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The Nitty Gritty on Nail Trims

posted October 17th, 2015 by
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The Nitty Gritty on Nail Trims

Pups and Pedicures

By Nancy Gallimore, CPDT-KA

 

Get a pedicure?

You don’t have to ask me twice. Why, yes, I would love to have someone pamper me for an hour or so. Count me in.

Ask the same question to just about any dog? You might as well ask him if he’d like to be abandoned in a desert filled with wild animals and broken glass. The mere hint of a nail trim will generally result in a mixed look of pained shock and brimming terror clouding a dog’s normally trusting eyes.

And yet, keeping nails properly trimmed is important to the overall health and welfare of your dog. According to Dr. Patrick Grogan, medical director at VCA Woodland East Animal Hospital, nails allowed to grow too long can actually alter the way a dog plants his foot, causing discomfort, and potentially even a lack of desire to exercise properly.

Another risk of neglecting trims is that longer nails are more likely to snag on things, potentially causing the nail to break off into the quick, the fleshy cuticle inside the dog’s nail. Not only is this painful for your dog and potentially quite messy for you, there is a healthy blood supply in the quick. Dr. Grogan says that if a portion of the nail is still attached or the cuticle is exposed, the dog may have to be anesthetized so your veterinarian can treat the injury.

“Most dogs should have their nails trimmed about every six to eight weeks,” advises Dr. Grogan. “This can vary depending on the size and activity level of your dog. The nails of smaller dogs or less active dogs may grow out faster than larger, active dogs that get a lot of normal abrasion and wear on their nails.”

Dr. Grogan also says that regular trimming is required to not only keep a dog’s nails a good length but to also keep the quick from growing out too long. If nails are neglected and the quick is allowed to grow out, it can be very difficult to return the nail to a  proper length.

If you want to learn how to trim your dog’s nails yourself, Dr. Grogan suggests taking some time to familiarize yourself with the anatomy of a dog’s nail.  The fleshy, tender quick is wedge-shaped and follows the contour of the nail itself, almost like a smaller nail inside the nail.

“The part of the nail that can be safely trimmed generally hooks down a bit and is thinner at the point where it clears the tip of the quick,” Dr. Grogan says. “Ideally, you want to trim the nail two to three millimeters from the tip of the quick.”

If you are lucky and your dog has light colored nails, you can actually see the pink quick inside the nail. If your dog has black nails, it’s a bit trickier. Dr. Grogan suggests snipping just a little at a time.

If your dog will accept it, you can also use a grinder to smooth the tip and edges of the nails. If your dog’s nails are very long, trim them back first and then use the grinder to smooth the edges. Be sure to keep the grinder moving, just lightly tapping the dog’s nail. The sandpaper and friction get very hot if held to the nail surface too long and can cause discomfort.

OK, it’s one thing to know how to trim your dog’s nails, but it’s another issue to convince your dog it’s a good idea. Well, my certified-professional-dog-trainer take on  the situation is that with nail trimming, and many other important grooming tasks, we tend to take an ill-advised all-or-nothing, grab-‘em-and-force-‘em-to-accept-it approach with our puppies and dogs. Obviously, this is not the best of plans for the long haul.

Dr. Grogan and I agree that while most dogs do not naturally like to have their feet handled, you can teach them to accept nail maintenance with graceful resignation (don’t go so far as to expect tail-wagging joy). The key word here is “teach.”

It’s a great idea to spend some time prepping your dog for the idea of a nail trim. If you grab the dog and start issuing commands, pinning your dog to the floor, and grabbing his feet and trimming away, my guess is that you’re going to be met with some serious resistance that will get worse with every attempt.

But if you teach your dog to accept a nail trim in a positive fashion, it doesn’t have to be a battle. Think about it: if you go in for a pedicure, the technician doesn’t just grab you, pin you to a chair and start trimming your toenails. I know my pedicures start with a relaxing foot bath… a little massage… the offer of a cool beverage.

While your dog doesn’t necessarily need that level of spa pampering (or does he?), it’s a good idea to have your dog relax on the floor beside you while you give belly rubs and lightly touch each paw, rewarding with treats as you do so. The idea is to give your dog a very calm, positive experience in conjunction with having his feet handled.

The next step would be to touch the nail clippers to each toenail with plenty of calm praise and rewards sprinkled throughout  the process. When you feel ready to start trimming nails, Dr. Grogan offers some   great tips:

Purchase good nail clippers. You may want to ask your local pet supply store for recommendations.

With your dog in a calm environment, trim just one foot per day over the course of four days. Keep it short and sweet. Don’t rush the process.

Offer lots of treats and praise after each snip.

Enlist the aid of an assistant. One person distracts the dog and gives treats while the other person trims the nails.

If you do accidentally trim a nail too far back and see blood, don’t panic. While nails can bleed impressively, Dr. Grogan says it is not cause for huge concern. You can apply pressure for a few minutes, or you can apply a clotting powder like Quick Stop if you have it on hand.             Dr. Grogan says you can even just let your dog go relax outside or in an area where a little blood won’t be a problem. The nail should clot within 10 to 15 minutes.

In the event that you do cut into the quick, the trainer’s note here is to also try not to make it a big issue with your dog. Don’t panic and apologize like a crazy person. Talk calmly, reassure your dog and offer a good jackpot of treats to make amends for your mistake. Then take a break and try again in a day or so.

If you still feel a bit squeamish about diving in, ask your veterinarian to show you how to trim your dog’s nails. “We are always happy to show owners proper nail trimming techniques,” says Dr. Grogan.

If you aren’t willing and/or able to trim your dog’s nails yourself, there is no shame in leaving the procedure to the professionals. Your veterinarian will always be happy to give your dog a nail trim, or you can use the services of an experienced, professional groomer who will work with your dog to help him accept a little pedicure. When the pros are on the job, the trim is generally over before your dog even realizes what is happening.

If you have a dog who has had a previous bad experience during a nail trim, or one who is overly sensitive about having his feet handled, you may want to enlist the aid of a qualified dog trainer to work with your dog. A good trainer can help condition your dog to accept different types of handling and grooming procedures in a positive manner.

The overriding lesson is this: you teach your dog where to potty; you teach your dog what to chew and what not to chew; you teach your dog basic cues like sit, down, and to come when called. The teaching must continue when it comes to basic maintenance routines such as nail trims.

With a little work, a little patience, and perhaps a good number of hotdogs, you (or your veterinarian/groomer—it’s OK to bail) can give your dog a perfect pedicure. Keep calm and trim on.