Many dog owners may avoid cutting their dogs’ nails in fear of accidentally hurting them. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to cut your dog's nails easily and safely!
If a dog's nails get too long, they can become irritating and even painful. Pressure from the excess nail length presses against the nail, making a toe twist uncomfortably or put excessive pressure on the joints. If it gets bad enough, it can result in arthritis or infection. This will make caring for your dog’s nails even harder, since a simple touch can become painful.
Making sure your dog's nails are properly trimmed is a very important task for any dog owner. It can prevent problems down the road, and, if done correctly, it doesn't need to cause anxiety.
The Anatomy of a Dog's Nails
A dog's nails are made up of keratin. They have a hard outer shell and a soft inner cuticle. The center cuticle is what contains the nerve and blood vessels. This is referred to as the "quick" of the nail.
If this area is cut, it will hurt and bleed. The quick is naturally longer in dog nails than cat claws, making it notoriously easier to accidentally cut, which can create negative associations with nail trimming for your dog later on.
An active dog's nails will be worn down naturally and won't require as much trimming as a less active dog. Digging is a natural way to wear down nails, and walking on rough surfaces will contribute to shorter nails too, although too much walking can lead to abrasions and blisters.
The front paws may need to be trimmed more often than your dog's back paws. A dog's back paws are used for propelling forward, giving them more contact with the ground. The pressure with which they grind into the dirt or gravel will naturally wear them away more than the front paws. So don't be surprised if you find yourself doing the front paws more frequently than the back!
5 Tips for Cutting Your Dog's Nails
1. Use the Proper Tools Correctly
It is important to use the proper type of nail trimmers. Use a scissor-style nail clipper, and never put the entire nail into the clippers. Use a smaller-sized nail clipper, unless you are clipping the nails of a larger dog. This will give you better control. Also, be sure that the clippers are sharp. You can either sharpen the trimmers yourself or replace them periodically. It is also wise to smooth the nails out afterward using a nail grinder for pets. Only smooth the top surface.
2. Holding Your Dog's Paw
To begin, allow your dog to become familiar with the clippers and having her paw held. If she can stay calm while you hold her paw, make the clipping noise, and touch her foot with the clippers, it's time to begin trimming. Be sure you are not squeezing your dog's toes too hard. Instead, your fingers can be used to gently spread the toes.
3. Use the Proper Technique
Make the cut almost parallel with the nail. Cutting across the nail can increase the likelihood of cutting the quick. Try cutting hair around the toe first if it is getting in the way of seeing your dog's toenail clearly. You can use normal scissors that have a blunted point to avoid accidental cutting.
4. Help Lower Your Dog's Anxiety
Make toenail clipping a fun experience by creating positive associations for your dog. Offer praise and rewards clipped nails. The more you take care to not cause pain and make nail trimming a rewarding experience, the less hesitant your dog will be the next time.
5. If You Accidentally Cut Too Far
Avoid cutting the nail too short by making shallow cuts. If you do accidentally cut the quick, dip the bleeding nail into a styptic or a mixture of cornstarch and baking soda to stop the bleeding. Also, give your dog a treat right away to prevent a negative association with the trimming.
Building Trust and Lowering Anxiety
Putting your dog in an uncomfortable position can be a scary thing. We love and trust out pets, but we also don't want to get hurt as much as we don't want to hurt them. It is a common thing to prepare properly for a cat's lash back or angry response when bathing or handling them in a way that crosses their boundary, but it can be nerve-wracking to trim dogs, too.
If you know your dog well, be aware of signs of nervousness and don't be afraid to take breaks. Some dogs have a touchier temper than others, so be aware of the individual dog's temperament and proceed accordingly. If your dog has a history of aggression or tends to act out when nervous, it may be a good idea to look to a professional, wear gloves, and/or utilize a muzzle.
A dog will read your body language cues, so be confident and address your fears. Taking action to reduce your nervousness can help your dog control their own anxiety. He will sense how comfortable you are and reflect that back to you.
Establishing a sense of trust with your dog comes with repeated positive experiences, gentleness, and extra care not to accidentally injure him by being too rough or cutting the nail too short. Gentleness can go a long way.
Imagine how you would introduce a child to a new, potentially frightening experience. Talk to your dog calmly, go slow, and show him what you're going to do before doing it so he isn’t surprised to hear the noise or feel the sensations.
Overview of What to Avoid While Trimming Your Dog's Nails
- Don't cut the quick or inner cuticle of the nail.
- Don't cut straight across the nail, use an angle.
- Don't hold your dog's paw too tightly.
- Don't let your dog's nails go too long without being trimmed.
- Don't try to trim nails until you've practiced handling your dog’s paws and introduced the trimmers to him.
- Don't forget to give him treats after the experience!
When it comes down to it, the process of trimming your dog's nails is fairly simple. It takes a little time to build trust. But, with time and repeated positive experiences, your dog will become calmer when the time comes once again.
Be sure to use the proper tools, and cut the nails carefully and properly. Even if he may not show it, your dog will be thankful for the extra trimming. Keeping those nails trimmed will help him stay comfortable in the long run and avoid serious problems down the road.