (make sure not to wrap it too tight).
Foreign Objects – Make sure that there are no pieces of branch, thorns, leaves or fluff caught under the claw, try to gently remove them and give the claws a clean if necessary. If you can see it has gone down to the quick you may need the assistance of a vet or trained professional for help.
It is important to check the claws around once per week to avoid anything that might be caught or causing problems to become embedded or infected because then it is time for the vets!
It is important to note that even though I am going to offer some cutting advice, many cats are able to maintain the length themselves (particularly outdoor cats) and can use harder surfaces and scratching to wear them down. You may find that you need to start cutting the claws of elderly cats or those with arthritis (or the just plain lazy ones) because they are unable to maintain them on their own.
Trim! – Although it is called cutting their claws, don’t cut them all the way down to the quick because this can be painful or uncomfortable for them. In addition, cats that outdoors or used to climbing will struggle with much shorter claws all of a sudden!
Use cutters – Invest in a proper pair of cat/animal cutters. It is true that you can use human nail trimmers but this can put unnecessary stress on the nail and cause splitting or fractures to it because it is not designed for a claw shape (obviously). Plus you will ruin a perfectly good pair of trimmers!
Do it regularly – If you are going to choose to cut your cat’s nails they probably won’t bother looking after them by themselves at all (why would they?) so make sure to keep it up regularly for them for decent maintenance.
Build up to it – The easiest thing to do is start when they are kittens and then they are used to you checking their nails and there are no issues. However, you may want to start with a grumpy adult and you need to recognize they don’t want you suddenly touching their claws if they aren’t used to it. Make sure that you start by just touching their paws first when you stroke them, then gradually build up to applying slight pressure on them and then finally attempt to unsheath a claw. It could take a few weeks to build up but be persistent and patient and you’ll be rewarded.
Pick your moment – Don’t disrupt the eating process, don’t try to chase them around the house and definitely don’t sneak up on them, they don’t like it and they won’t be relaxed and it will be a negative experience all around that could hurt your chances next time. Wait until they are snuggled and relaxed (I’m sure you won’t have to wait long) and have a go then.
Wrap them up – For wriggly kitties you may find that wrapping them in a blanket or towel to restrict the other paws can help you to keep them still.
*If you are concerned about your cat at all you should always seek the advice of a vet*
Note on declawing – Although this is illegal in the UK (except for medical reasons) I have many US readers and I want to make it clear that you should not get your cats de-clawed. I am firmly against the process that can cause pain and discomfort to your cats as well as having no natural reason to have them removed it is inhumane. It is not the same as cutting the nails off and would be more likened to removing your fingers off at your knuckles, for more information check out these 8 reasons you should never declaw cats.
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