A Guide to Stress-Free Nail Trimming
Nail trimming is something that a lot of dog owners (and dogs) struggle with. There are a number of reasons for this, from a lack of knowledge as to how and when to trim the nails, to fear or anxiety about hurting or upsetting their dog. However, most dogs need to have their nails trimmed between once a week to once a month to prevent overgrowth which could lead to injury, pain or infection.
Nails can be filed down naturally from walking on hard surfaces like pavements, and if you walk your dog regularly on pavements or concrete, you may find that you do not need to trim your dog’s nails as frequently. However, you should always keep a careful eye on the dew claw (thumb claw) as this will not be worn down naturally by walking on hard surfaces.
If you are fearful or anxious about trimming your dog’s nails, you can ask your vet or groomer to teach you the correct technique, and this can make you more confident in time. If you still do not feel confident, your local vet or groomer will be happy to do this for you. The best way to prevent your dog from being anxious about nail-trimming, is to introduce it at a very young age, and always offer treats, patience and re-assurance. If you have an adult dog that is fearful of a nail trim, you can use the “touch and treat” method mentioned in the previous brushing and bathing blog here: "Brushing and Bathing: The Basics"
Types of Nail Trimmers
Good quality trimmers should be sharp and concave at the cutting edge, to avoid crushing the nail. Blunt or poor-quality trimmers will split the nail and/or put pressure on the quick (the nail’s blood supply) which can be uncomfortable or painful for your dog. You should always choose a trimmer that is an appropriate size for your dog and their nails. Too small a trimmer will struggle to cut through the nail, which can cause splitting, and too large a trimmer will be harder to control, and you will be more likely to cut the quick.
There are two main types of cutting trimmer, the guillotine and the pliers/scissors. Guillotine trimmers work exactly how they sound; you put the nail into the hole, squeeze, and then a blade will be lowered and slice through the nail. These work best for small or medium dog nails. The scissors variety look a little like scissors or pliers, and as you can create a huge amount of force through the handles, these are an excellent option for larger dogs, although smaller scissor/plier trimmers are excellent for smaller dogs. The other option is a grinder tool, where the tool is used to grind or file down the dog’s nails. However, these devices can be loud, and the vibrations can be even more upsetting for some dogs than the sensation of a standard nail trimmer.
How to trim the nails
The nail contains both a blood vessel (the “quick”) and a nerve that can lead to bleeding and pain if the nail is cut too short. You will need some treats to make the whole experience positive, and you do not have to trim all the nails at once. (You can start with the “touch and treat” method mentioned earlier if your dog is very anxious about nail trimming.) Start with one nail, give a reward and return later if you or your pet is nervous. One technique that helps is to hold the handle of the nail trimmers flat against the toe pad and cut straight across the nail, so that the nail will sit just above the ground. This technique makes it extremely unlikely you will cut the nails too short and accidentally cut the quick. To get a shorter nail than the previous method, aim to cut at a 30-45° angle from the toe pad, making sure to avoid the quick.
Working with Black Nails
If your dog has black nails, look at the underside of the nail and you will notice that towards the tip the nail separates out into a triangular shape with two outer ‘walls’. At this point, there is no quick and it is safe to cut the tip off. Otherwise use the technique of simply cutting straight across from the pad. Another way is to apply gentle pressure with the nail trimmers without actually cutting. If your dog reacts to the pressure, most likely you are too close to the quick and you will need to move the clippers further down the nail. If in doubt, just take off a millimetre or two at a time and do not worry about keeping the nails very short.
Hard, Brittle or Old Dog Nails
Older dogs tend to end up with long quicks and often extremely hard nails. Also, due to their decreased activity their nails can get very long. Trimming the nails after bathing can help with the hardness issue, as the nails are softer after soaking in water. Ensuring you just take the tips off the nails or cut them so they sit just above the floor when your dog is standing can help to ensure you do not cut brittle nails too short which could cause splitting.
Alternatively, if you gradually take the tips of the nails off, you can often make the quick recede a little over time, but you will need to be patient. So long as your dog’s nails are not touching the ground, getting caught in anything and causing the toes to splay out or bend, there is no need to worry too much about keeping them extremely short. Regular small nail trims encourage the quick to shrink back, meaning you can keep the nails shorter with no worries about cutting the quick.
What if I Cut the Quick?
If you accidentally cut the quick you can use styptic powder, or a caustic silver nitrate styptic pen. These will stop the bleeding. Apply a tiny bit of water to either a cotton bud or the special pen, and then hold onto the cut quick for 30 seconds. Usually if you have made your dog bleed, they will be a bit nervous next time, so make sure you have lots of treats at the ready and take it slow. If you pet is nervous about nail trimming, see “touch and treat” the previous blog about bathing and brushing here: "Brushing and Bathing: The Basics"
Whenever you trim your dog’s nails remember to make the whole experience rewarding by having treats at the ready and always take a little bit at a time if you can’t clearly see the quick beneath the nail.
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