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How to trim your dog’s nails

Long, unkempt nails not only look unattractive, but over time they can do serious damage to a dog. When nails are so long that they constantly touch the ground, they exert force back into the nail bed, creating pain for the dog (imagine wearing a too-tight shoe) and pressure on the toe joint. Long term, this can actually realign the joints of the foreleg and make the foot looked flattened and splayed. For larger or overweight dogs, the combination of pressure bearing down on the dog’s toes & nails and the pushing-up/into the nail bed from too-long nails can be a disastrous combination.

Again, this isn’t just an aesthetic problem, it’s a functional one: Compromising your dog’s weight distribution and natural alignment can leave them more susceptible to injuries, and make walking and running difficult and painful. This is especially important in older dogs, whose posture can be dramatically improved by cutting back neglected nails.

In extreme cases, overgrown nails can curve and grow into the pad of the foot. But even if they are not that out of control, long nails can get torn or split, which is very painful and, depending on severity, may need to be treated by a veterinarian. Nail bed infections can become a secondary problem and may compromise the dog’s health even further.

Aside from all the health reasons, there’s also an element of safety for the family. Long nails can hurt when a dog paws us!

What’s happening inside the nail?

The longer a dog’s nails are allowed to grow, the longer the quick will become, to the point that taking even a very small bit of nail off the end “quicks” the dog which is when we make them bleed. Then the goal becomes a matter of snipping or grinding the nails to get as close as possible to the quick, without actually cutting it. By trimming away the nail all around the quick – above it, below it, and on both sides – the quick has no support or protection, and within days it will begin to visibly recede, drawing back toward the toe.

When a dog’s nails have been allowed to grow without regular trimming, it can take quite a while and lots of regular (weekly) trims, to get the quick receding. With white nails it is so much easier to see the quick but black or dark nails make it super hard. Go slowly but regularly with trims for the dark nails to avoid ‘quicking’ the dog and creating any anxieties.

Where to cut the nail

Nail Clippers:

Guillotine clippers can be easier to use by most people as there is no blade lock and usually a quieter sound, so less scary for the dog. The downside is that if the dog is a big one and has thick nails, it can be hard to thread the nail through the guillotine hole. The blade needs to be sharp too otherwise it will ‘crush’ the nail instead of snipping it. They are harder to use for the careful side to side trim when trying to get a quick to recede.

Guillotine Nail Clipper

Guillotine Nail Clipper

Scissor clippers allow flexibility of use to get at all angles around a dog’s nails and you can take off little bits at a time if nervous. Some have a blade shield that prevents you cutting too far down the nail.

The ideal way to trim the dog’s nail is to snip small pieces off starting from the sides and working inwards, rather than just poking the whole nail through the clippers and squeezing.

Scissor nail Clipper

Scissor Nail Clipper

OOPS, I made it bleed!

If a nail is trimmed too far, the quick may bleed and there are several ways to stop the bleeding:

Styptic Powder

Styptic Powder

My dog hates getting their nails cut!

It is not uncommon for dogs to tremble, pull away, run away or even be fearfully reactive to nail trims, especially if you are suddenly starting to do it. When they’re puppies, we should ideally be handling their feet and teaching them about nail trimming as a habit even if we are not actually doing any cutting. Lots of treats, ‘good dog’ comments and cuddles along with the clippers being put on nails and doing the clicking sound, helps a pup learn that there’s nothing to be concerned about. For an older dog, you may have to start a complete nail training programme.

For successful nail trimming, the dog does need to be able to stay pretty still to avoid injury, be comfortable with the handling and pressure on their toes and the sound of the nail clippers. Slowly practicing these experiences in short sessions frequently, will lead them to understand that nail clipping is just one more thing to have in their day. You can also use calmative treats like the Vetalogica Vita-Rapid given about 30-45 minutes before the practice sessions to help relieve any anxieties.

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