Trimming your dog’s nails

Nail trimming is not an activity that dogs enjoy, but nail trimming is an important part of pet grooming that needs to be done regularly. Long nails are more likely to break and may expose the living core of the nail known as the ‘quick’ which can then become infected. By following these steps and ensuring that nail trimming is a process that your dog expects and doesn’t fear, it can be remarkably stress free for you both.

The key to success when trimming your dog’s nails is not to hurt your dog and to teach your dog to associate nail trimming with positive things. It can be an uncomfortable experience for your dog but you must avoid making it painful by pinching or cutting the quick.  It is important not to be over zealous and cut large amounts of nail off, it’s better to take a series of small amounts from the nail tip.  Use rewards both before and after (edible treats, new toys or a nice long walk), and show affection and use soothing tones throughout the process.

Introduce the clippers to your dog prior to the event so they are not frightened by an unfamiliar object. Sit with them for the days leading up to it and get them used to having their paws handled and their nails examined, use a firm but gentle grip, and place the clippers within close proximity of their nails, gently tapping the nails from time to time.

If you are nervous, be sure to take it slowly until you both feel comfortable – your dog will be able to sense your own fear which could result in their own increasing.  Start by applying the clippers to the tip of a nail and apply sufficient pressure to squeeze the nail without cutting it.  If you are too close to the sensitive quick the dog will express its discomfort so don’t continue with the cut.  If there is no reaction to the squeeze increase the pressure and follow through with a cut.  If the nail appears too long still reapply the clippers 3 or 4 mm above the last cut and repeat the procedure.  Squeeze, if there’s not discomfort, follow through with the cut. Continue until either the nail looks an appropriate length or you dog demonstrates discomfort when the nail is squeezed.  If you cut results in the nail bleeding stop immediately and take measures to control the bleeding.

On the first occasion, start with just one nail, assess your dog’s reaction and calm them if necessary.  Later that day perhaps trim another nail if appropriate.  If you prefer to perform the task over more than one day that’s fine – whatever you feel is right for your dog. After all, you know them best!

Do your research first – different breeds have different nail types and colours which can make it harder to see the sensitive quick so make sure you know how to control a bleeding quick before you begin, or attempt the procedure when you can access a vet or professional groomer for assistance during normal working hours.

Have a styptic pencil or powder available just in case you catch the quick and cause bleeding; styptic contains antihemorrhagic agents that promote clotting and encourage contraction of tissue which helps to seal injured blood vessels.  A household alternative is cornstarch but it is not as effective. Touch the tip of the styptic pencil onto the exposed bleeding quick or packing the styptic powder (or cornstarch) into the cavity of the quick of the nail, and comfort your dog by continuing to hold their paw so they do not associate nail trimming with pain.  If you are unable to control the bleeding contact your vet, and check the nail regularly for evidence or re-bleeding or infection.  If your dog frequently licks the nail area this warrants further investigation.  Accidents happen, even for professionals, so don’t be deterred from trying again in future.

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