Clipping Claws



Big Cat Rescue has evolved since its inception in 1992. By 1997 we had seen enough of the abuse and abandonment caused by the pet trade that we had previously engaged in to know that there was no reason to breed exotic animals for lives in cages. As a result we increased our efforts through spaying, neutering and cage building to ensure that we would no longer be a part of the problem. As we have continued to learn about the causes of so much suffering we have become active in stopping the exotic pet trade through education and legislation.  The following is provided only for those who have already made the mistake of supporting the pet trade so that the animal in your care does not suffer even more after being ripped from his mother.



In 2006 the USDA adopted the Amercian Veterinary Medical Association’s policies and it is illegal to remove the teeth or claws of any exotic carnivore or non human primate.  For more details read the PDFs HERE and HERE.


We have scars and scratches from our fingertips to our elbows and people always assume that it is from dealing with our big cats, but the truth of the matter is that almost all of these wounds are inflicted by cubs under six weeks of age. I have even had people ask if I had been in a wreck recently, during kitten season, due to the condition of my arms and although it is not entirely preventable you can minimize your exposure by taking a few minutes to clip their claws regularly. In thirteen years of clipping claws, I have clipped literally thousands of them and only on three occasions have I hit the little blood vessel that everyone uses as the excuse for why they don’t clip claws. I don’t want to hurt a kitten anymore than you, but if I am going to be able to do my job of raising, bathing and medicating this kitten, then I need to be able to handle him without dropping him.


There is a product available from your Veterinarian called Soft Paws. It is a little gelatin cap that can be temporarily attached to your kitten’s nails. They come in bright neon colors so that you can see at a glance that they are still on. We used them once on an ailing Margay who needed daily handling during his recovery. They worked for a short while and are good for such situations, but they are not the long term answer for the exotic cat.


If you start early enough and do it often enough, it is no big deal for you or the cat. If you got a late start or can’t manage the cat then we would suggest that one person muzzle and hold the cub and the other clip. There are a variety of clippers on the market, but I have found that the easiest to handle are human nail clippers. Finger nail clippers for small cats and Toe nail clippers for larger cats.


If you gently squeeze the paw the nails will extend and you will see that they are hook shaped and have a dark blood vessel extending along the top edge to about half way down. Just clip the tip of the nail off below this line and you and the cat will feel no pain. I just take the very tips off, which means that I have to do it more frequently, but as with most things, I’d rather play it safe than sorry. Unless your kitten is inbred and polydactal, it will have four nails on each rear paw and five nails on each front paw, with the fifth one being in a thumb position and usually the hardest to clip and the first one to snag you. In the unlikely event that you should hit a blood vessel you should have on hand a product such as Quick Stop which is a powder you dip the nail into to stop the bleeding. I have a bottle of the stuff, but have never used it as the three times I did hit blood, there was only a drop and then it stopped on it’s own.


When you have bottle raised a kitten to be gentle and sweet it may be very tempting to reason that since the cub does not extend his claws in play with you that it is unnecessary to clip the nails but failure to do so while he is young will cause you both much more pain when it becomes a necessity later in life. Failure to see to this most necessary procedure when he was young could later even cost him his life in an emergency situation. Cats, like children, put everything they find in their mouths and often something gets stuck, usually across the roof of their mouth, and sometimes in the throat. When your 90 pound Leopard is choking to death, it’s going to take all the courage and love you can muster to stick your hand down his throat and dislodge whatever it is, without having to figure a way past 18 deadly weapons that are all going to be fixed on you. Cats cannot reason, when they are in distress, that you have never hurt them and that you are trying to help. They are instead, terrified and striking out at anything that comes near them and you won’t be much help to the cat if you are bleeding to death.


Don’ t fool yourself by saying “Well my little Bobcat is no bigger than a housecat, so how dangerous could he ever be?” My worst and deepest scars are from my sweetest bobcats, under emergency conditions. Any cat, Ocelots especially, delight in wrapping themselves around the anatomy of their “prey” and rabbit kicking with their back feet. When they do this to each other, in play, no harm is done, but when they wrap around your arm and do the same thing, you will be bleeding from your wrist to your elbow. There is always the possibility of escape and recapture can be nearly impossible if the cat has sharp claws. You may reason that in the event of an escape, the cat will need his claws to survive, but if this is a tame cat, claws or not, it will not be able to survive and if it did manage to kill anything for food it would be your neighbors’ cats and dogs, which is going to bring the whole community down on you and your cats.


We have found that it is not safe to house clawed exotic cats with declawed exotic cats because even play fighting can result in nasty wounds to the declawed animal. When two cats have their claws and are raised together they learn how hard is too hard, but when you begin mixing claws and no claws, all of the rules are different and someone is going to be hurt. We’ve been told countless times that it is okay to house a clawed feline with a declawed one, but we have found that the declawed cat will often suffer a nasty cut, and because we love our cats and know how quickly a small cut can turn into a life or death matter, we do not subscribe to this practice.


We do not believe in removing the canine teeth; not the baby teeth nor the permanent ones. Long ago we made the mistake of having the baby teeth filed down. This is a procedure that just takes the very tip off the extremely sharp fangs. Our reasoning was, that it is easier to train a kitten who does not have those needle like enamels sunk into some portion of our anatomy. The adult teeth are not nearly so sharp and by the time the permanent teeth come in, the cat has learned not to use them on people. The results were heartbreaking and very difficult recognize.


We had brought in a large number of kittens, all at once, from two fur farms to save their little lives. Naturally, they all come in sick and stressed and this adds to all of the problems normally associated with bottle rearing. When they were finally stabilized enough to vaccinate, we had their teeth filed. For the next five months this group was constantly on medication for one ailment or another. All of their ailments reached life threatening proportions, even for otherwise inconsequential attacks. We were all baffled. It seemed like the kittens had no immune system and yet they did not test positive for Feline Leukemia Virus or Feline Infectious Peritonitis or any other immune deficiency. One of the kits had grey teeth canine teeth and we took him in to our Veterinarian to have them removed. He had been very ill and had quit eating unless we cut his food into tiny pieces and hand fed him. We feared that he would not even survive the surgery, but we prayed and left the rest to God and our Veterinarian.


As soon as he came home from having the rotten teeth extracted, he took an immediate turn for the better. That was the last time he was ever sick. Within two days of seeing his dramatic recovery we took all of the cubs and kittens back to the Veterinarian and had their tipped teeth removed. All of them were completely better within two days and none of them has been sick again to this day. For the first seven months of their lives they were knocking at death’s door and the last five months of that was due to something stupid that we had done. Except for the one kit, none of the others showed any sign of the teeth being compromised by the filing. The Veterinarian said that they were decayed when she pulled them out, but it was not apparent by just looking in the mouth. Fortunately these were their baby teeth and their adult teeth are all intact.


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