Pet nail trimming should be part of your regular grooming and care. Ideally, you should start clipping dogs claws or cats claws when they are still a puppy or kitten, so they get used to the sensation and are more likely going to be cooperative through the process.
In some dogs that are very active, the nails often remain short because they naturally wear down the tips against the pavement during walks or runs. If you only walk your dog on grass, if his foot confirmation is such that the toenails sit higher up on the top of the toes so that the nail does not touch the ground when walking, or if he is not a very active pooch, he might need regular pet nail trimmings in order to prevent the nails from getting too long.
For cats, they have retractable claws, therefore, they are not designed to be dull and wear down with walking or exercise. Instead, cats scratch surfaces to help naturally peel off the outside layers (made kind of like a flaky biscuit) which helps to keep their nails nice and sharp. Cats need sharp claws to survive in the wild, both for hunting and self-defense. Because a cats razor sharp nails are essential to their way of life, their nails continuously grow. If not properly cared for, ie nail trimming, their nails can grow so long that the sharp point actually curls under and can penetrate into their paw pad causing infection, bleeding, and pain.
If your are nervous about trimming your pets nails or nail trimming has become too difficult to attempt on your dog or cat, we offer cat or dog nail trimming service at our hospital. Our approach is to make this experience as least stressful as possible while being mindful to avoid painful cuts into the quick of the nail. In very rare cases, if your pet is extremely resistant or fearful of having their nails trimmed, we may recommend a mild sedative to help make the experience much less stressful and completely painless for your pet. We also always provide a courtesy nail trim anytime your pet is sedated or under general anesthesia for any procedure.
Paying Special Attention to Dewclaws
Most dogs and cats have a total of 18 toes, with 5 toes on each front paw and four on each back paw. Dewclaws are nails that grow as a residual fifth toe or “thumb”. This is located on the inside of the leg (front or back), higher on the paw than the other toes. Not all pets have dewclaws, and even pets that do have them, could have one on a single paw or more than one dewclaw on multiple paws. There are also certain breeds of dogs, ie. Great Pyrenees, and cats, ie polydactyl, that have even have extra dewclaws giving them between 18 and 28 toes. Fun fact, the world record for the most toes in a polydactyl cat is held by kitty who had 28 toes. That’s a lot of nails to trim!
Dewclaws really serve no purpose. For dogs, some vets or breeders remove the dewclaws from a very young animals (1-2 days old) to avoid complications later on, have fewer nails to trim, and for cosmetic reasons. The most common reason to remove a dewclaw is because they can grow too long and turn onto themselves, forming a circle and eventually piercing the skin or paw pad. Dewclaws that are large, not attached well and stick out are also more likely to get caught and torn. Both of these situations are very painful for the animal and can cause bleeding, inflammation, and even an infection.
Trimming Nails Properly
The biggest problem with trimming your pet’s nails is cutting them too short. If you do, you run the risk of cutting the quick, which is a thin layer of soft tissue that protects the bed of the nails. Quicks are rich in blood vessels and nerves, so accidentally cutting into them will cause intense and long-lasting bleeding and pain. To stop the bleeding hold pressure over the end of the nail with a cotton ball, paper towel, or wash cloth. The blood should clot in a few minutes. If bleeding persists, pack the tip of the bleeding nail with styptic clotting powder or use a styptic pencil. In a pinch, cornstarch from your kitchen should also work.
Identifying the quick takes practice. If your pet’s nails are white or clear, the quick will look pink. However, the quick might be harder to identify on dark nails. When in doubt, cut only the tip of the nail or make regular appointments with your vet or groomer to get your pet’s nails trimmed there. If your dog’s quicks are very long, trimming the tip of the nail on a once weekly basis will help promote shrinking of the quick. There are no specific time intervals at which you should cut your pet’s nails. As a general rule, if you hear the nails tapping on the floor as your pet walks, the nails are beginning to curl under, or they are too sharp, this means they are too long and should be cut.
Alternative to Nail Trimming is Dremeling
Due to the very sensitive quick within the center of the nail, even properly trimming your pet’s nails without causing bleeding, may still cause pain. The pressure of cutting a nail can pinch the quick, this is why so many animals will react by pulling their paw back, biting, or fighting to get away. Don’t just think that your dog or cat is misbehaving when they struggle to get away from the nail trimmers, some pets are just very sensitive and are just trying to avoid pain.
A simple and very effective tool used to keep pet’s nails short is a dremel tool with a sanding drum attachment. It is a power tool that you can purchase at any local hardware store and is quite effective at getting your dogs nails short and smooth, pinch-free. For many dogs who will not tolerate nail trimming, with practice and patience they may accept the gentle sanding down of the nail tip with a dremel tool. The biggest hurdle to get through is the loud noise the dremel makes when turned on.
There is an art and learning curve to using a dremel tool for your dog’s nails. Be sure to pull back all of the hair around their toes because it could get caught in the spinning drum, this would be quite uncomfortable for your dog and may break your tool. When using the dremel, you should always wear some form of eye protection because it creates dust and small fragments may break off and fly in your direction. Light pressure and staying on the top and sides of the nail tip rather than the bottom part will help keep you away from the sensitive quick. This tool can get hot with use, so be sure to turn it off and check it between paws to make sure it is not burning your dog’s nail.
We offer nail dremeling service at Harmony Animal Hospital. We are also happy to show you how to use this tool to effectively and safely keep your dog’s nails short and smooth.
Benefits of Nail Trimming and Dremeling
Making the effort to keep your pet’s nails short has many health benefits for them that go beyond the cosmetic appearance and decreasing noise when they walk. The main one is making daily activity more comfortable for your pet. As nails get too long, they can interfere with normal walking. As a result, pets might start limping or pressing their foot down in unusual positions – which can lead to pain and even pulled tendons and muscles.
Also, longer nails are more likely to get caught in objects, which can result in them being torn out or broken. This can be painful and lead to infections and often requires emergency care from your vet. Keep in mind that once your pet is in pain from a nail problem, they will likely need to be sedated or even put under general anesthesia in order to painlessly and effectively treat the issue.