How to Trim the Nails of a "Difficult" Cat

Some cats are more sensitive to being handled than others. If you work with them as kittens, you can certainly help them to overcome this sensitivity, but what about those adult cats that react negatively to any handling? Candy H. writes:

Cali is a very mean indoor cat who desperately needs her nails trimmed. The vet won’t trim them unless she is sedated and I have to administer the sedation. Do you have any suggestions on how to do that without getting torn up from biting and scratches? Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Candy, we have a good general post about trimming nails here. You also want to make sure Cali has access to a good, rough-surfaced scratching post. It's important to note that if Cali's nail tips are digging into her paw pads, she may be experiencing a great deal of pain when her paws are handled. That would make anyone feel angry!

There are several ways to approach Cali's particular problem. The one most commonly mentioned is the burrito method. To restrain the cat, you basically roll them up in a towel like a burrito, leaving their paws exposed. This doesn't always work if the cat bites or if the hind legs aren't tucked in comfortably due to the cat struggling against you. Usually, it's safe to leave a cat's rear nails untrimmed unless there is obvious overgrowth. 

A better method is the sleeping method, though many scoff when it's mentioned. If Cali is relaxed and in deep sleep, she will probably allow you to handle her paws. This is especially easy if the cat will sleep on your lap. Many times, they'll allow lots of handling before they awaken and realize what's going on. Using this method, you could easily do a couple of nails at a time at home.

One other method that works for some cats is the distraction method. You place a little bit of a sticky treat onto the end of the nose. This can be enough of a distraction that the cat forgets about the nail trimming that's going on. We like to use mayonnaise. :)

Be cautious about labeling Cali as "mean". Cat's aren't really capable of being mean, in that they don't act out against others for no reason. Thinking of Cali as "mean" can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. She can pick up on the nervousness of those who feel she is a mean cat and react to that energy in a negative way.

If Cali hasn't been well socialized and doesn't like humans very much, that's a behavioral issue that can be addressed. Getting her used to being handled would be the next step. Both can be achieved but will require a great amount of patience and, to be honest, the commitment of a good bit of time to the issue.

Here's a good post about why a cat may seem to be a bully.

We certainly wish you and Cali all the best!