What are some tips on how to trim a squirmy cat’s nails?
Original Question: It is very hard to get my cat's claws cut as he becomes upset and aggressive. For the last year, I have had them cut at my regular vet but they insist on sedating Cona (it must be a strong sedation as I have to wait a few hours for him to wake up). I am concerned with this sedation and him being somewhat overweight is risky and not necessary. I would appreciate your ideas. - Cheryl
Thanks for your question.
The first thing that we can do is reduce the stress of the build-up to the vet visit and we can do that in a number of ways. For example, we can get them used to the carrier by having it out in the house at all times and even feed your cat in there just to get them used to it. You can go on short trips to get them used to being in the car, so just pop them in the car with the engine on to start with and then take progressively longer journeys. At the same time, giving them treats and having nothing nasty waiting for them at the end of that trip so that they’re not anticipating anything scary such as a visit to the vet. Also, avoid long waits in the waiting room so make sure that you are not there really early but not late enough that you miss your appointment. Equally when you get there and you’re in the waiting room, keeping your cat off the ground and away from dogs can make a huge difference as well. And then finally you could consider feline pheromone products or medication as a last resort.
The next step is to reduce the stress of the nail clip itself. It may be that the cat is more relaxed when they get to the vet but they’re still really not happy to have their feet touched and their nails clipped. To prepare them for this, we can potentially give them supplements or medications to calm them down that you can speak to your veterinarian about. These things are very safe to give, and generally pretty effective at allowing minor procedures like this to happen.
If there’s still no progress after implementing these strategies consider visiting a fear-free certified veterinarian. This program is a relatively new thing, which walks through the development of veterinary services that aims to avoid fear and stress. The aim is not to force ourselves on the patient as we’re trying to keep them happy at all times. So have a look and see if there’s a fear-free certified veterinarian near you.
You can also work on nail clipping at by just trying one nail at a time. Now that may not sound like very much but the nails don’t grow that quickly. I would recommend you use normal cat nail clippers and there’s a number of different types on the market. Try a few and find one that you’re most comfortable handling with or you can even just try nail file or emery board and just gently file away at that nail. Again, you don’t have to do much as you’re only doing one nail or two nails and this is something that you’ll be able to keep on top of and prevent them from becoming long in the first place.
You can also use medication or bribe with treats and the key is that we’re trying these things before any anxiety is shown. If we’re leaving it until anxiety is shown, they’ve already got to the stage where they’re stressed and you know that’s going to be counterproductive. They’re not going to be cooperative and you’re not going to help them get over that fear or that discomfort and dislike of having their nails clipped. So try and stop it before the onset of anxiety.
Now, if despite all of these things, there is still very little improvement and you’re unable to perform the nail clippings at home despite all of these strategies then consider sedation that I encourage you to speak to your vet about. There is a risk with every sedation, anaesthetic, and pretty much every procedure that we do, but by and large, if there are no other major problems, then the risk of sedation is actually very low. Being a little bit overweight does increase that risk, but not substantially and sedation is definitely better than trying to overpower a cat and get them to do what you want and veterinary staff can’t be expected to compromise their safety. I hope that gives you a few ideas in managing an aggressive cat or a cat who’s getting anxious and stressed by having their nails clipped to make it a little bit of a better experience for them. As always please speak to your veterinarian about the supplements, products and medication and as well as the strategies described above.
Dr. Alex Avery
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