Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: October 9, 2022 by Crystal Uys


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. 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.

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” 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.

About the author

26 Comments on How to Trim the Nails of an Aggressive or Angry Cat

  1. I am wondering if you can tell me the best nail clippers to buy. I have inherited my mom’s 2 cats. They were both feral cats that she rescued from her farm. She got them as tiny kittens. One is very loving and kind the other one only allows touching on her terms. She is also the one who will destroy furniture by kneading. I just really want to make a good purchase on clippers.
    Thank you.

    • I really like the Zen Clipper:

  2. I have a cute cat named Bi, he is 2 years old. Even after applying all the methods, I still find it difficult to do the right nail clipping for cats. Every time my nails grow, I take him to the pet store to have the staff cut my cat’s nails.

  3. I’m on blood thinners and my new kitten is tearing me apart. How do I cut his nails by myself. please help me if you can. Thank you for your time. Bonnie

    • Have you tried following the tips in this article? You may also want to consider having your kitten’s nails trimmed at the vet’s office.

  4. I’m desperate here and this advice is helpful and appreciated, but I’m confused by your response to one of the comments: “like the towel burrito, it can work, but only if the cat doesn’t get stressed by being restrained that way.”

    The fact that my adopted cat is 100% unwilling to go along with being picked up or having a single claw retracted is the reason a towel burrito is necessary in the first place. She’d quite literally tear my face off without it. Of course she’s stressed. A prior failure indicates that well-planned ambush will be required to even get her into said burrito. But I don’t know what else to do. I tried conditioning training but it will take about 7 years of that to get her ready for a trim. Meanwhile, she gets stuck on everything and her claws click on the floor when she walks, which can’t feel good. I’m going to try the spray and the music and projecting calmness. But this is still going to be a bummer for both of us and – even though I feel like a jerk – a towel will have to be involved.

    • You may want to talk to your vet about using a mild sedative on nail trim day – something like Gabapentin – to make the experience less stressful for both of you.

    • I have the same problem. I’m not keen on putting her under once a month. Has anyone have a better idea?

  5. I am so glad I found this article. Thank you so much for these tips… I am definitely going to try the thunder shirt and the stress stopper for my guy. He had an in grown claw once and we fixed it at home with clippers… it healed well, and we had no further issues with it, but ever since then I think he’s developed a trauma about nail trims and clippers because he fights me badly every time I go to trim his nails. The problem is, I really don’t want a repeat of what happened last time. I would rather trim his nails regularly than deal with another in grown nail. It was just awful. But it’s so stressful on him.. I hate seeing him freak out every time…. I really hope these things help him! Thank you so much!


    • I adopted two rescues who are sisters and had to be adopted together. One is calm no issues ever with picking her up and clipping her claws… The other however does not like to be picked up at all so nail trimming is a battle! Last months Trimming went very well after I was able to catch her! I do use a towel and I have started purring to her while I’m clipping. Thought it was just a fluke until last night when they needed trimming again. And I did the same thing with the towel around her and purred to her while trimming her claws, and had no problem! Good luck

  7. 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?

    • 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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 🙂

  10. 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.


  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

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

    Thank You
    Dr. Laura
    Nine cats in need

  15. 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 🙂

  16. 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.

  17. 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

  18. 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.

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