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Nail Trimming 101

By Debbie Zelez

Clear ones are hard enough – don’t even ask me to cut black or brown ones!

Nail trims are often dreaded by pets and owners alike. Nerves come into play, tension rises and the “quick” gets nicked. There may be a yelp, an angry meow, a curse or two uttered and of course the blood. Now what? Hurry up and grab the septic powder. Don’t have any – grab some corn starch or baking soda.

Breathe deep, there is a solution. Get your groomer to do it! Seriously, there IS a solution for you. Learning how to trim nails properly can save you and your pet a lot of grief and anxiety. If your pet has already been traumatized to the point where you think there is no hope left, there IS hope. Desensitization protocols exist and are very effective in reprogramming your pet’s response to having their nails trimmed.

Cross section of nailStarting with the basics of nail anatomy, the “quick” is a blood vessel that grows out with the nail. If the quick is cut, it will bleed and often requires a clotting agent such as septic powder. If nails are trimmed regularly, the quick gradually recedes and the nail can be trimmed shorter and shorter.

To begin with, imagine yourself getting a manicure … Is the beautician squeezing your hand until you have no circulation left? Do they have you in a head lock so you stay still? Are they sitting on you?

Don’t laugh! Many people engage in an all out wrestling match with their pet to get the job done. And they wonder why their pet is vocalizing and trying to bite them.

However, in some situations there are pets that behave this way when nothing negative has ever happened to them. Often, as infants they never got their feet and nails handled enough so naturally nail trims are terrifying.

The first step is in practicing how to hold your pet’s foot loosely and comfortably. If their toes are sensitive, try holding higher up the foot or leg. You also need to be relaxed as our furry friends feed off our energy whether positive or negative. Heavily reward your pet as you go with small pieces of their favorite treat and lots of praise.

Start with the nails on the paw you are most comfortable holding. If starting with one of the rear paws know that you will not be able to clip the nail nearly as short as the nails on the front paws. Clip a tiny amount (1mm) of the nail off at a minimum of a 45 degree angle. Then reassess the nail to determine if any more can be trimmed off.

You can often see the quick (perfectly round), but if you are not sure what it looks like, use your finger or thumb nail to test the area for softness. If the nail is flakey and still hard, then you can trim another small amount off.

If it is soft, do not trim any more nail off as you will cut the quick. Until you get the hang of it, trim the nails taking only small amounts at a time is the best way to avoid cutting the quick and creating negative experiences for your pet.

You will be able to trim more from the nails on the front paws. Always remember to check for rear and front due claws. If neglected they can curl and grow right into the foot requiring minor surgery.

Hints: If just the tip of nail is curled over, chances are you’ll be able to clip it off. If you look under the nail and the tip is hollow (having no center) you can safely cut it off.

Nails should be trimmed regularly and kept well maintained. For maintenance every 3-4 weeks is ideal. If nails become too long and are left that way, your pet begins walking differently to compensate for the discomfort they experience.

In time ligaments and tendons shorten on the top of their feet. Muscles respond by over stretching and over tightening in the wrong areas. Eventually, the additional stress placed on the joints can lead to long term problem in feet, knees and hips.

Finally, if your pet has developed severe anxiety about having their feet and nails handled consult a professional trainer for advice and desensitization protocols. High Tails Pet Grooming recommends calling the Behaviour Helpline at the Calgary Humane Society 403-723-6057.

About the Author

Debbie Zelez operates High Tails Pet Grooming in Airdrie, Alberta, Canada.