How to Cut Overgrown Cat Claws

You admit it, your cat’s claws are overgrown. It happens, but what matters most is safely cutting your cats claws cut back to a reasonable length. If this is the first time you’ve cut your feline friend’s claws, you may not know how to properly trim a cat’s claws let alone how to cut overgrown cat claws. Either way, I’ll tell you, step by step how to in this guide. 

Here’s how to cut overgrown cat claws:

  • Wrap your cat up in a towel
  • Have someone else hold your cat down
  • Use a pair of pet nail clippers
  • Trim just over where the nail is growing
  • Extract the nail tip
  • Repeat for the other claws

In this guide to overgrown cat claws, I’ll first discuss the signs you can use to determine if your cat’s claws are overgrown. Then I’ll elaborate on the steps above so you can get your cat’s claws back down to a reasonable length.

How Do You Know If Your Cat’s Claws Are Overgrown?

For the many years you’ve had your kitty, you had never trimmed their claws. All along, their claws remained short enough, but not lately.

You suspect your cat’s nails might be getting too long, but how can you be sure? Here are some signs to look out for.

Your Cat Can’t Walk on Carpeted Surfaces Without Getting Stuck

Sure, it’s one thing if you have shag carpeting throughout your house, but if the carpet pile isn’t that high, there’s no need for your feline friend to be getting stuck on the carpeting. 

That’s especially true if you haven’t recently bought a new carpet and your cat never used to get stuck before.

Long claws will tangle with the carpeting nearly anytime your cat takes a step, which can make it very hard for them to navigate around the house. Your cat may spend most of their time in rooms with hard floors such as the kitchen or dining room. 

Your Cat Finds It Difficult to Retract Their Claws

Cat claws don’t retract fully into their sheaths, but a cat can retract its claws enough to prevent hurting itself with its pointed nails. Well, most of the time.

If your cat can’t retract its claws, it could be because the claws have grown thick and bulbous. They no longer fit in their sheaths, so they always remain partially exposed. 

This can, as I mentioned before, be painful for your kitty. You might not even want to pet your cat that much, because if they put a paw on you, even in a non-playful way, you could get scratched or cut. 

Cats also might feel more exposed when walking with non-retractable claws. The retraction mechanism is for defense, as it makes felines stealthier predators. 

Your cat makes audible click-clacking noises wherever they go due their overgrown claws, especially on hard surfaces. They’re not stealthy in the slightest. 

The Claws Look Overly Thick 

I’ll talk a little later about why cats develop overgrown nails, but when your kitty is in the thick of it, their claws will look very abnormal.

If you’ve owned a cat or cats for many years, then you’ve found little shed nail layers throughout the house, right? Your cat usually sheds these nail layers to keep its claws healthy. 

A cat with overgrown claws is no longer shedding layers, so they build up, and build up, creating a problem. 

Your Cat Looks Like It’s in Pain 

Does your cat audibly meow like it’s in agony? Perhaps you notice your kitty limping or walking at half the speed they used to traverse the house.

It could be due to their overgrown nails. 

As the claws gain in length, they curl over and dig into the delicate pads of your cat’s feet (what many cat owners affectionately call toe beans). This can be very painful to a cat, so preventing the nails from reaching this length is imperative.

Trimming Overgrown Cat Claws: A Step-by-Step Guide

Although it was a battle to let your cat check their paws, you realize that a few of their nails are overgrown. 

You have two options here: take your cat to a groomer or veterinarian and let them address the issue or trim the nails yourself. 

Should you choose the latter option, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Pet grooming scissors
  • A second and sometimes a third person
  • A bath towel
  • Talcum-free baby powder
  • Bread

Now you’re ready to get trimming. Let’s go over the steps per the intro.

Step 1: Wrap Up Your Cat

I can’t stress this enough, but your cat is not going to be happy to get its claws trimmed. 

Yes, you’re doing them a favor, and they may realize that later, but right now, they’re not going to be very appreciative.

If anything, your cat could turn violent, thrashing its body and trying to bite and scratch you. You should expect to hear vocal, angry meows and possibly hissing as well.

Should you feel deterred, I must again mention that you don’t have to trim your cat’s claws yourself. However, letting a vet or groomer do it does mean shuffling your cat into their carrier and taking them out of the house. 

Most cats don’t like that much either.

To prevent your cat from seeing much of what you’re doing to them as you trim their overgrown claws, I recommend draping a bath towel over them. You just need one arm of theirs at a time exposed so you can trim their nails.

I want to make it clear that you’re not pulling the towel tightly over your feline friend, as then they won’t be able to breathe. Just drape it over them. 

Step 2: Have Someone Else (Or Several People) Hold Your Cat

You shouldn’t cut your cat’s claws alone. You’ll need someone else whose sole job it is to hold your kitty still. 

Although this sounds like the easy part, it’s usually anything but. 

Your helpful friend or family member should consider wearing thicker clothing and covering any exposed skin in case your cat gets their paws out from under the towel and takes a swipe.

If your cat is especially strong and feisty, it’s not unheard of for a third person to join in to keep your kitty subdued.

Step 3: Begin Trimming the Claws

Your cat is about as still as they’re going to get. It’s time for you to trim.

If you don’t already own pet nail clippers, you’ll want to buy those before you begin. 

Pet nail clippers are indeed different than the nail clippers in your bathroom medicine cabinet since the former is designed for pet claws.

Since your cat can’t retract its claws at current, that makes it easier for you to determine where you’ll cut them. You want to find where the claw is growing and trim just at that point. 

Be steady, sure, and firm. If you hesitate too long, your cat could move its paw and you could cut somewhere unintended. 

Step 4: Extract the Nail Tip

In some instances, once you trim the overgrown claw, the tip of the nail might come right off as the nail layers usually shed. 

Depending on just how overgrown we’re talking here, you don’t always get so lucky. You might need to use tweezers to extract the nail tip from the overgrown claw.

Regular tweezers suffice here, so there’s no need to go out and buy something special. That said, you should disinfect your tweezers with rubbing alcohol before you start just to avoid the spread of bacteria or fungus.

Please ensure you rinse the tweezers thoroughly with water before using them. Overgrown claws are painful enough for your cat. Rubbing alcohol residue will make it a lot worse.

Step 5: Staunch Any Bleeding

Even if you do everything correctly, your cat’s paws may bleed when you remove the overgrown nail(s). This is due to how severe the state of the claws is. 

Use warm water on the paws and staunch the bleeding with a piece of white bread or baby powder. Use a talcum-free baby powder, as talcum is not good for your cat to breathe in.

Step 6: Repeat

Okay, so that’s one claw done. Most cats have 18 toes and usually as many nails, so only 17 more to go!

My recommendation? Trim a few claws and then take a break. 

Just make sure you don’t take too many breaks. Each time you let your cat go free and then wrangle them back in again is going to agitate them more and more.

Once you get into the final stretch, try not to rush. You should set aside a whole afternoon for this activity. If you’re done earlier, then great, but if not, you made the time. 

A Note on When You Should Go to the Vet for Overgrown Cat Claws

As you trim your cat’s overgrown claws, you should pay attention to the state of their feet. If you notice any pus-like discharge or if your cat’s paws are swollen, don’t proceed any further. 

More than likely, the overgrown claws have caused an infection. You need to bring your cat to the veterinarian immediately. Once your vet has the infection controlled, they can take care of trimming your cat’s claws. 

What Causes Overgrown Cat Claws? 

After one instance of having to cut your cat’s overgrown claws, you probably never want to do it again. What leads to the nails becoming overgrown in the first place so you can prevent reoccurrences in the future?

Medical Conditions

If your feline friend has certain medical conditions, they’re at a higher likelihood of their claws overgrowing. 

One condition is arthritis. 

Not only does arthritis affect a cat’s activity levels (more on this in a moment), but the condition can also prevent a cat from grooming the entirety of their bodies. Their claws become neglected and eventually overgrown.

Hyperthyroidism, which affects a cat’s metabolism, can also speed up claw growth. So too can diabetes, because it ties in with the next issue that leads to overgrown cat claws.

Lack of Circulation

That is, poor circulation. A cat, like any living creature, relies on its blood to circulate nutrients throughout the body. When blood circulation is impeded, then nutrients can get to the cat’s claw bed.

This affects the way the claws grow, and it’s usually for the worst.

A cat’s age can reduce its rate of circulation, which is why overgrown nails are usually an issue for older felines than younger ones. 


Cats sleep for upwards of 16 hours a day, but the time they spend awake should be used at least in part for exercise. 

Exercise doesn’t mean your cat has to run around the house like mad, just that they’re up and active. Since most cats don’t go outdoors, indoor cats need to walk around a lot to wear down their nails.

Keep in mind that certain medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism can cause a cat to balloon up in weight, and that can impede your pet’s rate of physical activity.   


As I established, older felines have poorer blood circulation, which usually results in overgrown claws. 

More so than just that, the claws will thicken as a cat gets older. This is known as onychauxis.

When you add to that that an older cat can’t groom themselves as readily nor are they as active, it’s no wonder overgrown nails are a common issue in senior felines.  

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