Clipping cat’s claws: Polydactyl cats and old cats

The difficulties of trimming cat clawsThe difficulties of trimming cat claws

Cats are notoriously resistant to having their claws clipped unless they have been trained as a kitten to accept it. I don’t think anyone trains kittens to accept claw clipping.

Most cats don’t need their claws clipping. The claws of outdoor cats wear down. They might be an indoor/outdoor cat in which case the claws wear down.  They may use a solid scratching post in the home regularly which certainly helps. Normal use keeps claws at a reasonable length.

The “problem” of claw clipping exists because of domestication and the relatively soft life of the pampered cat (in good homes) except in at least two situations.

  1. Polydactyl cats have extra digits, often thumbs, which are above the ground. They are not worn down naturally through use.
  2. Old cats rest and sleep much more than other cats (see picture) and their claws can quite often grow very long because they are not in contact with anything to the point where the tip of the claw curls into the paw pad causing considerable discomfort and making it much more difficult to clip.
Binnie my late lady cat sleeping on concrete

Binnie my late lady cat sleeping on concrete. She was about 19 years old at the time.

There are, therefore, occasions when a person has to clip her/his cat’s claws. This usually presents a problem.

There would appear to be four scenarios:

  1. Your cat accepts claw trimming if done fast and/or in stages and surreptitiously.
  2. Your cat resists. You manage to trim one claw without force being used (the best way of course) and immediately afterwards you give your cat a special treat of food. Her favorite. This would be reward based training – positive reinforcement. It should probably be done early on in one’s relationship with one’s cat so the “training” can take place over a considerable time rather than desperate measures taken at desperate times (very long claws piercing the paw pad).
  3. Your cat resists and you give in and take her/him to a vet or ask your vet to do it at the same time as a regular appointment for a medical reason or you find a local pet groomer. However, personally, I have reservations about pet groomers. You leave your cat there, go away, come back and your cat is groomed or the nails are trimmed but….how did they achieve it? That is the 64,000 dollar question. Another problem with this method is the potentially tricky business of taking a cat somewhere in the car. Vet techs are a preferred choice for me.
  4. Your cat resists and you decide to use gentle and considerate force. You place her on a table. Place a towel over her and wrap her in it. Someone else holds her firmly but not too firmly. You trim the claws precisely but rapidly using the proper tool.  Precision is essential to avoid cutting into the live dermis part of the claw. This is important. Immediately afterwards you reward your cat.

I used the gentle force method on my old late lady cat. It worked fine and there were no problems with her disliking me afterwards.

Conclusions? Most often a cat’s claws don’t need clipping. Caretakers of old and poly cats should check claws regularly and adopt one of the above methods if a claw or claws need to be trimmed.


  1. DW a regular contributor was understandably struggling with the prospect of having to trim the claws of her beautiful and elderly polydactyl cat “Bigfoot”. This page was written in response.
  2. An apology: The photos come from my computer and I have lost the names of the photographers. If you are one of them please leave a comment. Thanks.
  3. Search results on this topic on PoC.
Facebook Discussion


Clipping cat’s claws: Polydactyl cats and old cats — 28 Comments

  1. I take my 2 every 3 weeks to a groomer. It’s a small place without a lot of traffic. I make an appointment and we go at that time so we are in and out. When we started going the kitties used to meow in the car like they were being tortured, but now they just sit quietly.

    I wouldn’t go to a Petsmart or Petco or one of those places. I checked them out and it was too crazy in there for me, never mind my cats.

  2. Love the article, Michael. You have covered all the bases for sure. LOVE the photo of those magnficent claws also!

    I am very lucky! Our boys don’t mind their bi-weekly trims- in fact, they purr through the whole manicure:) I started them as kittens, and began with gentle foot massages and extending the claws slowly- to get them used to being handled- then after the massage gave them a treat. The gradually started to enjoy those little foot massages.

    I trim their nails with them resting on my lap on their backs- tummy rubs- then foot rubs- extending claws, and trim the sharp tips. And then of course it is time for treats.

    When they are finished having their nails trimmed, they sit at my feet looking up at me as if to say, “Where is my ‘payment’ for my good behavior”.. LOL.

    I always start my cats as kittens. It makes the whole process so much easier. If I had a kitten that was not happy about it- (and I have)- I do the sneaky one nail at a time while they are asleep and as you recommend- give them a treat immediately. Positive reinforcement always works- even if it takes a little time for them to associate good things with our care. Excellent article.

    • Sweet, I’ll remember that, if I ever have the pleasure of raising a kitten. It hasn’t happen yet. They come find me at all ages. Already set in their ways. I’m the one who needs training from their point of view!

  3. Mr Minns is so feisty that he’s the only cat whose claws I get trimmed at the vet. Even the vet has trouble and Minns has no reservation about scratching and biting the both of us (yet he’s okay at having blood samples taken). It’s evidently something that he never had done in his earlier years and not even a whole tray of minced turkey will win him over. Occasionally I manage to trim one or two myself, but the exchange rate is “one trimmed claw = one bite” to remind me who’s boss.

    • Yep, sounds like my Bigfoot. I can see the bite coming in a millisecond, and have become adept at dodging, but he manages to sneak one on me still. Sometimes even with the most sweet petting, when he is done, he is DONE! And why didn’t I know one extra stroke was too much??! Ouch.

  4. Very tricky business. With polys, I’m happy if I can just get that thumb. I’ve seen some ingrown ones, and it’s awful; so painful and easily infected.

    • With a chronically ill poly, it’s all about comfort, theirs not ours. The thumb is most important and the rest can follow one by one.

    • My old lady cat had a claw ingrown and it was my fault. I fixed it in the end but it was tricky and troublesome.

      Here is a horrible photo of an ingrowing claw from a veterinary clinic:

      cat's claw ingrowing into paw pad

      • Oh my god! That looks aweful!

        Dee, I think you are right. Someone would be glad to get $25. Especially if they live close by, or better yet…right down the street. For the vet to come out for Daisy it was $300.00. She was here for no more than 20 minutes. Money well spent. I’d love to have someone come regularly for Bigfoot’s claws. Probably once a month, you think?

        Thanks you for the offer Dee. You are a dear person. Wish I could stop by for a cuppa. And invite the cool sisters. And take a walk in the woods to see yr crew.

        • Yes, try offering $25 dollars/month (maybe even every 2 later) on a regular schedule. I really think someone will jump on $25 they can depend on every month.

          • I think any vet tech would jump at the chance of a little ‘back hander’ as we call it here. I wouldn’t take money though because the people who asked me were poor, but I often got a nice box of choccies or some flowers as a thank you.

        • A walk in the woods to meet the ferals would be the cool sisters idea of bliss and a cuppa and choccie cake after with cat loving friends, would be the icing on the cake 🙂 🙂

  5. Thank you Michael. Yes, I am struggling with this right now. I made an attempt this morning, but he is very resistant. I managed to get two, though one of them splintered and separated the thin outer nail, which usually fall off naturally. I found two of the ‘sheds’ on his scratcher this morning as well. You will correct me on what to call that part of the nail that falls off.

    At my vet, it never takes more than a few minutes. I have never done a full ‘groom’ on him, whatever that means for a cat. Just the nails. That thumb nail is very thick, and it curls threatening to grow into his paw.

    Once, when we were at the vets office, I asked her to deliver him to the back where they usually trim. She came back with him saying they were busy with two huge dogs, so she did it herself, and fast, with me watching. He barely gave her a peep. I asked why, because I had tried to do it myself a number of times. She said to me that she had the advantage of intimidation over him, as a stranger.

    Last night I was able to scissor most of Bigfoot’s skirt-bottom area. I caught him while he was drinking water. With his incontinence, this will make him more comfortable. His long fur back there gets wet, matted and yucky.

    I’ll give it another go on the nails. Meanwhile I’m looking for a mobile groomer. If I fail at that, I’ll take Ruth’s (aka) advice and ask one of the gals at the vets office if they would come over to the house. I’d pay with money and cookies!

    • At my vet, it never takes more than a few minutes..

      DW, you know why. Cats are anxious and submissive at vets. They comply. But with their human companion they feel equal and make their displeasure known.

      I am pleased you have a way forward. I know how you feel. It can feel like a mountain to climb. And it is off-putting because you don’t want to hurt him etc.

    • A mobile groomer is too costly.
      Ruth is right. Ask one of the the vet techs if they would be willing to come to you for a reasonable amount. I could be way off, but I’m thinking around $25 would get someone there. Yes, it’s high, but it would save you so much grief and be so much better for Bigfoot.
      If you need cookies or pies for inticement, I’m your girl. I’ll mail some. If you need the bucks, I’ll work that out too. Whatever you need.
      An aside: You may not think that anyone has heard you when you write about your life, but I have.

      • $25 sounds very cheap to me. If you live London, £15 wouldn’t get a vet or anyone of their backside.

        The minimum call out charge for a tradesman (plumber or whatever) in London is about $150.

        • Most vet techs make minimum wage which is $8/hour in California right now. I really think a tech would go for triple wages for only 15 minutes of work. Ofcourse, no vet would do that, but we’re talking about working class people.

          • Most things are cheaper and better value in America. We are ripped off in London. I always found things such as food very cheap. It is one of the great attractions of America for me. That and the space and light. Love that.

            • Thanks for reminding me of those things.
              I do realize from my London friend that many things are cheaper here.
              I live in the sunshine state where the sun even shines when it rains.
              I need to have more gratitude.

  6. I think it’s definitely a two person job. Our old cat Ebony’s claws grew curved round as she stopped going outside as much and rested more and we had to trim her claws monthly. She hated it, but Babz held her gently but firmly while I did the deed and we both talked to Ebby all the time. She never bore a grudge when it was over.
    I remember one day though poor Babz got a bit of claw in her eye as it flew upover, maybe best the holder keep her eyes shut at the crucial moment lol

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