cats claw

What Happens If you Don’t Trim Your Cat’s Nails?

Cats, as everyone knows, are a paradox of a pet. They need constant attention and care to live a healthy life. But at the same time, your cat is going to dart away the moment you pull out the brush or heaven forbid the nail clippers. Clipping your cat’s nail is something that should be done with care.

We all want to keep our cats happy, but are there underlining health risks if you don’t trim their nails? And how exactly do you trim your cat’s nail without getting a scratch across your face?

What Happens When You Don’t Trim Your Cat’s Nails?

There are some issues that’ll arise if a cat’s nail is too long. This includes:

  • Nails getting stuck. If a nail is too long, it could get tangled on fabric, wood, etc. This might lead to your cat ripping its nail by accident, which can lead to infections.
  • Nails growing back into the pad. Common, unfortunately, with older cats. This can also lead to an infection.
  • They’ll want to scratch more. This can damage your furniture, plants, etc.

In short, very sharp nails can lead to complications or at the very least be annoying for both you and your cat.

cat showing nails

Do You Need To Trim Your Cat’s Nail?

Now that you know what happens to a cat’s nail if it’s not trimmed, do you need to actually trim it? In truth, cats are well adapted at caring for themselves, although you still might need to provide some help. Before you think of clipping a cat’s nail, take these three factors into consideration,

  • Is your cat an indoor or outdoor type?
  • Does your cat enjoy scratching?
  • Is your cat old?

Answering these three questions will give you a yes-or-no answer on trimming.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats

If your cat is an outdoor cat, trimming their nails is a bad idea. They need long, sharp claws for hunting, defense, and marking their territory. The claws of a cat release a pheromone, so by scratching they’re marking what areas they consider “theirs”. Shorter, less-sharp nails will hinder all these activities. and may even be life-threatening if your cat decides to fight something with short, stubby claws.

For an indoor cat, the story is different. They’re not really having to fight other cats and at most, they may hunt some bugs that are roaming around. So by trimming their nails, you’re not really hindering them although they may not like it when you pull clippers out.

Cat Enjoys Scratching?

Cats have a natural need to scratch, regardless if they live indoors or outdoors. As discussed earlier, this is because scratching is a way to mark territory as well as a natural stress relief, or a relief of boredom. An outdoor cat will have plenty of places and objects to scratch. For an indoor cat, they may get bored of the scratching posts and turn to furniture, plants, the curtains, and maybe even you!

So sharp claws on an indoor cat is likely going to lead to trouble, especially if they have a habit of scratching everything. Consider trimming the nails if they’re too long and your cat doesn’t seem interested in keeping its nails short.


Older cats can become arthritic and not get enough exercise. This in turn means they can’t scratch normally and can’t regulate the length of their claws. For an older cat, you will need to assist with trimming.

declawed cat

What’s The Difference Between Declawing And Nail Trimming?

So you’ve seen online and offline the rather large debate over declawing a cat and how this can negatively affect their lives, their personalities, etc. Others might claim declawing is good. I won’t touch on that subject, but instead explain the difference between declawing and nail trimming. For nail trimming, only the tips of the nails are being removed. Declawing is surgically removing the entire claw.

As you may guess, trimming means the nail will recover and declawing means it will never return. So if you’re worried that trimming their nails will hurt them, don’t worry! You’re just helping something cats do naturally, and need to do regulatory to maintain their health.

How To Trim Your Cat’s Nails.

Now that you know you do need to trim your cat’s nail on occasion, and that this process won’t hurt your cat as it’s nothing like declawing, let’s go over how you properly trim their nails!

Step 1: The Right Equipment

The first thing you’ll need is the right equipment, or more especially the right set of clippers. Some owners prefer regular human fingernail clippers, others may prefer clippers designed for cats. I recommend the latter, as this is normally the safer bet. You’ll also need cornstarch and a dry bar of soap for accidents, which I’ll go explain about in a moment.

Step 2: Approach Your Cat Slowly

Next up, you’ll need to actually get a hold of your cat. Just walking up to them, with a sharp object in your hand, is going to make them flee or “gift” you a swat on the face. Instead, you need to slowly approach your cat while acting normal. Cats can read body language and can understand the tone in your voice, so if your acting strange your cat may avoid you.

Step 3: Taking Hold Of Your Cat

Once you are close to your cat, grab them. But be gentle about it. You want to make sure you have a firm, yet gentle grasp on them. Some cats may be fine with being held like that, others may squirm. Your cat may be so well behaved that they’ll gladly plop themselves on a table or even roll onto their back. Regardless, you’ll want to be sure you’re holding them.

Step 4: Getting The Claws

Once you have a firm grip, you’ll want to get the claw extended. Using your thumb and forefinger, search for the joint on their paw and gently squeeze it. This will extend the claw for you, as your cat is likely not going to extend their claw for you. Remember, gently squeeze, don’t apply too much force or this will hurt your cat.

Step 5: Trimming

With their claw extended, and your preferred trimmer in hand, now’s the time to trim! You only want to clip a little bit off, never the full nail. Cats have nerves and blood vessels inside their nails in an area called “the quick”. This area is pinkish and with the right light, you can spot it. Never cut this area, as this will hurt your cat.

If you do by accident cut the quick, apply a small amount of pressure to the tip of the nail and dip the end of the nail into your cornstarch and rub it against the dry bar of soap. You won’t be able to trim anymore, but keep an eye on your cat to see if the bleeding will stop. If it doesn’t, contact your vet right away.

Step 6: Knowing When To Stop

Outside of accidentally cutting the quick, your cat isn’t going to feel much if any pain from a trim. Instead, your cat isn’t going to like being held in place while you’re maneuvering a sharp object close to them. If your cat is squirming or meowing loudly, it’s time to stop trimming. In truth, it’s very hard to trim all eighteen nails at once. When your cat gets adjusted, it’ll be easier to trim more nails.

So for starting out, only trim one or two nails at a time. If you can find them, go for the biggest and longest nails first.

Step 7: Providing A Reward

Once you’re done trimming their nails, reward your cat with a special treat. Providing a treat, no matter if your cat got any nails trimmed at all, will slowly get them used to having their nails trimmed. And this will make it much easier for you in the future!

Here’s a video tutorial showing how to effectively trim a cat’s nails.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it. If a cat isn’t able to have their nails trimmed or they’re unable to scratch, they can grow long which will cause complications. So it’s not a bad idea to provide some trimming in this situation.

But if you have an outdoor cat, their nails shouldn’t be a problem as they’ll handle it themselves in the wild. Your goal should be for the claws to not get too long where any complications can occur, but not too short either.

You may also like:

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top