Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Trimming Your Dog’s Nails


Regular grooming can be as important to your pet’s health and wellbeing as a good diet or regular visits to the vet!  Trimming your dog’s nails can be daunting at first, but with practice, it can become a fast and easy part of your routine.

Why is it important?
Your dog’s nails grow, and as they grow, they begin to push the toes upward.  Imagine walking around in high heels constantly!  It isn’t comfortable or healthy for your dog and can lead to gait problems, muscle or tendon soreness, and poor traction on slick surfaces.

How often do I need to trim?
Some dogs that exercise regularly on rough surfaces will wear down their nails fairly well, but most of our pets will need nail trims at least every 6-8 weeks.  For puppies or dogs that do not wear down their nails naturally, expect to trim every 2-3 weeks. 

What will I need?
To trim your dog’s nails at home, there are a variety of tools you can use.  The most common one is a set of nail trimmers.  These come in two basic styles:
Guillotine trimmers
  •  Guillotine style trimmers cut from bottom to top.  These are good for trimming a large amount of nail at once, if you are certain of where you must cut.  They are not so great for slicing off smaller amounts or shaping nails.
  • Miller’s Forge or scissor/plyer-style trimmers cut from side to side like scissors.  Unlike guillotine style trimmers, these will not hold the nail in place for you while you clip, so you must hold the dog’s foot firmly in place while you cut.  They are great for making small, precise cuts and shaping the nail. 
  • Scissor trimmers
  • Many people also use a special rotary nail file such as a Pedi-Paws to file down their dog’s nails.  This works very well for some dogs, and not well at all for others.  These trimmers will come with complete instructions, so this method isn’t described here.

You should also have on hand:
  •       Styptic powder or pencils in case you cut too short.  Corn starch works well, but you can get commercial products like Quik-Stop which contain silver nitrate to stop the bleeding.
  •       Gauze and vet wrap in case of an extremely short cut (if the dog jerks and you sever the quick very far up)
  •       A nail file or emery board.  A human one will work as well as one meant for dogs.

How do I trim the nails?
Half the battle in trimming your dog’s nails is determining where the quick (a large nerve which runs through the dog’s nail and supplies blood flow) is located.  If your dog has clear nails, you will be able to see the quick.  You want to leave a couple of millimeters of nail in front of the quick, so do not cut directly on top of where you see it.

However, if your dog has black nails, you must learn how to trim small amounts of nail off until you get close to the quick.  To do this, you can start by making several very small slices off of a nail.  Eventually, you will see a circle of grey or pink on the surface of the nail.  This is where you should stop cutting as it means you are getting close to the quick!

The dewclaws are the nails that are on the upper part of your dog’s paws, around the “ankle” area.  Most dogs have front dewclaws, and some dogs have rear ones as well.  These are very important to trim, because they do not touch the ground and therefore do not wear down naturally.  If the dewclaws have grown very long, they will curl around and begin to grow into your dog’s skin.  To trim a long, curved dewclaw, scissor style nail clippers are easiest.  You can gently pull the nail away from the leg until you are able to fit the scissors over it, and then snip.  You should make the cut at the point just longer than the beginning of the curve, so that the claw appears straight when trimmed.  This should be short enough. 

It’s a good idea to file the edges of the nails after trimming if there are any jagged edges as freshly cut nails can be extremely sharp!  Just use a light back-and-forth motion on any edges to smooth them.

What happens if I cut the quick?
If you cut through the dog’s quick, the nail will bleed, sometimes a lot.  
  • If there is minimal bleeding, you can either apply some styptic powder or just leave it.  It should stop within 5 minutes. 
  • If the bleeding is moderate, apply styptic powder on a piece of gauze, and hold to the nail for about 30 seconds. 
  • If the bleeding is severe or doesn’t stop within 10 minutes of applying stypic powder:
    • Apply styptic powder to a piece of gauze and hold it to the nail
    • Apply vet wrap around the paw of the dog to hold it in place
    • Call your vet to ask if he or she should be seen for treatment (often just wrapping the paw for 30 minutes will help stop the bleeding.  Vet treatment is rarely needed.)

What if my dog won’t hold still?
There are very few dogs that enjoy having their nails trimmed!  Here are some tips to get you started.
  •      Have the dog lie on her side, paws facing away from you.  Have a partner hold the dog lightly but firmly at the base of the neck and the flank so that she cannot get up.  This will allow you to deal with just the paw of the dog.
  •      Do just one or two nails at a time at first, and gradually build up to more nails per session until you are able to do all of them.
  •      Call a groomer or a vet, to see if they are willing to show you some good methods of restraining your particular dog. 

Resources and further reading:

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