Recently, my dog tore his nail on a hike, causing discomfort and the need for medical attention. It’s likely that one cause for this having happened, is the fact that his nails were rather long. The irony is, I often explain to my client’s the importance of nail trims, and even help out with the trim if needed. I have since established more consistent nail trims, and I have reevaluated why it’s so crucial for our animals. In this blog, I’d like to share a few reasons that nail trims are important, how to work on reducing your pet’s anxiety around nail trims, and how to successfully trim nails.
Why Are Nail Trims Important?
- Alters Your Dog’s Natural Gait & Posture – When a dog’s nails are exceedingly long, it affects their gait (walk) and posture, therefore altering their mobility. This change in natural movement can cause compensations in their muscles and joints. Imagine walking or running with your toes curled all the time. Can you imagine how this would affect the way you move? This is why we offer regular nail trims to our pet friends in the practice, so as to avoid these unnecessary problems.
- Reduces the Length of Your Dog’s Quick – Let’s start by first discussing what your dog’s quick is. A dog’s nail consists of a quick, which is rich in blood vessels and nerves. This is the pink area of the nail, similar to our own nails. When your dogs nails are allowed to grow out long, the quick grows with them. This means that when you trim their nails, you are not able to trim as much at a time, and are more likely to cut the quick. Cutting the quick is painful, causes quite a bit of bleeding, and could potentially cause infection. The more you trim your dog’s nails, the more you allow for the quick (and overall nail) to stay short.
- Reduces Chances of Torn Nails – Long nails become more frail, which makes them easier to tear. Not only that, but just the anatomy of a long nail creates more opportunities for the nail to snag and pull. When a nail is torn, the quick is often exposed, and it can require sedation to assess (usually to remove the rest of the nail and bandage).
The above reasons make it obvious why regular nail trims should be a part of your pet’s regular preventative wellness program. Yet, they are often either left out or just avoided due to a dog’s anxiety surrounding the event. When your dog experiences anxiety around nail trims, it’s important to honor them by finding ways to work with them and not against them. If you do not listen to your dog’s anxiety while trimming their nails, you are more likely to cause damage (i.e.: cut the quick), therefore perpetuating the bad experience.
Here are a few tips on how to successfully trim your dog’s nails using a Fear Free method:
- If you have a puppy, “now” is the time – Exposing and desensitizing your puppy to experiences is essential. The more bomb proof your puppy, the more able they are to handle less desirable parts of their wellness program, such as nail trims. A lot of dogs are not accustomed to having their paws touched in general, so start with that. Then add trimming their nails regularly on board. Doing this will increase the likeliness that your future adult dog will do well with nail trims, but it’s never 100%. In that case, utilize the rest of the tips below!
- Slow Starts – This is an excellent place to start! Slow means .. real slow. For example, start by simply placing the nail trimmer on your dog’s shoulder, then elbow, then paw, all the way down to their nail. Offer a treat when you do this, so as to create a positive association with the touch. Begin by trimming one nail a day (always with a treat), and slowly add the amount of nails you are trimming. If your dog begins to show anxiety again, slow down and revert back to where you were.
- Pair With Treats – Most dogs are food motivated. If your dog is, consider this an excellent tool! Whether you are simply touching their shoulder or paw with the clippers, or going forward with a full mani/pedi, have the treats ready! One tip I have is to use frozen baby food or frozen kongs (stuffed with goodies). This is a low calorie, long lasting goodie that your dog can work on.
- Less Restraint – Restraint can often feel extremely intimidating for our dogs. If your dog gets wiggly or anxious, often a guardian’s first response is to hold them tighter and longer. If your dog shows aggression during nail trims, increased restraint can often yield the exact opposite response that you are looking for, and can often trigger a snap or bite. Consider conditioning your dog to a muzzle. I would recommend a basket muzzle, which allows for your dog to breath better than a traditional muzzle, and also allows them to easily access treats.
- Find the Right Device – There are many different types of nail trimmers (see below picture). Your dog may enjoy one over another. I’d also like to introduce you to the amazing Zen Clipper. The conical design avoids damage to the quick, by only allowing a certain amount of the nail to be trimmed.
These are excellent tips on how to successfully reduce your dog’s anxiety surrounding the dreaded nail trim. It doesn’t have to be dreaded! However, if you have exhausted all resources and simply cannot avoid reaching your dog’s emotional edge (and this does happen, you are not alone), chemical restraint may be necessary. Chat with your veterinarian and see if a sedative is appropriate for your dog.
Now, what’s the best technique for nail trims?
Check out this video that we have made, showing you just that! Please note that everything discussed in this blog, and video, will work for you kitty companion too.
What about black nails?
Good question! As discussed in the video, black nails makes us sweat a little, because it’s much harder to visualize the quick. My recommendation is to use restraint, go slow, and only trim small amounts at a time. As you trim, keep a close eye on the end of the nail. Once you begin seeing white pin point, you are getting close to the quick and should stop. Another trick is to look at the bottom of the nail. This will help you visualize where the quick ends, and the nail continues.
Reminding myself of the importance of nail trims has allowed me to become more consistent with keeping them as a regular part of my own pets’ wellness program. I hope that this blog helps remind you of the importance as well, while also providing you with tips to reduce your pet’s anxiety when executing a successful nail trim. Tell us your successful nail trim stories, and what tips worked best for you!