Nail Care for Cats

As part of their daily rituals, cats instinctively pull the claws on their front paws through surfaces that offer resistance. They do this to mark territory, exercise muscles normally used in hunting, relieve stress and remove worn sheaths from their nails. Scratching should be considered a natural behavior for cats. As cat owners, it is important to provide them with appropriate places to do so. 

Dangers of Declawing

Declawing is not merely the removal of the claws, as the term “declawing” implies. In humans, fingernails grow from the skin, but in animals that hunt prey, the claws grow from the bone; therefore, the last bone is amputated so the claw cannot re-grow. The last bone of each of the ten front toes of a cat’s paw is amputated. Also, the tendons, nerves, and ligaments that enable normal function and movement of the paw are severed. Medical drawbacks to declawing include risk of anesthesia, temporary or permanent pain in the paw or lameness, infection, tissue necrosis (tissue death) and back pain. There can also be a regrowth of improperly removed claws, nerve damage and bone spurs.

Psychological and behavioral implications to this procedure can be long-lasting. Some cats are so traumatized by declawing that their personalities change. Cats that were once lively and friendly may become withdrawn and introverted after declawing. Others, because they are deprived of their primary means of defense, become nervous, fearful, and/or aggressive and will resort to their only means of defense, their teeth. The constant state of stress caused by the feelings of defenselessness may make some cats more prone to disease. Stress often leads to physical and psychological disorders including the suppression of the immune system, cystitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Sometimes when declawed cats use the litter box after surgery, their feet are so tender that they associate the new pain with the litter box. They may permanently make this association which can result in a life-long aversion to the litter box. Other cats, because they cannot mark with their claws will mark with urine. This may result in inappropriate elimination problems that can further result in the relinquishment of the cat to a shelter and subsequent euthanasia.

It’s important to understand that scratching is a normal feline behavior. It is a means for cats to mark their territory both visually and with scent. Scratching also assists with nail conditioning, whole body stretching and maintenance of necessary claw motion used in hunting, climbing and defense. A cat’s primary means of defense is their claws. Non-declawed cats will use their front paw claws to stave off a threat by swiping. Without these claws, declawed cats have to resort to biting to protect themselves.

The Regina Humane Society (RHS) is opposed to the declawing of cats for routine purposes. Because of the discomfort associated with this surgery and the potential for future negative behavioral or physical effects, the RHS does not support declawing in lieu of alternative solutions to prevent unwanted scratching behavior. The RHS believes that declawing cats should only be performed when medically necessary or as a last resort when all alternatives have been exhausted.

Alternatives to Declawing

A variety of alternatives exist to manage natural scratching behavior and to prevent injury from cat scratches. These include having a cat’s nails trimmed regularly in order to blunt the tips and providing scratching pads, posts and other appealing structures for the cat to use. Employing behavior modification techniques to induce the cat to use them, using deterrents such as double-sided tape to protect furnishings and covering the claws with soft temporary pads (which are available at most pet stores and the RHS) can also be effective. Trimming your cat’s nails regularly is the easiest and most cost effective method to prevent damage to your property due to scratching.

The Art of Cutting Cat Nails

Contrary to popular belief, cutting cat nails is easy. While your cat may resist having their nails cut at first, they will eventually get used to the routine and accept it easily. Over time it will likely become possible to trim the nails without assistance, but having a person to aid in restraining the cat for the first few sessions may be beneficial.

The quick is the pink area on the nail that has blood supply and nerve endings. The quick must never be cut as it will cause pain to the cat and bleeding. Similar to human nails, only the white part of the nail should be cut. Until you’re comfortable cutting your cat’s nails, it’s recommended that you trim off only the tips of the nails to blunt them. Once you have more experience, you can trim closer to the quick. Nails should ideally be cut once per week or at least examined to determine if they need to be trimmed. Each nail grows at a different pace therefore trimming may be required for only some nails at any given time.

Step 1: Extend the cat’s nails outward by applying gentle pressure to the paw.

Step 2: Examine the nail to determine the location of the quick.

Step 3: Cut the nail a few millimeters from the quick.

Types of Nail Clippers to Use

Most pet stores as well as the RHS sell nail clippers suited for cats. It is best if they are a smaller size to allow for precision cutting to ensure the quick is not hit accidently. The photos below display ideal types of nail clippers to use. Often times human nail clippers will work just as efficiently as nail clippers designed specifically for cats.