Keeping your pets nails in top condition is important to their health and wellbeing. As a Vet Nurse and Vet Physio I often find that owners are unsure as to how long their pets nails should be and are often too afraid to cut their pets nails themselves. The following post explains WHY keeping nails short is so important and HOW to trim your pets nails with a few tips to making the process easier and less stressful.

Why trim your pets nails?

Nail trimming is important to your pets health and wellbeing. The position and length of the nails affects placement of the paw when in contact with the objects or the ground. Long nails will put pressure on the wrong areas of the pad causing pain and discomfort. To reduce this pain your pet will compensate by altering their posture and movement which can affect bones, joints, ligaments and muscles higher up the limb leading to long term health issues, such as arthritis. Having long nails has also been shown to increase the risk of injury click here for more information.

Long nails are also more prone to chipping, cracking and splitting which is painful and can mean a visit to your vet. Dew claws (the nails on the inside of your pets legs) are also easily caught when allowed to get long and are more prone to injury so making sure they are trimmed is very important. The most extreme cases I have seen are where the paws have been left to grow into the pads (more common in cats) causing great pain and leading to infections of the nail bed.

Why do the nails grow long?

Like our nails, animals nails grow throughout their lives. In the wild the nails naturally wear down with walking on hard ground and cats shed their nails when climbing or scratching. Walking dogs on softer ground, older pets unable to walk as far and cats not scratching as often means nails tend to grow longer. Different dog breeds also have variations in foot structure which can lead to uneven nail growth.

When to trim a nail?

How often you need to trim your pets nails is dependent on many factors including breed, exercise type and amount and age. Take a quick look at your dogs feet, if the nails look untidy or long then this may be an indicator they need a trim. If they have white nails (all cats do) then you should be able to see the pink quick. When there is big difference between where the quick finishes and end of the nail then they could do with a trim. Some breeds of dogs, particularly terriers, often have very long quicks.

For dogs a good indicator is that when they are standing on the ground the claw should not have contact with the ground. Often if you can hear clicking when your dog is walking around then its time for a trim. With our dachshunds due to their thick pads they tend to wear their claws at an angle so I trim them when they start to look like this:

Lottie’s nails are in need of a trim as they have worn down at different angles.

With cats I often say not to trim their claws particularly if they are outdoors as they need them to climb. If they are older or house cats then you may notice that they get stuck on blankets or clothing which could mean they need a trim. If you are not sure seek advise from your vet, vet nurse or groomer.

Nail Anatomy

The “quick” or “nail bone” contains nerves and blood vessels and should be avoided when trimming. Dogs which have white nails will have a pink coloured centre; this is the quick. If your dog has dark coloured nails then the quick is not easily visible. The notch is normally a good indicator of where to trim the nail.

How to trim the nail

Now we have got to the important part-how to trim the nail!

Firstly I would make sure you get all your equipment ready so select the right sized clippers (see below) for your pet, lots of very tasty treats or other rewards, maybe some tissue or cotton wool (on standby) and a friend if you need a hand restraining. If you know your dog may get aggressive whilst clipping their nails then a muzzle may also be handy to protect yourself and a towel can be helpful for restraining cats.

Nail clippers and high reward treats ready for cutting Lottie’s nails

There are many different nail clippers out there, as I have small dogs then I use cat/small dog nail clippers. With larger breeds you will need larger nail clippers. If you are unsure then check with your vet, vet nurse or groomer who can help you choose the right size for your dog.

Next make sure both you and your dog are in a comfortable position. Ideally get them to””sit” or “lie down: as they can fidget if you bring the leg up too high or you spend a while trimming. If you have an assistant make sure they are comfortable too.

Then pick up your pets paw, keep a gentle hold and make sure you are not putting their leg at an award angle which is uncomfortable for them. If you can find the end of the quick or notch and place the clippers at 45 degrees to this, mark as shown below. If you struggle to find this then just take the ends off.

Place gentle pressure on nail with the clippers and watch your dogs reaction. If there is no reaction then clip the nail, if your dog squeaks or tries to pull away replace the clippers further down the nail and retry. A reaction may mean that you where too close to the quick. Continue this with each nail and make sure that you constantly praise and treat your dog to make nail trimming a good experience.

How Often?

How often you need to trim your pets nails is dependent on your dog and their lifestyle. As I only take the tips off our pets I give them a trim every 3-4 weeks. Other dogs may need their nails trimming every 3-4 months and some will never need them cutting at all.

Top Tips

  • Always make sure you have everything prepared before trimming the nails.
  • Make sure you have very high reward treats to make the experience as pleasant as possible.
  • If your dog has hairy feet you might find it easier to trim the hair before clipping so you can visualise the nail.
  • Get your pet used to having their nails trimmed. Before even thinking about clipping nails try getting your pet used to having their feet handled and even pretend to clip their nails. Especially good with puppies so that they can learn that nail clipping is not an experience to be feared.
  • If you do cut through the quick don’t panic. Give your pet plenty of treats and fuss for positive reinforcement and just hold some pressure over the nail if they will allow. The bleeding will stop eventually.
  • Never force your dog to have their nails clipped. This makes it an unpleasant experience and will make nail clipping a lot more difficult in the future. Even if you can only clip one nail a day its better then none and you can build up to being able to do more over time.
  • If you are unsure about nail clipping then ask your Vet, Vet Nurse or Groomer. They can show you how to clip nails and guide you to using the best technique for your pet.

I hope that this gives you confidence in clipping your dogs nails.

By keeping a regular check on their nails then you will help to prevent injuries and future health problems keeping your beloved friend pain free. If you have any further questions or tips that might help other people then feel free to comment in the box below.


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