Every few months or so one of our cats gets stuck to the carpet in the living room. They reach that point where they will sit on their perch that overlooks the front yard and rather than watch the birds flit around in the bushes and on the lawn, they chew at their nails. It's then that we know we've put off their nail trims too long. We have a system in our house, I hold each cat, my wife trims the nails. Unless one of us isn't home, then we do them by ourselves, holding and trimming at the same time.
Cats, especially indoor cats, need to have their nails trimmed. Sure getting them caught on the carpet or having to chew them off is unpleasant but worse than that is when they grow in on themselves and need to be removed from the paw pad.
But trimming nails can be stressful, for both the cat and the owners. If you have never had the staff at your veterinary clinic show you how to trim your cat's nails, I would recommend starting there. Once you have the mechanics of trimming down the next part is getting your cat to co-operate.
Kittens are a bit easier than older cats to train and acclimate to the idea of nail trimming. While this is easier, it still takes time. I would plan for it to take about two months to train a kitten to get used to nail trims. Not two months of training everyday mind you but two months when doing it maybe two to three times a week. If you choose to practice daily, it will go a lot faster.
The first step is to get your kitten used to the idea of being held either on his/her back or with a firm hand under the armpits and his/her rump resting on your lap or in the crook of your arm. This maintains a sort of sitting position that holds the legs directly in front of the kitten. Gently put the kitten in the position that works best for you and continuously offer treats that your kitten enjoys. I like small amounts of canned cat food on the end of a spoon for this. Offer it directly to the kittens mouth and offer treats continuously while the kitten is being held in the position. Once the kitten is manageable in the holding position you can start phasing out treats and start step two.
Now we have to get the kitten used to having his/her feet handled. While you or your trimming partner are handling your kittens feet you should also be plying him/her with treats the entire time. Then when you let go of the feet; stop providing treats. This helps to build the association between having kitten's feet handled and good things happening. Gradually increase the amount of time and the degree of handling while offering treats. You might touch the trimmers to the claws a few times without actually trimming nails before attempting your first successful at home pedicure.
Once you have a kitten that allows you to handle his/her you can start to trim their nails back and keep them from getting stuck to the carpet.
It will be much more difficult to get an adult cat accustomed to having their nails trimmed. This is especially true if your cat has already learned to hate the nail trimmers.
First we have to defuse the aversion to the nail trimmers. If you already offer your cat a small treat every night before bed, you can bring out the nail trimmers leave them on the counter by where you keep the treats. Then when you give the treat every night, pick up the nail trimmers as well. This will encourage kitty to think that good things happen when the nail trimmers come out. If you don't already offer your cat a treat every evening, they think you probably should start. I agree.
Teaching an adult cat to lie on his/her back is going to be difficult. Better to teach them to lay on one side and work from there. This also can be encouraged by offering treats the entire time.
Again you will want to start handling Kitty's feet and manipulating the toes. All while giving treats continuously through out. Once you can successfully handle the toes and you feel comfortable trying a nail trim, start with one toe at a time. Trim one nail, give a treat. if you feel like you can go for two, do so. If you feel like that was pretty stressful for Kitty, back off and try another toe tomorrow.
In time you should be able to trim one foot at a time, while only giving one treat per foot. Then you can move to trying to do two feet per treat, then maybe all four feet per treat.
With a little work this should eventually lead to a nail trimming experience that while it may not be enjoyable, it will at least be low stress. Once you have a kitty that allows you to trim his/her nails, you will want to check the nails every few weeks to determine just how often they will need to be done. Some cats can go months while others seem to need trims more frequently.