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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Expert Advice September 2013 Issue

Dear Doctor - Afraid to hurt dog while trimming his nails

Letter to Tufts Veterinarians

Q Do I really have to trim my dog’s nails? I’m afraid I’ll hurt him by cutting into the quick. One time I cut too far down and had to take him to the doctor. He kept bleeding. It was only a very slow trickle, but I couldn’t get it to stop.
Karen Sonneborn
Mastic Beach, New York

Dear Ms. Sonneborn,
A We do recommend nail trimming. If a dog’s nails grow too long, walking can become uncomfortable. In some dogs, the nails grow so long they curve around in almost a 360-degree loop and grow back into the paw pads. That can lead to infections on top of being painful.

If your dog has clear nails, cutting them safely is easy because you can actually see the quick — the nerves and blood vessels running partway down the middle. (The quick in people ends at the fingertip and doesn’t extend into the nail.) If your dog has dark nails, which we imagine yours does, it’s hard to figure out where the quick begins. That’s why we recommend clipping your dog’s nails every few weeks rather than waiting till you hear clicking on the floor. You’ll just be taking off the pointy nail tips — not enough to hurt your dog or make him bleed. (It’s a common complication, by the way.)

Two kinds of clippers, both available at pet stores, will do the job. One has a metal ring with a handle. You put the ring over the nail, and a blade shoots out guillotine style and shaves off the tip. But to tell you the truth, we find this kind somewhat hard to control.

The other type is closer to a regular nail clipper (although it looks somewhat like a pair of pliers). It’s really a nail snipper rather than a clipper — good for taking off nail tips rather than going down too far.

Throw out either type of clipper when it starts to dull. Dull clippers prolong the session and squeeze the nail rather than slice it cleanly, causing unnecessary pain.

A note for those whose dogs spend a significant amount of time on concrete or asphalt: the nails will be worn somewhat by use, and you may find they don’t need to be trimmed at all.

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