The Science Behind Trimming Your Dogs Nails
Updated: May 7
As most people know, dogs and cats hate getting their nails trimmed. Don't get me wrong, some pets are very tolerant of it, however trust me, THEY STILL HATE IT. Then they're pets that turn full Chupacabra on us and let us know that there is no way in heck they are going to let us touch their paws. Even though pets have such a high hatred for the service, it is 100% necessary. Even the most troublesome of pets can be taught how to love their nails being trimmed. Simple positive reinforcement during training can go a long way!
Why can't you get the nails shorter? A pets nails are made of a hard, fibrous material called keratin. The inner part of the nail is called the quick which supplies blood to the toes and is made up of a soft cuticle rich in blood vessels and nerves which makes cutting a pets nails past the quick not only painful but it gives the pet a bad experience. It can also cause them to be more difficult the next time around. So when asking a groomer or vet tech to get the nails shorter, sometimes the quick doesn't allow us to. Dogs nails also come in different colors. The color usually depends on the hair surrounding the cuticle. White hair tends to leave the nails almost transparent which is the easiest nail color to clip due to seeing the "pink" quick. Dark brown or black hair tends to have black nails making it a little more difficult to clip without cutting into the quick, but still doable. Some dogs nails are both colors making some easier to clip then others. Cats nails are always clear, making cat nail trims the easiest, if your cat will allow you to of course! After clipping over 20,000 pets (understatement) nails in my grooming career so far I can tell you it does get easier the more times you do it. With a little practice, patience, and a good understanding of the make up of a nail I know you can learn to be a professional in no time! At least for your own pets.
Some lucky dogs keep their nails short all on their own during normal daily activities such as long walks or runs. Running on pavement, asphalt, and concrete is a good way to keep your large dogs nails naturally short. Breeds with high energy such as Pit Bulls, Dobermans, Labs, Golden Retrievers, and breeds alike seem to have an easier way of grinding them down on their own due to the weight and constant pressure on their paws. Even dogs that keep their nails short on their own usually still have problems with their dewclaws starting to form a loop. When nails start to loop it can embed itself into the pad causing infection and must be seen by a vet to get prescribed antibiotics. All nails can form a loop not just the dewclaws, that's why its important to check your pets nails weekly for nails curling under or into the pads. Cats nails naturally curl under so they can grab their pray easily, climb trees, and protect themselves. Most cats never have an issue with nails getting embedded into pads because they sharpen their nails on posts and dig in litter boxes, however, if you have a senior cat you may notice them not taking quite as good of care of there nails as they did when they were younger.
Although dewclaws may seem like a nuisance they do indeed serve a purpose. In addition to helping your pet hold on to bones, balls, toys, etc. dewclaws help prevent twisting and torque while making sharp turns during running. Certain breeds like ones breed to hunt also use their dewclaws to climb trees, and can almost as good as a cat. There is a lot of debate to remove dew claws or not. Most rear dewclaws are poorly connected and pose as more of a risk of being torn off then they do on the front legs. If that happens they are susceptible to infection. At that point removal of dew claws is important to ensure no more injuries can be made to them. Front dew claws usually have some bone connected as well as muscle, although that is not true of ALL dewclaws. Studies are still being performed to find out if removing them can cause any damage to the surrounding bone and muscle and seeing if there is a link between declaw removal and arthritis. If they are already removed before you bring home your new dog then no sweat, if your dog still has them then just pay a little extra attention to them.
If you are an owner of a dog who requires frequent nails trims here is some tips and pointers on how to get your furry friends accustomed to his new way of life. First off, Good nail trimming etiquette for the pet starts at home. Rubbing their feet, grabbing and holding on to their paws, and reinforcing a positive behavior when handling their feet is important for you as the owner, groomers, and even your vet will appreciate it. You'll want to make sure you have the following on hand before starting your nail trimming at home. A pair of nail clippers designed for pets, a dremel with the sanding attachment on, quick stop styptic powder, and a small rag. Quick stop is a blood clotting agent and helps prevents infection if you do accidentally clip through the quick. Corn starch can also be used to stop a bleeding nail but won't do any good at preventing infection. When in doubt you can always take your pet to the local groomer and have them teach you how to trim nails at home. I have two different sizes of clippers for dogs as well as a specific pair made for cats. I use the small nail clippers on most dogs, even as a professional, using small clippers on a large dog gives you a lot of control.
Training your pet to enjoy their pedicures can take some practice and a lot of patience. Puppies soak up training easily however adult dogs that already dislike it or have an existing fear will be a little more tough to train. Treats, peanut butter ( without xylitol), cheese or whatever else your pet loves are all great for reinforcing the good behavior. Only give your pets treats if they are being calm and collected during the nail trim. Distractions work great such as having a second person pet your dog while someone else clips the nails, however this technique should only be used after trying to get it done on your own.
Nail trims should be done at least once a month, at home, at the groomer, or at the vet office. For dogs with over grown nails, every two weeks for six months is recommended. By clipping the nails every few weeks the quick will start to recede. Once the quick recedes enough to where the nail at its shortest, its ideal to clip nails monthly to maintain that length. Keeping nails at such a short length can help prevent arthritis at a young age. Long nails can actually be painful for your dog while normal daily activities such as running, jumping, and playing. Long nails can make if difficult for your dog to walk on slick surfaces such hardwood, tile, and linoleum.
Cats on average need to have their nails trimmed every four weeks or as needed depending how often they sharpen them on posts. If you have a cat destroying your furniture, scratching you, or even getting stuck on blankets then you'll want to invest in soft claws. I replace them once a month by clipping as normal and then peeling the soft shell off and replacing with a new set. Surprisingly enough I have a really laid back cat who not only lets me put the soft paws on but also keeps them on.
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