Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: November 10, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Written 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. So how do you trim an angry cat’s claws? Keep reading to find out more.
How to Approach the Difficult Cat’s 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.
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 an 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!
Laura Cochrane, aka “Dr. Kind Klaws” is the owner of Roar, a Portland, OR based business specializing in cat wellness and enrichment products.
Editor’s Note: Sadly, Mojo passed away in November of 2016. He will be missed.
Featured Image Credit: Ermolaev Alexander, Shutterstock
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.