How to Clip a Cat's Nails (when they're trying to kill you!)

How can you clip your cat’s nails when they are aggressive, trying to bite and scratch you? Even the vet has to sedate them but is there another way?


So let's jump into the first question and that is, it's very hard to get a cat's claws cut as he's becoming upset and aggressive. For the last year they've had to take the cat to their vet, but they insist on sedating the cat and there is some concern with the sedation because he is a little bit overweight. Is it risky and is it not really necessary?

Let’s break that down.

Now, the first thing that we can do is reduce the stress of the build-up to the vet visit. We can do that in a number of ways, firstly by getting them used to the carrier. This can involve just having the carrier out in the house normally, actually feeding your cat in the carrier can make a big difference as well. You can go on short trips to get them used to being in the car, so just popping them in the car with the engine on to start with, and then taking progressively longer journeys. At the same time, giving them treats and having nothing nasty waiting for them at the end of that so they're not going to a cattery, they’re not going to the vet. One of the big problems is that cats are so used to only going somewhere they really don't want to be when they go in a car, they just don't get used to it and they're not anticipating anything nice at the end of that.

Also avoid long waits in the waiting room so make sure that you are not really early and also get there on time so that you don't miss your appointment and have to wait for the next available slot. Equally when you get there and you're in the waiting room, just keeping your cat off the ground and away from dogs can make a huge difference as well. And then finally using the pheromone Feliway or a supplementation like Zylkene can really just help them relax that little bit better as well.

I discuss all of this in more detail in my post about reducing the stress of vet visits.

So next up is just reducing the stress of the nail clip itself. It may be that actually although the cat is more relaxed when they get to the vet, they're still really not happy to have their feet touched and their nails clipped. So to prepare them for this, we can give them a medication to calm them down, and that could be something like Gabapentin or Trazodone as just two examples. They are things that are very safe to give, and generally pretty effective at allowing minor procedures like this to happen. Clearly this is something you need to discuss with your vet!

Now, if there's no progress with this, or if your vet doesn't seem comfortable doing this, then consider trying to visit a fear free certified veterinarian. So this is a relatively new thing. There is a program called fear free, which walks through the development of veterinary services that aims to avoid fear. We're not trying to force ourselves on our patient, 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 home and even try and actually manage the nail clip yourself at home, just trying a nail at a time.

Now that sounds like not very much but if you're doing it slowly then nails don't grow that quickly and that will be plenty to get you through. You can try nail clippers, just normal cat nail clippers, of which there's a number of different types. So try a few and find one that you're most comfortable handling with or you can even just try nail file or an emery board so just gently filing away at that nail. Again, you don't have to do much and if it's done regularly and you're only doing one nail or two nails, it's not a big job and it's something that you'll be able to keep on top of those nails and stop them becoming long in the first place.

You can also use Feliway or Zylkene, or bribe with treats like the temptation treats, which all cats seem to absolutely love.

The key as well, if we're trying these things, is to stop before any anxiety is shown. So 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 help 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 before any anxiety is shown.

Now, if despite all of these strategies, there is still very little improvement and you still need to take your cat to the vet and they're not able to manage it despite treatment strategies and management strategies to reduce that stress, then the safety of sedatives is normally very good.

So yes, there is a risk with every sedation, every 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. And sure, being a little bit overweight does increase that risk, but not substantially. Sedation is also definitely better than trying to overpower a cat to try and get them to do what you want, and veterinary staff they just can't be expected to compromise their safety. Ultimately, being bitten by a cat is not just part of the job. It can ultimately lead to career threatening or career ending injuries certainly if you get bitten into joints, then that can be terrible. I've certainly had known of nurses who have had a bite and they've ended up in hospital on intravenous antibiotics because they've got a horrendous cellulitis in their hand going up their arm, so we can't expect that.

Sedation, in the long run, if we know that we're going to have to sedate a patient and we don't have to handle them an awful lot before the sedative is administered and actually for your cat, it will result in lower stress for their visit as well. So 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.

The above is a transcript taken from “The Dr Alex Answers Show”.

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