What Happens If You Don’t Trim Cat Nails? Is It Necessary?

Cats don’t need a regular trip to the groomer like dogs do, but they will need a little extra help with at home-grooming. Along with weekly brushing sessions, all cats benefit from routine nail trims, about every ten days to two weeks.

What happens if you don’t trim your cat’s nails? Beyond the obvious of scratched-up furniture, a snag on your favorite sweater, and the threat of a scratch here and there—cats with over-grown nails can experience painful ingrown nails, difficulty walking, and might even develop an infection. It might take you and your cat some practice to get used to the process, but in time nail trims can become no big deal.

What happens if you don’t trim your cat’s nails? What’s the worst that can happen?

If you have plenty of cat-friendly scratching surfaces like posts, scratching mats, and trees, then your cat probably does a good job at maintaining her own nails. But, says Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM for Cat-World.com, a weekly check for any overgrown nails is good practice and help to prevent painful conditions of the nail:

Ingrown Nails. An ingrown nail occurs when a cat’s claw grows so long it curls back and embeds into the footpad. This could cause inflammation, pain, and infection.

Split nails. Without frequent nail trims, a cat’s nails are more likely to split, says Dr. Ochoa. While nail splitting isn’t a cause to schedule a vet, the frays could get caught on the carpet and other furniture.

Catching on surfaces. Overgrown cat nails catching on the carpet isn’t just bad for your carpet—it can cause the nail to pull away from the nail bed and may lead to a painful infection for your cat.

Pain for your cat. Overgrown nails rarely cause permanent injury. But they can be very uncomfortable and even cause pain and hurt your cat.  Read more: Do Overgrown Claws Hurt Your Cat? A Vet Explains What to Do

cat playing with nails out

So is it necessary to cut a cat’s nails?

If you notice that your cat’s nails are catching on surfaces, your cat is limping, or the nail is growing back toward the paw pad—it’s time for a kitty nail trim. Many cats maintain their nails during regular grooming, scratching, and walking on rough surfaces, but a weekly check of nail health is a good idea.

How to trim your cat’s nails

Trimming a cat’s claws is something many cat owners are afraid to do, but it is not hard. This can be done by gently massaging your cat’s feet, although some cats will always be less than thrilled. In such a case I recommend you only trim a couple of claws per session, or do as I sometimes do and gently trim them when the cat is napping.

The advantage of learning to trim your own cat’s claws is that it avoids unnecessary and stressful trips to the veterinarian, and can save you money.

To learn how to trim your cat’s nails, read my article – with photos:
How To Trim Your Cat’s Claws – Including Photos

How to trim a cat's claws

Trimming a cat’s nails is very important for senior cats (age 7+)

Cats are considered senior around the age of seven. Around this age, you’ll notice some normal changes that come with aging—including thicker, more brittle nails that are prone to overgrowth. It’s important to keep up with routine nail trims and checks to keep your senior cat happy and healthy.

Do cats trim their own nails?

Outdoor cats typically file their nails down on rough surfaces like the sidewalk and other natural scratching posts. But indoor cats trim their nails too. When cats groom, they care for their claws by biting, chewing, and pulling at their nails, removing the loose outer sheath. Providing your cat with cat-friendly scratching surfaces and posts also helps maintain their nails.

Even if your cat routinely grooms themselves and uses their scratching posts, it’s important to inspect their nails weekly for any signs of overgrowth, torn cat nails, and other cat claw conditions.

How much does it cost to get a cat’s nails trimmed at a groomer or vet?

Costs to get your cat’s nails trimmed by a vet or groomer can vary. If your household qualifies for lost cost clinics, a nail trim could cost as low as $25. Other services, including nail trims in the comfort of your home, could cost upwards of $150. For costs in your area, it’s best to call your vet. Next time your cat has a routine exam, ask your vet to demonstrate how to properly trim your cat’s nails.

How often should you clip your cat’s nails?

Your cat’s nails may need trimming about every ten days to every two weeks, depending on your cat’s age, health, and lifestyle. Typically, only the front nails of a cat need to be trimmed. But if you notice any overgrown back nails, they should be trimmed too.

What to do if you don’t want to cut your cat’s nails

Trimming your cat’s nails s an essential part of their care and important to their health. Not to mention trimming your cat’s nails will keep you and your furniture scratch-free. If you’re uncomfortable trimming your cat’s nails, enlist a professional for help, or ask your vet to demonstrate a stress-free nail trim.

cat playing with claws on pole

Regular nails trims

Trimming your cat’s nails is a routine you and your cat should start during kittenhood. This will help them be comfortable with being handled and the feeling of the nail clippers.

Before trimming your cat’s nails, consider a reward that will provide the motivation your cat needs to successfully get their nails trimmed. This could be a favorite treat, verbal praise, physical praise, or something else your cat finds rewarding. This is called positive reinforcement and is an important tool for cat-human bonding and learning.

Start out slowly and offer the cat plenty of positive reinforcement. If your cat resists, trim one or two claws at a time and try again later. An example of nail trimming might look like this:

  • Show your cat the clippers and reward them with a treat, physical praise, or verbal praise.
  • Clip a couple of nails, rewarding them with positive reinforcement. A cat’s nails are retractable, so you may need to gently squeeze the paw to expose the nail.
  • If your cat needs a break, that’s okay. Come back to nail trimming once your cat is no longer stressed.
  • Once all the nails have been trimmed, give an extra reward of affection and playtime.

When trimming a cat’s nails, cut above the quick. The quick of the nail is the central portion of the claw, which is rich in blood vessels and will bleed if trimmed. You’ll recognize the quick by the pink color of the blood vessels—clip about two millimeters above this color change in the nail.

Steps to cut overgrown cat claws

Cat nail trimmers

If your cat’s nails are overgrown, but not embedded in the paw pad or infected, you can follow the steps above for a regular nail trim. When you see any signs of an embedded cat nail or an infection in your cat’s nail bed or paws, it’s time to see the vet.

Here’s when to see the vet for overgrown cat nails:

Embedded claw: If the claw has embedded in the footpad it will be difficult to trim at home and is at risk of infection. A veterinarian will be able to administer a local anesthetic or light sedation before trimming the claw and disinfecting the area.

Infection: If the footpad is swollen and oozing, an infection has taken hold and will require a prescription for antibiotics.

My cat doesn’t want their nails trimmed – what should I do?

If your cat is having a negative reaction to your attempts to clip their nails, it might be time to slow down and take a few steps back in the process. Before attempting to clip your cat’s nails, introduce your cat to the nail clippers by leaving them out for your cat to sniff, touch, and be comfortable around. When your cat doesn’t react to the sight of clippers, you can clip a nail or two, rewarding after each one.

The best time to clip your cat’s nails might be when they are resting. Or, you can wrap your cat in a blanket or towel. If you’re still having difficulties trimming your cat’s nails, it might be time to seek the help of a professional—like a groomer or vet.

Do some cats need trimming more than others?

Senior cats need their nails trimmed more than others. With age, your cat’s activity slows down. They may use their scratching posts less and skip a few self-grooming sessions. Health conditions and mobility issues like arthritis could make these normal activities more difficult for your senior cat, too. Additionally, senior cats are more likely to suffer from brittle or thicker nails—requiring more frequent nail trims.

Outdoor cats need their scarp claws for important functions, like protection and climbing, so they don’t require regular nail trims. But indoor cats don’t depend on their sharp claws for survival (they have us). If your indoor cat doesn’t have proper enrichment and scratching surfaces, they’ll depend on you for nail maintenance and health.

FAQ

Who should trim a cat’s nails?

In most cases, cat parents don’t have to enlist the help of a professional to trim a cat’s nails. Trimming your cat’s nails is a routine grooming need that can be done at home. If you’re not sure how to trim your cat’s nails, or if trimming stresses your cat out, ask your vet to demonstrate a stress-free nail trim or visit the cat groomer.

Is it easy to trim cat nails?

When cats are introduced to nail trims at a young age, trimming your cat’s nails can become routine and stress-free. With positive reinforcement, cats of all ages can become comfortable with getting their nails trimmed.

Do I need to trim my cat’s back nails?

The back claws of a cat typically don’t need to be trimmed, but it’s a good idea to check the back claws for any overgrown nails, ingrown nails, or infections. Overgrown nails should be clipped and ingrown nails and infections require a trim to the vet.

How long can a cat go without trimming nails?

Your cat’s nails may need trimming about every ten days to every two weeks, depending on your cat’s age, health, and lifestyle.

Does it hurt cats if their nails are too long?

Yes, overgrown nails can make walking difficult, as the nails will get stuck on surfaces and pull away from the nail bed. This could lead to painful infections in the paw pad. Overgrown nails will begin to grow backward, toward the paw pad. If left untrimmed, they can grow into the paw pad, known as an ingrown nail. This is painful for cats can become infected.

How do you fix overgrown cat nails?

If your cat’s nails are overgrown, but not embedded in the paw pad or infected, you can follow the steps for a routine cat nail trim. If you see any signs of an embedded cat nail or an infection in your cat’s nail bed or paws, it’s time to see the vet.

Author

  • Janelle Leeson

    Janelle is a cat mum to two resident adventure kitties, Lyra and Atlas, and numerous cat and kitten fosters. She has written about cats for publications such as Rover, DailyPaws, and Cat World. You can follow Janelle, her adventure cats, and adoptable fosters on Instagram at @paws_pdx or on her website at pawspdxtravels.com.

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