Take trauma out of trimming

Clipping pets' nails doesn't have to be scary experience

Posted: Sunday, March 06, 2005


  Nail trimming doesn't have to be a traumatic experience for pets if owners take it slow, are patient and reward good behavior. Photo by Joseph Robertia

Nail trimming doesn't have to be a traumatic experience for pets if owners take it slow, are patient and reward good behavior.

Photo by Joseph Robertia

Although some owners may not want to say the words too loud, nail trimming is part of routine health care.

Pets' nails grow quickly and leaving them untrimmed can lead to splitting and tearing. These injuries are painful to pets and can add up to extra expense when treated by a veterinarian.

However, nail trimming isn't always an easy task to perform on a pet. While some dogs will hold still or may present their paws for trimming, there are an equal number that take four people wrestling the dog to the ground to trim one nail.

Nail trimming doesn't have to be difficult or stressful if handled properly, but doing it correctly means using the right tool for the job.

There are several nail trimmers that work well on pets. Some are guillotine-style, while others are more like scissors or hedge clippers but with curved blades.

Never use scissors or human nail trimmers since they can crack or split a pet's nails.

It's important to take things slow and have patience. It often is traumatic to trim them all at once so it may be better to trim one nail at a time over several days and have the animal be comfortable, rather than trimming all at once with the pet showing resistance.

Most animals that show an aversion to having their nails trimmed didn't start out that way. This is often a reaction to some past unpleasant or traumatic experience.

The amount of the nail trimmed should be conservative. Taking too much nail can result in cutting the quick. This is the pink fleshy part that is the blood supply to the nail.

Cutting the quick results in bleeding and is painful to pets. To avoid this, it's better to make several small trims rather than one big one.

If a pet has clear or white nails, trimming is easier. For pets with dark nails, it is difficult to see where the quick ends, so extra caution should be taken. If uncertain about nail trimming, have a veterinarian or groomer do it first and walk you through it as you try.

Putting gentle pressure on the knuckle of dogs or the paws of cats can help extend nails further out. Don't forget about the dew claws, too, since these almost never touch the ground and, if left unattended, can grow back into the skin causing pain and infections.

Some dog breeds such as Pekingese, Shih Tzu and many of the small terrier breeds have long coats that can get in the way. Excess fur around the feet should be kept short to aid in nail trimming.

Animals should start having their nails trimmed at an early age. Puppies and kittens often will sit without too much resistance, allowing a nail, or sometimes a few, to be trimmed.

If a pet wasn't started at an early age or if the animal already is problematic during nail trimming, don't give up hope. It is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. It's just a matter of using conditioning and positive reinforcement to eventually win them over.

Begin by increasing the hands-on time a pet is given. The goal is to pet the animal more and expand petting onto the lower extremities. Start on the shoulders, then move gradually to the legs and eventually the feet. Remember to take things slow.

Try to focus on rewarding good behavior. Give praise or treats after touching the animal's paws. It's about positive reinforcement. Don't scold for bad behavior but don't reward it, either.

Dogs that remain problematic can be exercised before attempting to trim their nails. Sometimes being a little fatigued makes them less resistant.

Larger dogs may require the aid of another person, especially for the hind feet. One person is used to pet and distract the dog while it lays on its side, while the other person trims.

Another option to reduce the frequency of nail trimming is to regularly walk and exercise with pets on concrete surfaces. This can help wear the nail down naturally.

Some people also will try to sneak up on napping animals and trim one nail at a time. This method is typically not recommended, since startling a pet in this manner could lead to being bitten. Also, a sleeping animal could suddenly jerk awake, causing a trimming-related injury.

If a dog's nail is cut to the quick, cornstarch can stop the bleeding. Styptic pencils also can be used.

Not all pets may come around to cooperating. If a pet still violently resists despite months of training and coaxing, or if the pet shakes uncontrollably from fear, it may be best to seek the help of a veterinarian.

They can either prescribe tranquilizers for the pet to aid in trimming or perform the task themselves.

The trimming frequency can be vary depending on several factors, but typically every four to six weeks is an adequate trimming schedule.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at news@peninsula clarion.com.

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