Scientists May Have Found a Better Way To Trim a Cat’s Nails

Nevena Nacic
by Nevena Nacic

Trimming a cat’s nails is often a daunting affair for everyone involved. Most cats should have their nails trimmed every two to three weeks. Failing to do so leaves you and your furniture at the mercy of your kitty’s sharp claws.

Specially designed to be smaller, cat nail clippers or scissors are commonly used to trim a cat’s nails, but they can be difficult to handle, especially if your cat doesn’t want to cooperate or is anxious. Additionally, there’s always a risk that you’ll end up scratched, bitten, and bleeding.

This is where science can come in handy! 

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, are working with Sacramento SPCA to make nail trimming less stressful for cats and their owners. 

Jennifer Link, a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Davis, Animal Welfare Epi Lab, is working on a multistep protocol designed to desensitize the cats to handling and nail clipping. 

In mid-July, Link started to visit the Sacramento shelter five days a week for two hours to work on socializing rescued and surrendered cats to help them adjust to new people, situations, and environments. By the end of September, she had worked with more than 70 cats. 

“When people hear that I study cats, many ask if I can help them with nail trims,” said Link. 

According to Dan Marple, the animal welfare manager at the Sacramento Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, this research is vital to staff, donors, and volunteers because it can reduce the stress caused by nail trimming.

“Any new protocols that increase the comfort and safe handling of the cats in our care will also improve their overall well-being and adoptability,” he added. 

Link’s research is promising because it incorporates cooperative care. This means that cats are allowed to decide how much they want to interact with the handler during the training process. 

Depending on their willingness to participate, the cats go through one of three scenarios with Link: a handling-only training protocol, a handling and nail-trimming protocol, or a control with no training and only a nail trim. Each interaction is recorded to be analyzed later. 

On the days when Link visits the shelter, the cats are removed from their cages and brought to a quiet room where Link is waiting, with a mat laid out before her. If a cat puts their front paws on the mat, they are given treats and cuddles. 

The idea is for cats to learn that Link interacts with them only when they put their paws on the mat. Once the cat leans this, Link proceeds with training protocols. 

Slowly, Link touches the cat’s legs, then the paws, and then the paws are gently squeezed. If the cat doesn’t resist, one nail is trimmed. 

The protocol builds on past steps and works up. When a cat goes through all the steps, they get a nail trim. If a cat doesn’t place their paws on the mat or rejects any step, Link stops the handling.

I think with cooperative care, it does seem to almost improve their trust in me,” Link explained. “They are more comfortable if we let them decide.”

This research could make nail trimming at home much more comfortable for the cats and their owners. It can also decrease the number of visits to veterinary hospitals and clinics, where owners often seek help trimming their cats’ nails. 

The researchers still need to analyze the video sessions to finalize the protocol. And if the protocol is deemed helpful, they will share it with other shelters for more data.

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Nevena Nacic
Nevena Nacic

Nevena is a freelance writer and a proud mom of Teo, a 17-year-old poodle, and Bob, a rescued grey tabby cat. Since childhood, she had a habit of picking up strays and bringing them home (luckily, her parents didn't know how to say NO). When she's not writing for her fellow pet parents, Nevena can be found watching Teo sleep. To her defense, that's not as creepy as it sounds!

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