Claws are vital to a cat’s survival. Without them a feline couldn’t defend herself, climb trees or catch critters. Of course, she also couldn’t rip the back of the sofa to shreds or draw blood when she climbs up your shins — but that’s no reason to declaw her. According to the Humane Society, declawing requires removing the last bone of each of a cat’s toes — like amputating a human finger at the first knuckle.

The kinder way to deal with a kitty’s claws is to trim them. But that’s easier said than done. “A panicked cat can scratch or bite or injure herself trying to escape,” says Jeffrey Levy, D.V.M., of House Call Vet NYC.

A cool head and a steady hand are important for this tricky task. Use these smart tips for clipping your cat’s claws and you’re both more likely to emerge unscathed.

Start with just holding her paws. You may think you know your cat well, but handling her paws is a level up from scratching under her chin. “Hold her paws a little bit each day so she’ll become familiar with how it feels. Then you can move on to clipping the nails,” says Levy. Depending on her personality it may take days or weeks for your kitty to get used to it.

Choose your moment. Take advantage of a time when your cat is relaxed — not after a play session or at mealtime, for example. Don’t try to clip her nails while she’s sleeping either. You may startle her and cause her to lash out. “Pick a quiet spot, one that’s not facing a window: She may glimpse a bird or another cat and become excited.

Don’t cut corners on clippers. Regular “human” nail clippers are okay to use in a pinch, but you’ll do better to spring for specially made cat clippers. They’re curved and more comfortable for your pet. They’re also more substantial and will They’ll also make a cleaner cut than the ones in your medicine cabinet.

Get a firm (but gentle) grip. Place your kitty on her back in your lap. “Hold her firmly to let her know you’re in charge and that she’s safe,” suggests Francine Hicks, northeast regional director at The International Cat Association. If she’s really frightened, Levy suggests the “kitty burrito” method of wrapping the cat in a bath towel. “Don’t make the bundle too tight,” cautions Levy. Unwrap one paw at a time for a trim, keeping the other three in the burrito.

Don’t cut too much. Gently press on the pad of one of her paws to unsheathe the nail. Clip it, but not too short. Be careful to avoid the quick — the pinkish flesh that’s visible inside the nail. Nicking it will cause bleeding. If you do draw blood, dip your cat’s paw in a bit of flour or cornstarch to staunch the flow.

Reward cooperation. Have special treats at the ready. Offer your cat a tasty and healthy morsel every time she lets you trim a claw. This way she’ll learn to associate yummy rewards with her manicures.

Know when to quit. If your cat will only stand for having one or two nails trimmed, consider it a success and call it a day. . You may be able to do more next time. 8 If over time you still can’t manage to clip your cat’s claws, don’t force yourself. Your veterinarian will be happy to do it for you.

Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a New York City-based writer and editor who specializes in parenting, health and child development. She’s also the mom of two teen girls.