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

Features March 2019 Issue

Nail Trimming 101

It's not just so they won't scratch things; it's for their health.

© Bill Anastasiou | Bigstock

You canít see the quick in a dog with dark nails, so you have to make sure not to clip too far down or youíll cause a lot of pain

Tufts veterinarians see more than their fair share of pups whose owners haven’t trimmed their nails — in the emergency room. The nails have grown in a circular shape and back into the dog’s paw pads, causing painful infections that turn red and ooze pus.

Other problems with untrimmed nails include difficulty walking on hard surfaces and the increased possibility that they will catch on something and be torn off, which can lead to even more serious injury.

That’s why a dog’s nails should be trimmed regularly. It’s part of responsible ownership and needs to be worked into your routine.

How often should nails be trimmed? Some people wait until they hear clicking on the floor, and that’s not harmful (except to your floor), but we suggest you simply make a habit of clipping your dog’s nails every three weeks or so. That way, you’re just taking off the nail tips, and you won’t take off enough to reach the “quick,” the blood and nerve bundles at the root of the nail.

In people, the quick doesn’t extend into the nail. But in dogs, the quick goes to about the middle of the nail. We’ve had dogs come to the emergency room because their owners couldn’t stop the bleeding after a nail-cutting exercise that hit the quick. Using a styptic pencil to stop bleeding often doesn’t work and the styptic powder itself stings, so it’s not a completely benign solution.

Two kinds of nail clippers

There are two kinds of nail clippers that will do the trick, both available at pet supply stores.

One type works more or less like a regular nail clipper (although it looks more like a pair of pliers) and is actually more of a nail snipper than a nail clipper, which is all to the good. It means you will just be taking off the tips with little snips and not risk doing damage by going deeper.

The other type is a metal ring with a handle. You put the ring over the nail, then a blade shoots out guillotine-style and shaves off the nail end. We find this type of clipper a bit hard to control, but some people prefer it.

Whatever type of clipper you use, throw it out when it starts to become dull. Dull clippers not only prolong the session (your dog is only going to want to sit for so long) but also squeeze the nail rather than slice it sharply, and that can cause pain. The replacement cost shouldn’t be more than about $10, often a little less.

If your dog won’t accept a pedicure from you

Not all dogs like having their feet or nails handled, especially if they haven’t been handled from puppyhood when it’s easier for a dog to make adjustments. You can start by clipping just one nail a day, and offering lots of treats and warm praise for compliance.

But if it’s just not going to work out, have your dog’s nails trimmed regularly at the groomer’s. Then you’re not the bad guy. Also, sometimes groomers use nail grinders rather than clippers. The grinders take down the tips with a little rotary sander. Not all dogs like it, but some prefer it to clipping or snipping.

Comments (2)

I use a Dremel tool with a sanding disc on my Rottie's heavy nails. He gets a small piece of SlimJim for each nail. He doesn't love the process but he tolerates it much better than a nail clipper. I do a few every few days. I don't do too much at a time because the tool does build up heat.

Posted by: Rottie2012 | December 23, 2019 7:12 PM    Report this comment

Would like to try looking at nails with infrared goggles or under ultraviolet light to see if that improves visibility of quick location. Good light, auxiliary magnification and great care is advised. Getting the angle right.

Posted by: | December 23, 2019 10:36 AM    Report this comment

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