Helin Jung
September 14, 2010 09:00 PM

Dear Ethel,

I’ve had Dakota, my adorable 2-year-old domestic shorthair cat, since she was 16 weeks old. I love her to death. The only problem is when I try to trim her back claws. (When I adopted her, her front paws were already declawed.)

She has somehow, somewhere, developed an abnormal fear of anyone touching her paws. I have tried every trick in the book, including wrapping her in a blanket, having someone else hold her while I try to trim them, or approaching her calmly while she is relaxed and laying down. Is there any way that she can overcome this fear, or should I be resigned to leaving it up to the vet’s office, which has never trimmed her nails either?

–Defeated Pedicurist

Dear DP,

Your persistence should be commended, but you might want to put it to rest at this point. Cats’ back claws don’t need trimming, so why bother?

Cats hate having their back paws handled – that’s just a given. But since most kitty claws get worn down naturally in the back, says Christine Bellezza, DVM, the co-director of Cornell University’s Feline Health Center, you don’t have to do anything to keep them in check. (Bellezza sits at the top of the cat-expert food chain, so you know you can trust her.)

Perhaps you have your reasons for wanting to trim Dakota’s remaining claws. Maybe she scratches you (and other people) when she jumps off of your lap. Maybe the nails are getting so long that they’re in danger of curving into her paw pad. In that case, you can approach pruning her back claws in a couple of ways.

First, go back to basics. Get her used to the idea of you touching her paws, and try to make it a less terrifying experience for her. “Just pet your cat,” Bellezza says. “Run your hand close to her back foot and stop before she gets upset.” You can incorporate treats and chin scratching into this whole process to make it even more enjoyable for Dakota.

You should eventually be able to touch her paws without her freaking out, then her toes. Finally, you’ll be able to put pressure on the paw pad to push out her nails. This will all take time and patience, so remember to take it slow.

“If you can get to the point where you can really handle the foot without the cat getting upset, then you can try to trim one nail,” Bellezza says. “Just one. Give the cat a treat and stop. You want to go really slowly.”

Otherwise, you’ll have to take it to the professionals, and go to a groomer or vet. But don’t worry – asking for help isn’t such a bad thing.


Got a thorny pet (any pet!) problem that you can’t figure out? Try Ethel – she’ll do her best to help. Send your questions to helin@peoplepets.com. Include your pet’s age, breed and sex, and try to give as much context to your problem as possible.

Previously in Ask Ethel:
Ask Ethel: How Can I Make My Dog Stop Wetting My Bed?
Ask Ethel: How to Help a Dog Who Has Lost His Pal

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