Trimming Nails in Kittens: Taking the Stress Out of Nail Trims

Nail trims should be part of every kitten’s grooming routine. Trimming your kitten’s nails prevents them from becoming ingrown into a paw pad, catching on things, or causing paws to slip and toes to splay, affecting mobility. It also helps prevent damage to furniture, carpets, and other surfaces. Scratching is a normal feline behaviour that serves a number of functions. A scratching post provides a good outlet for those behaviours but isn’t a substitute for regular nail trims. (See our handout “Enrichment for Kittens.”) While nail trims can be stressful for you and your kitten, with some desensitization and conditioning they can become enjoyable.

Close Up Of Cats Nails

Choosing a Nail Trimmer

For kittens and cats, our technicians favour a scissor-style nail trimmer shaped like a pair of scissors. It gives them better control and gets the job done fastest. The nail is positioned between the blades and when the trimmer handles are squeezed, both blades come together and cut through the nail.

Trimming Cats Nails

Knowing When to Trim

A kitten’s nails grow quickly and get quite sharp. While nails typically need to be trimmed every 2-3 weeks, it’s best to examine your kitten’s nails on a daily basis to get an idea of how quickly they’re growing and to get him or her used to having paws and nails handled. Getting into a routine will make maintaining your kitten’s nails easier.

Knowing How Much to Trim

In the center of your kitten’s nail there’s a nerve and a blood supply known as the “quick.” You can easily see the quick in kittens as their nails are clear or white. The quick appears as a pink area within the nail, best seen from the sides of the nail. Cutting the quick causes pain and bleeding and makes a kitten resistant to future nail trims. It’s best to trim just 1 mm of nail at a time, leaving 2-3 mm before the quick to avoid cutting it. Cats that go outdoors benefit from having slightly longer nails than indoor cats to allow them to climb trees and defend themselves against other animals.

How To Trim Cats Nails

If you happen to cut the quick, you’ll need to stop the bleeding. Just apply some pressure to the end of the nail along with a small amount of styptic powder such as Kwik-stop (available at most pet supply stores) or use a bit of cornstarch or flour. Give your kitten a bit of a break before continuing with nail trimming.

Working Up to the Task

It’s natural for kittens to resist having their paws handled, so before attempting to trim nails it’s important to get your kitten comfortable with handling. Nail trimming should take place in a calm, quiet location after a meal or when your kitten is sleepy. Be sure to take your time and go at your kitten’s pace. You may have to take breaks in between each nail/paw or even trim a bit each day. It may take several weeks of consistent effort for your kitten to be comfortable with allowing you to complete an entire nail trim in one sitting. This may seem time-consuming, but “slow and steady” wins the day. Your patience and perseverance will pay off, and nail trims will be much easier, less stressful, and faster down the road.

Step 1: Handling Your Kitten’s Paws

Start by placing your kitten in your lap with his/her back resting against your stomach. This position will allow you to reach each paw comfortably. Lift your kitten’s paw and reward with a treat and some praise. Do this a few times. Once your kitten is comfortable with you touching a paw, try holding it for two to three seconds. If your kitten moves during the process, gently follow his/her movement. Spend some time examining your kitten’s nails. Gently squeezing on a toe to extend its nail, then release and reward with a treat. Do this two or three times a day until your kitten gets used to being examined and cooperates with you.

Holding Cats Paw

Step 2: Introducing Nail Trimmers

Unfamiliar objects can be frightening to most kittens so it’s important to build a positive association. Set the trimmers on the floor and allow your kitten to investigate them on his/her own. You can leave a treat on or near the trimmers to encourage your cat to sniff and become familiar with them.

Showing Cat Nail Clippers

Step 3: Trimming Nails

Once your kitten is comfortable with the nail trimmers, it’s time to trim a small amount of a nail. Trim only 1 mm at a time to minimize the likelihood of cutting into the quick. Remember to reward your kitten’s cooperation with every trim. If your kitten shows signs of stress during the nail trim, take a break. You may need to consider re-acclimating your kitten to nail trims by starting at step one and rebuilding the positive association with paw handling.

Close Up Of Trimming Cats Nails

Important Do’s and Don’t’s


  • Trim nails in a calm, quiet, location away from distractions and with good lighting.
  • Trim nails when your kitten is quiet or sleepy (such as after a meal).
  • Take your time to avoid causing your kitten stress.
  • Offer a high value reward for the behaviour you want to reinforce. But sure to use very small treats and short training sessions so your kitten doesn’t get too full or restless.
  • Handle your kitten’s paws daily, even when you’re not trimming nails. The goal is to get your kitten comfortable with having his/her paws handled any time (including during vet visits).
  • Trim only small amounts at a time to avoid cutting the quick and causing a traumatic association with nail trimming.


  • Take your kitten’s paw forcefully. This could startle your kitten and create a negative association with having his/her paws handled.
  • Use dull trimmers. A dull blade makes trimming difficult and painful and can split the nail.
  • Continue trimming if your kitten is showing signs of fear or anxiety such as growling, hissing, biting or attempting to escape your grasp.
  • Scold or punish your kitten if he/she pulls a paw away as this can make your kitten fearful of future handling.