Cats often approach their first claw-trims squirming and “crying” like a child who is getting his or her first haircut. And you may feel like crying out yourself during the process. But armed with some good advice, the task doesn’t have to be daunting or difficult. Here, James R. Richards, DVM, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York, offers the following steps to safe, speedy and stress-free claw cutting.

Use the right tool Richards advises regular, monthly trims. Keep a soft towel or blanket handy in case you need to cushion or secure your cat. You can use human nail trimmers, but it’s best to purchase clippers made just for cats at your vet’s office or a pet shop. The blades on cat clippers are usually angled to better match the downward turn of your cat’s claws. Also, they often include special features, such as soft, non-slip finger grips. Consider purchasing a styptic pencil or powder, just to have on hand in case you mistakenly cut through the pink quick, which is a blood vessel just above the pointy part of each claw.

Position your cat properly Cradle your cat in your lap, wrapping the towel around it, if necessary. If you’re right-handed, your cat’s head should rest near your left leg. You can then lift each paw with your left hand and clip with your right. Do the opposite if you are left-handed. If your cat protests too much, try recruiting a friend to hold your squirmy feline in the towel or blanket while you clip.

Focus on the front paws Your cat has five claws on each of its front paws. It’s these nails that cause most of the damage to your home or even to your skin, if your cat scratches you. To best manage the front paw claws, use your fingers to place a slight amount of pressure on the toe pad. This will extend the claws for easier clipping.

Proceed with caution Make absolutely sure you have only the top curve of the nail in the blade, and not the pink tissue or quick. But rest easy. “Nicking the quick or the pink inner part of the nail is easier to avoid in cats versus dogs because a cat’s nails tend to not be pigmented,” he says. But, if you do nick your cat and there’s bleeding, don’t panic. “Put pressure on the wound with a gauze pad until it stops bleeding,” he suggests. “Or use the styptic pencil to help slow the flow and then call your vet, if necessary.”

Consider applying plastic nail tips to your cat’s claws If your goal is to blunt the tips of your cat’s nails, you can avoid the entire clipping process and just place plastic nail tips on the nails. These products, called Soft Claws are vet-developed, non-toxic vinyl nail caps that come in several sizes and colors and are glued over the nail. “Ultimately, the cap keeps the nail duller than when you clip the nail, but this will only work if your cat is patient while you apply the glue,” he says.

When in doubt, let your cat groom naturally For your cat’s health (and happiness in your household), keep a vertical or horizontal scratch post in a place that your cat frequently visits. “Cats are naturally going to scratch on things in order to stretch their tendons and shed the outer sheaths of their claws,” he says. “If we can provide them with something to scratch on, we can avoid doing too much trimming.”