How to Approach a “Difficult” Nail Trim

mojo-laura-cochrane

Guest post by Laura Cochrane, DVM

If you ask Mojo the cat about his favorite pastimes, nail trims would definitely NOT be on the list. Sleeping and eating, yes. Nail trims, a big NO.

Mojo is a tough-looking former stray who now holds court at the office of Spirit Essences*. He was rescued by none other than Jackson Galaxy, the cat behaviorist who co-founded the line of flower essences with Jean Hofve DVM. Mojo loves people and spends his days going from office to office, making sure everyone is staying on task. He’s adjusted quite well to being spoiled and is even a big softie most of the time—except on nail trim day.

I see my fair share of cats who are “difficult” when it comes to pedicures. Some cats have had a bad experience in the past, while others just resist any sort of restraint. Some growl, and some try to bite. Mojo does both.

Approaching the difficult nail trim

Whether I’m working with Mojo or any other cat who doesn’t like nail trims, preparation is key. Here are some things to remember:

Cats have an amazing ability to pick up our energy. If you’re nervous or anxious, your cat will know. Remember to take a deep breath and try to stay calm.
• Keep everything as positive as possible. What does your cat like? Maybe it’s a favorite toy, food, or treats. Make sure they’re available and ready before you get started.
Get all of your supplies ready. Gather your nail clippers, styptic powder (just in case you need it), a towel or blanket, and calming products (see below).
Dress for success. Be sure and protect yourself with long sleeve shirts and long pants, preferably jeans. If you’ve been around unfamiliar animals, change into clean clothes so you’re not bringing a scent that may upset your cat.

Setting the stage

By using your environment to your advantage, you can help keep stress to a minimum for both you and your cat.

Minimize distractions. The last thing you want is your phone ringing just as you’re getting started. Be sure to silence any phones, ask people to speak quietly, and turn off loud music. Are you expecting anyone to ring the doorbell or turn on the lawnmower? Avoid any surprises!
Play music designed for cats. Just as music can calm our nerves, it has also been shown to help ease anxiety in cats. Consider playing some soft music to help relax everyone and cancel out exterior noise. There are even options for calming music designed specifically for cats*!
Get the treats ready. If possible, have someone else around to distract your cats with favorite treats, food, or a shiny toy.
Location is key. For most cats, it’s best to do the nail trim in whatever room they’re most at ease. Make sure that you have enough light, and then sit wherever you’re most comfortable, whether it’s cross-legged on the floor (my preferred technique) or on a sofa or chair. A blanket or towel can be used to “swaddle” the cat, and you can lean forward and use the gentle pressure of your body to help keep him still. For those cats who don’t respond well to being on the floor, placing them high up on a countertop or table can distract them enough to get the trim done.

cat-thundershirt

Mojo in his ThunderShirt

Tools to ease stress

Minimizing stress is the goal with every nail trim. By using one or more of the following, you can help ease your cat’s anxiety:

Flower power is real. Flower essences can have a dramatic calming effect. While Bach’s Rescue Remedy* is a commonly used combination essence, there are many other options. Mojo responds well to Stress Stopper by Spirit Essences. It’s applied topically several times before his nail trim, either directly to his fur or sprayed onto a brush.
Clothing is optional (for cats). Most people have heard of a ThunderShirt to ease anxiety in dogs, but it’s also a great product for some cats. The ThunderShirt* applies pressure to help calm your cat. This technique works wonders for Mojo. You can even spray the ThunderShirt with a calming spray like “Stress Stopper” to get added benefit!
Massage the scruff. While this doesn’t work for all cats, its effect can be dramatic. Try massaging the skin over your cat’s neck to find out if this technique relaxes her. You’ll know within a few seconds. If she relaxes, continue the massage. Then get the nail clippers ready and try one nail. Go back to the massage and repeat. If possible, a friend can take over massage duty while you trim the nails.
Some like it hot. Just like a warm bath can relax us, a warm towel can work wonders for a stressed cat. Try swaddling your cat in a towel that’s fresh out of the dryer.
Calming treats* may help. There are numerous treats available that can help ease anxiety in cats. It can be challenging to find one that is palatable and actually works, so it’s best to test them in advance of the nail trim. Another option is a topical cream like Bach’s Rescue Cream. It contains a combination of five flower essences that help ease stress. Apply a small amount of cream to the inside of both ears flaps (where there isn’t fur) about an hour before the trim. Repeat about 15 minutes before the trim.
A tired cat is a good cat! If your cat enjoys interactive toys like Da Bird* (my favorite!), get him tired before his nail trim. A 10-15 minute session should do the trick!

Since all cats are unique, you’ll have to experiment to see what works best. Mojo responds well to flower essences, a ThunderShirt, and lots of treats. Remember that even if you only get one or two nails at a time, that’s okay!

All is forgiven

All is forgiven

Laura Cochrane, aka “Dr. Kind Klaws” offers in-home nail trims, nail caps, and solutions for scratching issues  in Portland, Oregon. She serves as the Oregon Director for The Paw Project, a nonprofit organization working to end the inhumane practice of declawing through education and legislation. For more information, please visit http://www.DrKindKlaws.com.

Editor’s Note: Sadly, Mojo passed away in November of 2016. He will be missed.

*FTC Disclosure: We are an affiliate partner of Spirit Essences and Amazon. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links, we get a small commission. We only spread the word about products and services we’ve either used or would use ourselves.

14 Comments on How to Approach a “Difficult” Nail Trim

  1. Lois D.
    April 22, 2017 at 8:58 am (7 months ago)

    Great article! Like everyone else here I have a lot of trouble with basic grooming of my kitty. The moment she senses something is up she goes from sweet to terrifying! I saw this grooming bag online was wondering what your thoughts were on it. Would you recommend it or has anyone tried something similar?

    https://kittycatastrophe.com/products/new-mesh-cat-grooming-bathing-bag-no-scratching-biting-restraint-for-bathing-nail-trimming-injecting-examing

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 22, 2017 at 9:48 am (7 months ago)

      I’m not crazy about this grooming bag, or other products like it. It’s the same principle as the “towel burrito” – you wrap the cat in something that prevents her from getting away, and then trim one paw at a time. I think, like the towel burrito, it can work, but only if the cat doesn’t get stressed by being restrained that way. If you decide to try it, I would build up gradually to using it. Reward your cat with treats as long as she’s calm inside the bag, but stop and let her out of the bag immediately if she starts fussing. Gradually increase time inside the bag to make sure she’s comfortable before you even start trimming her nails.

      Reply
  2. KathyKat
    March 13, 2017 at 8:33 pm (8 months ago)

    The first part of socialization, with my resident cats and my fosters, is to cuddle and play with paws. Getting them comfortable with having their paws messed with, during cuddle time, helps them to build trust. Then, when we’re cuddled, I get the clippers and do however many nails at a time they’ll let me do. Sometimes it’s all of them, sometimes it’s just one or two. Whenever they’re done, I’m done… ’til next time, then we get some more. It’s always associated with cuddle time, though, and eventually they all become comfortable with their nails getting trimmed – it becomes a part of the bonding ritual that cats so love.

    Reply
  3. Ale
    March 7, 2017 at 2:40 pm (9 months ago)

    neither of our kitties likes their nails cut and one doesn’t like to be carried, swaddled, wrapped or anything that restrains her free movement. I usually get them when they are sleepy (before they sleep or right when they are waking up) and if they get fuzzy I do one or two paws at a time. I’ll give a try to these tips 🙂

    Reply
  4. Angela
    December 23, 2016 at 12:18 pm (11 months ago)

    Hey Feline,
    Thank you very these fantastic tips , and yea to be honest i had some difficulties to trim nail for my cat, and i will try to put in action a few some of your tips and hopefully it will be much easer for me.

    Cheers
    Angela

    Reply
  5. Monica Ackerman
    October 11, 2016 at 6:15 pm (1 year ago)

    Ingrid, you have no idea what we went through with Maxximus my senior cat now deceased. He not only screamed but growled, hissed, tried to bite, fur was flying. I had to hold him wearing long work gloves while my friend clipped. Sometimes he got her with his hind legs while she was doing the front. Nevertheless we loved him and my friend always offered to clip him when he needed it. No problems with my two now but they know what’s coming and go into hiding. Luckily my friend is good at dragging resisting kitties out from under the bed or from deep inside the closet.

    Reply
  6. Peyton
    October 11, 2016 at 6:09 pm (1 year ago)

    I follow all of the advice given before trimming our cats (5) nails, then i think of errand to run and let my wife do the trimming. She only goes a couple of days without talking to me.

    Reply
  7. Cheri Collins
    October 10, 2016 at 6:17 pm (1 year ago)

    Another way to approach nail clipping with a cat who hates it is to clip one nail / day. I think the particular cat I’m clipping now may have arthritis in her paws, and certainly didn’t have regular nail trims before she came to live with me at 12 years old. She screams as soon as I just put pressure on the paw to extend a nail. I just clip the one nail and say, “All done.” It’s over before she can get angry with me. When I tried wrapping her in a blanket and clipping all claws in one session, she screamed and struggled the whole time, and afterwards wouldn’t speak to me the rest of the day-evening. She sat in the top nest in one of cat trees and stared at me. But when I looked in her direction, she deliberately looked away. I got the message.

    Reply
  8. Chery
    October 10, 2016 at 10:06 am (1 year ago)

    Love Dr. Laura
    She’s been wonderful with our foster Cats.
    So patient,kind,and gentle

    Thank You
    Dr. Laura
    Nine cats in need

    Reply
  9. Random Felines
    October 10, 2016 at 9:45 am (1 year ago)

    most everyone here is ok with the nail trims – except Ivy…she has to be tricked into being wrapped up and you have to work fast. fortunately she isn’t a biter just a screamer 🙂

    Reply
  10. Janine
    October 10, 2016 at 8:08 am (1 year ago)

    Thanks for the tips

    Reply
  11. Sue Brandes
    October 10, 2016 at 7:33 am (1 year ago)

    Thanks for the tips. I have one who won’t let me do them at all and one who doesn’t like his paws touched.

    Reply
  12. Angela Bronson
    October 10, 2016 at 6:33 am (1 year ago)

    Thank you for the tips, its the first time hearing about music for cats.
    I have just aquired a new hyperactive kitty who gets all wound up at night and when I tried the cat music he was significantly less active during the night and actually chilled out for once 🙂
    Thanks again

    Reply
  13. Raine
    October 10, 2016 at 4:16 am (1 year ago)

    Excellent tips, none of my guys like nail trims. I have to take two of my polydactyl cats to the vet to have their nails done because they won’t let me get at all if the nails and I felt terrible when I noticed that I missed a few and they were badly ingrown. I am definitely going to use these tips for my others, I can get maybe two nails then they start deciding they’ve had enough. Thank you for all of the tips, especially about me being calm, I’m definitely anxious going into the task.

    Reply

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