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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Keeping your pet’s nails clipped can assist its health

Marty Becker Knight Ridder

Long nails may be chic in the world of fashion, but they’re definitely “faux paws” for dogs and cats.

Pets that pitter-patter on overgrown nails put extra stress on the joints in their paws, which, aside from being uncomfortable, can also lead to more serious medical problems.

Plus, nails that are left to grow like weeds can become snagged in carpets or furniture, increasing the risk of injury to your pet. Not to mention that they scratch wood floors and gouge vinyl.

You can protect your four-footed friend by trimming her nails on a regular basis.

“Pets should have their nails clipped at least once a month, so they become comfortable with the procedure and accept it as part of their normal grooming routine,” said Damian Hall of the Rolf C. Hagen Corp., which makes Le Salon nail care products for dogs and cats.

Since our pets take their emotional cues from us, your dog or cat is more likely to see nail clipping as no big deal if you approach each session with a relaxed attitude. Hall recommends that you speak reassuringly to your pet while you clip her nails and offer plenty of praise, plus a favorite treat, when it’s all over.

If your pet is skittish, try to enlist the aid of a friend or family member who can hold her in place while you clip away.

Now, before you take out those nail clippers, give your pet’s claws a visual inspection.

See that pinkish area that extends a short distance down the paw? That’s the “quick.” It’s made up of living tissue that carries blood and contains nerves, and if you accidentally ‘nick the quick,’ it will hurt and your pet will bleed.

If this happens, don’t panic. Just apply pressure with a clean cloth or gauze for 5 to 10 minutes, then use a styptic clotting powder to stop the bleeding.

If you’re a dog owner, you might want to give your pet a bath before you start clipping. Aside from relaxing your pet, this will also make her nails softer and easier to cut.

To begin clipping, hold your dog’s paw firmly but gently in your hand and apply enough pressure to spread the toes and force the nails out. Clip one nail at a time, starting at the edge and removing small sections in stages.

Only the section of the nail that curves downward should be clipped, to avoid the cutting the quick. After clipping you can smooth the claw’s edges with a pet nail file.

Begin clipping your cat’s claws by moving her into a lying position. Hold her paw in one hand and exert light pressure to expose the claws. Using your other hand, clip off the claw’s white tip, working in short, decisive motions.

“Nail trimming can become a nightmare for some pets and owners, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” says Linda Aronson, DVM of PetShrink, a behavioral referral practice in Berlin, Mass. ( “In most cases it is holding the feet that is the issue rather than the nail clipping itself.

“Start early, holding and working your puppy or kitten’s paws so he is happy to let you hold them for a while and manipulate the paw and the nails. Make sure there is lots of cuddling and rewards.

“Let him feel the clippers on his nails, and only when both of you are relaxed should you try to cut the end off. For animals in which nail clipping is already an issue, work slowly to re-establish his trust in your handling his paws, and maybe cut one nail at a time.

“It may seem tedious, but you both will appreciate the effort when you can calmly trim his nails without it being a battle you both dread.”

Like all grooming jobs, nail clipping requires the right tools to be done properly.

Nail clippers designed for humans should never be used on dogs and cats, since they can splinter a pet’s nails.

“There are two types of pet nail clippers: the scissor style and guillotine style,” said Hall. Both styles are safe and effective, so the one you choose will often be a matter of which feels most comfortable to you and your pet.

Some owners prefer the guillotine clipper, because it can be controlled with greater accuracy. Owners of larger breeds tell us that guillotines make it easier to cut through thicker claws.

Dark-colored nails are best trimmed using the guillotine type clipper.

It is much easier to trim white nails, as you can see the “quick.” Black nails are much more challenging to trim correctly says Steve Garner, a board-certified veterinarian and owner of Safari Animal Care Centers in League City, Texas. Dr. Garner recommends laying the clipper on the pad of the pet’s foot allowing the nail to pass through the opening of the trimmer.

Do not push the nail down. Rather, allow it to rest in a natural position. Make the first cut straight, at a 90-degree angle to the long axis of the nail.

Next, the trimmer is rotated and the top tougher portion of the nail is then trimmed at a 45-degree angle to the first cut. This cut avoids the quick yet removes the harder part of the nail, leaving the softer underside portion of the nail to wear down normally.

Regardless of which tool you choose, do your pet a favor and make nail trimming a part of your regular grooming routine.

Granted, your pet isn’t going to be thrilled with the idea of having you fuss with her nails every month, but you’ll be protecting her health in the long run and, who knows, deep down inside she’ll probably thank you for it.

We know your veterinarian will.


Pet owners can be seriously hurt by dogs and cats when trying to trim their nails.

Both dominant aggressive dogs that see foot handling as a threat to their dominance and fearful dogs are likely to bite when you put them in this vulnerable position.

Because cutting the quick is “painful,” some dogs who have had their toes amateurishly, painfully clipped, can have a pretty strong aversion to this.

The fact is trimming nails is a fairly common time for people to get bitten by their dogs or cats, sometimes severely. The reason why this is so dangerous is that the person trimming the nails will focus on the nail — where to cut — and not watch all the warning signs coming from the dog.

And you may have to ask a family member to help restrain a terrified dog.

The dog, in the meantime, has been ganged up on, is restrained and manhandled and becoming more panicky all the time. For a painful comparison, think of a human with an ingrown toenail who’s manually restrained for the corrective procedure rather than being given a sedative.

At the veterinarian’s office, the person(s) restraining the dog will know to hold the muzzle or muzzle the dog and prevent themselves and the person cutting the nail from getting seriously bitten or can give the pet a sedative or even anesthetize them if necessary for everyone’s comfort and safety.

Although an inconvenience, it may be worth the time and money to leave nail trimming to the professionals.