seal pointed cat paw with claws extended

Tips for Trimming a Wiggly Cat’s Claws by Yourself

Last Updated on May 24, 2021 by Holly Anne Dustin

Nail trims on wiggly cats are my stock-in-trade as a housecall cat groomer. If you want to trim your cat’s nails alone it will be easiest if you start training him when he’s a kitten. But if you adopted an adult cat, you can still learn to trim your wiggly cat’s claws yourself without resorting to restraints like cat bags or scruffing.

Why Clip a Cat’s Claws

Kitty’s claws keep growing the same way your fingernails do. A cat that spends a lot of time outside might not need help maintaining his claws. Indoor kitties will try to do the same on your furniture and carpet. 

Read our guide here for more information on scratching behavior and how to prevent damage to your stuff.

Regular claw clipping not only helps prevent destructive clawing, but also prevents Kitty’s nails from getting snagged and torn on anything. It will save your arms and lap from an unexpected course of acupuncture when Kitty cuddles up and starts making biscuits.

Nail trimming gives you an opportunity to check over your furbaby’s paws and claws for signs of any health issues.

How to Safely Trim the Claws on a Wiggly Cat

I have to get through all the claws when I do a client visit. When you trim your own wiggly cat’s claws it is perfectly fine if you only do one or two claws at a time. It is better for Kitty to stay relaxed than to have a “get it done” mentality.

  • Start with a relaxed kitty. I like to get mine when they are snoozing after a meal. Playtime and catnip can help get Kitty relaxed too.
  • Sit behind Kitty so if he backs up to get away from the clippers he is just backing further into your lap.
  • Press lightly on the pad so the claws appear and trim off the tip of the nail.
  • Give Kitty his favorite treat. I like to have something very high value to use as a treat that my cats only get as rewards for grooming.
Trim wiggly cat claws graphic showing a white cat paw with claws in a human hand

What Part of the Claw to Clip?

If you think of your finger as your cat’s claw, form a “C” with your  thumb and forefinger. Your forefinger is your imaginary claw. The part you’d be clipping off is just past the first knuckle, the top part of the “C”. The “quick” or live part would run between your hand and the center knuckle. If you look at your cat’s claw the quick is the pinkish part.

Click here for more tips on grooming your cat at home

Tools and Tricks for Handling a Difficult Cat

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There are some techniques and tools to try if you have an aggressive cat that is likely to bite you.

Some cats respond well to being “burrito’d” in a towel while others freak out when restrained that way. Some people recommend “cat grooming bags.” Personally, I have found that they really don’t help. A lot of cats are more stressed by being stuck in the sack than just handled on your lap. The bags can’t prevent a cat from biting you and that is my main concern when doing a nail trim on a challenging cat.

A lot of cats are visually overstimulated by claw clipping.  If you cover his head with a towel or the corner of your sweater, he may relax enough for you to clip his nails alone.

An e-collar (cone of shame) or an inflatable donut style collar can allow that Kitty to see and move but not reach around to bite you. A cat muzzle is another option for biters that do better if they can’t see you.

I am not a fan of scruffing cats. It is not relaxing for them, they freeze in fear. Yes, mother cats carry their kittens that way, but adult cats are only handled in that way by predators or aggressors. Instead, take the time to train your cat to allow gentle handling and cooperate with grooming or other procedures. Your vet will thank you too.

A Clean Cat is a Happy Cat

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Training Steps to Help Your Squirmy Cat Tolerate Nail Trims

It is important to teach your cat to relax and tolerate having his nailed trimmed.

  • Get her used to having her paws handled and massaged. Just play with them while she’s hanging out with you.
  • A gentle press on her paw pad and the top of the paw will extend her claws.
  • Let her explore the clippers so she doesn’t see them as threatening.
  • Clip a piece of spaghetti or a straw so she gets used to the noise of the clipper.
  • Give her a favorite treat.

Types of cat nail clippers

There are three options for clippers:

Personally, I like the scissor style. I carry small cat nail trimmers in all my bags. My go-to nail trimmer, especially for wiggly cats and cats with lots of fur on their paws, is a bit larger than the small ones. I like not having to stick fingers through the finger holes.


With proper conditioning, it is easy to clip even the most wiggly cat’s claws alone. But if you can’t do it yourself and don’t have a friend willing to assist, check with your vet’s office or call a cat groomer. The most important thing is that Kitty’s claws are kept in good shape.

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20 thoughts on “Tips for Trimming a Wiggly Cat’s Claws by Yourself”

  1. Willow Blackwell

    I have a cat, her name is Bi. He is 2 years old but the problem of cutting his nails has been haunting me for 2 years. In fact, every time I cut her nails, I have to ask my mother for help. It’s very annoying when it comes to his claws, my mother has to distract the cat by petting it, pinching his ears, or feeding him, while I have to be quick when he’s not careful to clip his claws.
    Wait until the cat feels well again. If both of you are calm and nice to each other, you can cut the angry cat’s claws without hurting anyone.

  2. If I ever get another cat, I hope it will be patient about having its nails clipped. Our last one didn’t seem to mind it too much, but my sister always did the clipping since I was afraid of cutting them too short.

  3. I never thought about cutting a piece of spaghetti so our pets can get a ‘feel’ for the sounds. That’s a great tip! I’ve read about putting your kitty in a burrito blanket – I always wondered if they liked that. My dog hates it when I try to do that for his nails – he’s best being harnessed in and doing one paw at a time over a week. I like this piece a lot – will share!

  4. You are right that some cats don’t mind being purrito’d and tht works for some of mine. Others just go with the flow and I do a few at a time – it works.

    Our visiting tuxedo friend doesn’t mind a trim either!

    1. Sometimes I think if the humans are calm and in control the cats feel safe enough to just go with it. I talk to all my feline friends the whole time I’m working with them. I like to think it helps anyway 🙂

  5. I don’t own a cat, but you make it look a lot easier than trimming a dog’s nails, which are much thicker. I liked the photos and the video. I trim Buffy’s nails after she gets a haircut since cocker spaniels grow so much fur on their paws and I need to see her nails. She’s learning to tolerate this better. I used to have to make her lay on her back and straddle her so I could cut them. I got a lot of practice with nails when I had a dog do agility trials. The trainer said I needed to trim their nails every week so they wouldn’t snag them on the equipment.

    1. Cat nails are way easier to clip than dog nails! It is easy to see the quick in a cat’s claw and if you just follow and clip the tip off the C you won’t go wrong. It’s just a process to convince Kitty to cooperate

  6. Proper conditioning is key. So many people search for ways to get their dogs to allow nail trimming. The principle is the same across both species.

    1. Yes – practice makes perfect – and hopefully they will eventually figure out it isn’t a big deal (I wish a couple of my client cats would get there instead of trying to bite me every time.

  7. Nice Post! I agree, to be able to trim your cat or dog’s nails, it really does start with training them when they are young.
    None of my pups really like getting their nails trimmed, but we learned with positive reinforcement (treats) and a calm environment, we get through it. I was hoping that the nail trimmer grinder tool would work to avoid clipping too short, but they didn’t like that tool either. (From Ava Jaine, Dachshund Station)

  8. I love that people are learning to trim cats nails, or even having a vet or groomer do it, rather than declawing. I don’t have a cat, but some of these tips would work from wiggly pups too! One of my dogs really doesn’t like having his nails trimmed with clippers, but he’s ok with a dremel. My other pup I worked with more since he was a pup, and he’ll relax in my lap while I trim his nails.

    1. Declawing is much less popular the more people understand what is involved – and as people are looking for more of a companion than a pet. Same as docking tails or ears.

    1. That’s why I get a lot of nail trim clients – people can’t do the handling, can’t see well or are just too nervous about hurting their baby. There’s a lot of things I wouldn’t do – but clipping cat claws I can (but I can’t do dog nails at all)

  9. So glad that fewer people are “declawing” cats these days. It sounds like if you start young with them they can get very comfortable with having their nails trimmed at home.

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