Friday, Jan. 3rd 2020

Nailed It! Nail Care for your Pets


Nail Care for your Pets is Important!

Why it matters: 

Nail Trims for Pets

Guide to proper nail trim for pets

There is a reason performance-oriented veterinarians and others stress nail care and nail trimming.  Cat’s nails should not protrude beyond the skin when retracted.  Dog’s nails should not touch the ground when they stand still.   Why?  Because if nails are too long, they cause the toes to twist when your pet walks, and push the toes backwards when standing.  This then alters use of all the joints of the legs, and can even lead to back pain.  Imagine trying to walk with small pebbles on the bottoms of your toes.  Over the long term, too-long nails can actually cause arthritis and constant pain in our pets.  Cats with overlong nails can develop infections of the nail beds as sheaths become thickened and trap dirt and germs.   Long nails are also more prone to catching on things and causing injury or being broken.  Nail Care is critical to pet health!


Dog nails may be black, clear, or many shades in between. On lighter-colored nails, you should be able to see the “quick”, or blood-vessel-containing area as a pinkish or darker streak inside that comes from the base of the nail partway to the end.  Darker nails can be harder to judge where to trim to, but there are a few clues.  Often on the underside of the nail, you can see a hollowed groove coming from the tip of the nail towards the base.  This groove ends more or less where the quick begins.  Also, in puppies and some older dogs, the nail narrows and makes a distinct curve downward after the end of the quick.  If your pet has some light and some dark nails, use the amount you remove from lighter nails as a guide to the darker ones.


In most cats, it’s very easy to see the pink wedge-shaped quick coming out from the nail base towards the tip.  The nails also usually make a sharp curve downward and narrow a lot beyond the quick.  When trimming, just make sure you don’t trim into the pink part, and aim to just remove the sharp hook downward.  Just gently squeeze the toe from beneath to get the claw to come out for easy access.  In some very aged cats that are arthritic and aren’t scratching to remove old claw layers, their nails may get quite thick.  Sometimes they are so thickened they can’t be retracted.  Frequent trimming may correct this problem.


Ideally, you will begin accustoming your pet to having their feet handled using treats, a quiet voice, and lots of praise when they are very young.  This process can still work in older animals but may take longer.  All attention to their feet should be as positive as possible, and accompanied by luscious goodies.  If you need help with this process, consult with a positive trainer or your veterinarian.  In some pets, you may have to begin by giving treats and praise just for sitting quietly while you stroke their legs, then gradually accustom them to being touched lower on the legs until you can calmly pick up a paw and play with the toes.   Always work towards the pet sitting calmly for all handling of their legs and feet.


In general, nail trimming is done one of two ways.  One is with a clipper sized to fit the pet.  Cats and puppies can be done with a small scissors-like trimmer.  Medium dogs can be done with a guillotine-style.  Larger dogs may need clippers that look somewhat like a plastic-handled pair of pliers.  The other method is the use of a powered high-speed Dremel tool with a sanding cone.  Most pets must be gradually trained to accept the sound and vibration of a Dremel tool, but this is definitely the best way to smooth the nails, round the tips, and do the kind of frequent trimming that will keep the quicks short.  There are videos online to help you with both these processes, but one key tip is to point the blade of a guillotine style trimmer AWAY from the toe, so you don’t clip the nail shorter than where you hold the trimmer.  Any cutting type clipper should be used with a rapid motion as slowly closing the blades can pinch and be more uncomfortable.  Also, make sure your tool is sharp so you cut the nail instead of crushing it. Don’t forget to check the inside surfaces of all legs for the higher “dewclaw” (like our thumb) and trim that as well.


How often you do nail care will vary somewhat according to their activity.  Dogs who are very active, especially on rocky or sandy surfaces, or walked frequently on concrete, may wear at least some of their nails so they rarely need to be trimmed.  House pets, sedentary pets, and cats that don’t use a scratching post may need trimming more frequently. In general, all pets should at least have their nails trimmed once monthly.  Every two weeks is even better. 

Problem children:

If your pet is very averse to having their feet handled or nails trimmed, there are several options.  There are anti-anxiety medications available to calm your pet down that could be given a couple of hours before their pedicure.  Certainly, you should work EVERY DAY to accustom them to calmly allow handling of their feet and we could give you advice on how to do this gradually.   A key detail is to always make it positive, and to do only what they will allow without reacting badly.  If that means only petting to their elbows and knees while giving treats until they allow you to go lower, then that’s what you do.  Sometimes, changing the location of their pedicure can help.  Try a picnic table, the bathroom counter, a patio chair, or have them lying down for a belly rub on your bed.  Have an extra person offer licks of a spoon with all-natural peanut butter or squeeze cheese, or hold a jerky treat so they can only get small nibbles at a time.  The idea is distraction with something they find pleasurable at the same time you are handling their legs and feet.

One additional note:

Don’t try nail care at home unless you have an open container of Quick-stop clotting powder within arm’s reach.  This is Murphy’s Law of Nail Trims. The time you leave it in the bathroom cabinet is the day you’ll hit a quick and the pet will run away leaving blood all through your house.  We do sell this if you don’t have a bottle.  It should be in every pet owner’s medicine cabinet!  (And hydrogen peroxide is pretty good at taking out blood stains, though it can bleach some fabrics or surfaces.)

Just can’t?

If you’ve read all this, and can’t bring yourself to trim your pet’s nails at home, we are happy to give you lessons in our clinic while we trim them for you.  Just remember, we charge money for it, and every 2 weeks is the ideal schedule.  So, hopefully this newsletter has given you the courage to at least try it!


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Raymore, MO 64083

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