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Trimming My Cat’s Nails without Looking Like I Lost a Fight

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As much as I have gushed about all the fun things my cat Ivy has brought into my life, one area that has been a constant learning experience has been the act of trimming her nails.

What is it about my normally cool-as-a-cucumber kitty that the moment I attempt to gently snip 1/16th of an inch off a sharp nail, she can turn on a dime, and a zen moment suddenly becomes a scene from a horror movie?

At first, trimming Ivy’s nails was like a trip to the casino. Most times, I walked away with nothing. On a few occasions, I might get one or two nails done. And on a few rare occasions, I may hit the jackpot and get a whole paw (or even two) done! The trick has been to figure out why I am successful some times and not others, and then to follow the pattern.

It’s pretty easy to check the status of her nails without any intervention on my part. During our daily pets, she lies flat on her blanket and starts moving her little arms back and forth, making that kneading motion with her paws. Her little claws pop in and out, giving me a full account of whether her nails are still blunt or if they are sharp or jagged, meaning she is due for a trim.

But if I miss the status check, another sign that a trim is overdue is when she walks around the house, when she doesn’t have her collar on. Usually she can be stealth kitty and sneak up on me at any given moment (which can also be a little creepy, quite frankly). But if I can hear her walking through the kitchen sounding like she is wearing stilettos, those nails are getting long.

The trick is finding the right time to do it. If I say yes to any of the following, chances are, it is not an opportune time:

  • Is she hungry?
  • Is she sleepy?
  • Is she just waking up?
  • Does she need to play first to burn off some excess energy (i.e., can’t sit still)?
  • Is she in the middle of bathing?
  • Is she in the middle of surveillance duty, monitoring the backyard?
  • Is she busy doing ANYTHING else?
  • Does she want to be left alone?
  • Is she in need of attention?
  • Does her water need to be freshened?
  • Can she see the bottom of her bowl of food?

Once those conditions have been addressed, it’s probably a good time… or not.

Even when I go through the list and, on paper, it seems like she should be in the right mood, she still might meow and run away. They make it look so easy in those YouTube videos.

For the first year after her adoption, I’d get pretty nervous, thinking she would hate me for it. I worried about some kind of behavioural retribution. But so far, there has not been any feline payback after a manicure or pedicure.

I tried bribing her with treats, but the challenge has been to have the treats close at hand for her to connect the reward with letting me do her nails. It didn’t matter where I hid the treats, she would find them long before I could use them as a training instrument.

But with the knowledge that my curtains and leather couches depended on this routine maintenance, I gradually cast aside the fear behind the act of trimming her nails and just kept at it regularly and gently. Making it a normal maintenance activity, rather than an occasional one (at wider intervals) seemed to have helped both of us. As they say, practice makes perfect.

One trick I have found recently is to present her with a toy containing catnip, let her go wild with it, and then watch her mellow out. About 10 to 15 minutes after the cat nip toy, I seem to have a pretty good window of opportunity to go in and gently take her paw without too much fuss.

Another trick has been to try when she was in a deep sleep. Often, I could get one paw done without her noticing. Whenever she started waking up, I’d step away as if nothing happened, and try again at her next nap time. It was a step forward.

I sometimes wonder whether I should just keep the clippers in my back pocket and go about my business around the house. As Ivy follows me around, locks me onto the couch or falls asleep nearby, maybe letting those perfect moments find me rather than the other way around is the way to go.

Ultimately, the more we got to know each other, the more we understood each other. I am certain she has figured out by now that I mean no harm to her, even if I’m gently trying to trim her nails. And I am learning that she is such a gentle soul, revenge isn’t really her way of doing things. With every passing manicure, we are trusting each other more.

I have also learned to manage my expectations, whether a paw or two, or even just a nail or two get done, it’s all progress. As long as I can trim the sharpest ones and get those done on a priority basis, my curtains and furniture will remain happy, and probably Miss Ivy as well. There’s always tomorrow to try again.

As a result, she seemed to have become a more willing participant, without treats for bribes, just lots of positive reinforcement, affection, hugs and kisses… before, during and after.

Maybe trimming her nails is fun after all!

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Sincere thanks for reading!

Have a great day,

André

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