Many dog owners are afraid of trimming their dogs nails. You don’t need to be. It’s a very straight forward and easy process once you and your dog are comfortable with it.
Why do dogs need their nails trimmed?
Dogs nails grow constantly just like ours do. Some dogs wear them down from walking on concrete but most don’t. Even if your dog goes for a walk every day they probably still need their nails trimmed. If left to grow they can curl around and even sometimes grow into the paw pad. Long nails make it hard and sometimes painful for a dog to walk. They can get caught in carpet and split or tear away from the nail bed which is extremely painful and requires a visit to the doctor to remove the nail if it is still partially attached. It usually requires antibiotic, pain medication and bandaging.
How often do my dogs nails need to be trimmed?
How often a trim is needed depends on the dog. Usually about once every month or two is sufficient. With a lot of dogs you can tell they need one if their nails are touching the floor when the stand, but not always. Some dogs have long quicks and their nails will touch the floor even after a close trim.
What supplies do I need to trim my dogs nails at home?
The only thing you have to have to trim your dogs nails at home is a good pair of nail trimmers. In the picture below are three types. The solid stainless steel pair are for cats or tiny puppies, the orange handled pair are used for very large or giant breed dogs with very thick nails, the red handled pair are the go to nail trimmers around here. We use them on everyone from cats and tiny puppies to 100 pound dogs. There are also guillotine type clippers. They all do the same job, you can use whatever is easier for you. Some people like to have some kwik stop (styptic powder) handy as well in case a nail is trimmed too close and bleeds a little. If you don’t have any styptic powder at home you can also use cornstarch or flour.
Anatomy of a Dog Nail
The part of a dogs toenail that you see is the hard outer coating similar to our nails but harder and thicker. Inside the outer nail is the nerve and blood vessel called the quick. If you cut the quick it will bleed and can be painful. How much it bleeds and how painful it is depends on how deep into the quick it was cut. If it was barely cut there may not be more than a tiny spot of blood and the dog may not even notice. If it is cut back further it could have more significant blood and the dog may yelp. On white nails you can see the quick, it is the pink part inside the nail. In the picture below the nail has already been cut, you can see there is a small amount of nail left before reaching the quick.
Time to Trim
Some people like to sit on the floor with their dog, some do better to put the dog up on a table or counter top, even laying in your lap is fine if that’s what works for you and your dog. One of our clients with a sweet but feisty little dog cut 4 leg holes in a sheet and her husband holds the dog up wrapped in the sheet while she quickly gets the job done.
Hold the trimmers in your dominant hand and hold the dogs paw in the other. You’ll need a firm grip to maintain control of the paw but you don’t want to squeeze. If your dog has long hair you’ll need to hold the hair back at the same time to be able to visualize the nails. Line up your clippers just below the quick. Use one swift motion to cut, slowly squeezing on the nail will be irritating for the dog and could cause the nail to split. If you’re uncomfortable making the cut you can air on the side of caution, remember, you can always cut more off.
Black nails are more of a challenge. Sometimes you can see a tapered, pointy end on the nail and there is an obvious place to cut by taking off the entire taper. If there is no taper to the nails try looking at the underside of the nail. There is a ridge running from the nail bed toward the tip of the nail. Trim just past the ridge. If all else fails use the “shave” method. Use your trimmers to barely shave off a tiny bit of nail at a time. Between each shave you can look at the center of the cut on the nail. When you are getting close to the quick there will be a tiny greyish white spot in the center. When you see the spot, stop trimming.
If the nail bleeds a little it isn’t the end of the world. Even professionals that trim nails all day get one too close sometimes. If you have some styptic powder press a little into the nail and hold it for a second or two, you can also use cornstarch or flour. You can use that nail to judge how long your dogs quicks are and leave the next nail a tad longer.
After a couple trims it gets much easier. Your dog will be used to it and so will you. You’ll quickly learn exactly how short you can trim and the more confident you are the faster it will go.
What if it isn’t working?
Sometimes even with your best efforts it just isn’t going to happen. If it’s not working you can call us and we’ll be glad to show you how to do it or do it for you. A lot of times a dog that acts crazy at home will be good as gold for us, if not, we’ll still get it done. We have some tricks up our sleeve. An extra person to talk sweetly and distract a puppy is all that’s needed sometimes, treats or peanutbutter work great too for some. There are some dogs that will not allow their nails to be trimmed without sedation. That’s always the last option but it’s occasionally necessary to keep the nails comfortable for the dog. If you need help with a nail trim let us know, we’re happy to help.