How to Trim Dog Nails

Have you ever clipped your dog’s nails only to have him yank his foot away and yelp out in pain?

If so, rest assured you are not alone. Many pet owners have experienced similar situations with their dogs. It is often hard to know the correct way to trim dog nails without causing pain. But with proper instruction and a little practice, you can soon be as good as a professional.

Dog Nail Anatomy 101

To get a good understanding of proper toenail trimming techniques, you must first understand basic dog toenail anatomy. Dogs have four toes, also called pads, each having a toenail. In many breeds there is also a fifth toe located on the inside of the leg. The toenail for the fifth toe is called the dew claw.

Dog nails are very similar to human fingernails and toenails. Once the nails have grown out, the ends are dead and painless when trimmed. But trim too close and you will cut into the quick, which is the living tissue of the nail bed.

Some dogs have white toenails while others have dark brown or black toenails. The quick of the toenail is easy to see in dogs having white nails, appearing as a dark line. However, it is nearly impossible to see the quick in darker colored nails. Dogs, like humans, experience pain if their nails are cut into the quick. This causes a burning sensation, throbbing pain and bleeding, which will leave the nail and quick sore and sensitive for days.

Dog paws are all fundamentally the same except for variations in shape and size. Their toenails, however, will grow at different rates depending upon activity levels and the type of surfaces they inhabit. Dogs who spend a lot of time roaming outdoors or on concrete, asphalt, or other abrasive surfaces will have some natural wearing and trimming of the nails. They may not require manual trimming as often. However, these circumstances may also contribute to dog nail sharpening. Even if there is no need for a trim, filing or buffing may be required to take away the sharp edges.

Why is Dog Nail Care Important?

There are many reasons why it is important to regularly trim and care for your dog’s nails. Not only does improper care cause health problems for the dog, it also causes problems for you and your belongings. Proper dog nail care helps to prevent a number of potential problems, which include:

• Ingrown toenails – causing redness, swelling, and discharge having a potent odor
• Sore feet and legs
• Joint pain
• Discomfort when walking
• Scratches to you, your furniture, and floors
• Punctures to soft floor coverings such as linoleum and vinyl
• Picking and tearing of furniture fabric, carpet, and rugs

What to Use When Trimming Your Dog’s Nails

There are several types of manual trimmers as well as a motorized rotary tool available. When selecting a trimmer, you should choose the one that best suits your dog’s size and one that you feel comfortable using. Most of all, you should remember never to use regular fingernail clippers to trim dog nails.

Although your dog’s toenails grow much like your fingernails and toenails, dog nails grow rounded versus flat and they are much thicker. Using regular fingernail clippers to trim your dog’s toenails will result in pinching of the toenail, which may then cause it to break, crack, and split into the quick. This is followed by pain, bleeding, and jagged nails.

Tools Needed

When preparing to trim your dog’s toenails, you should have the following items ready for use:

• Manual or rotary clippers
• A product to stop bleeding – a coagulant such as styptic powder or pads
• Nail file
• An enamel nail polish (non-toxic) made for dogs

Pain Free Toenail Trimming

Dog nails typically require trimming every three or four weeks. When executed properly using the correct tools and technique it can be a pain free experience for both you and your pet. The basic trimming technique is:

1. Hold your dog in your lap or to the side if the dog is large. Pet and reassure him as you wrap your arm around the middle of his body. (If you are right-handed, use your left arm and if you are left-handed, use your right arm.)

2. After wrapping your arm around your dog, hold his foot in your hand with your thumb on top of the toe of the toenail you are preparing to clip. Continue to talk softly to your dog, reassuring him.

3. Follow the placement directions of your clipper of choice and, with a steady hand, clip a small piece of the nail off at a 45 degree angle.

4. Look at the nail. If you see a dark spot in the center of the nail this is the quick and you should avoid cutting into the quick. If you do not see the quick, trim another small piece of nail and recheck for the quick. (If you accidentally cut into the quick, immediately apply a blood coagulant to stop the bleeding.)

5. Repeat the same procedure for each toenail including the dew claw. Depending on the anxiousness of your dog, breaks may be required to calm him down and further reassure him. (Release his foot but keep him in your lap and pet him, beginning again once he is calm)

6. File any rough edges and apply a coat of enamel nail polish to each toenail. Then move on to the next paw.

7. Repeat entire process, trimming the toenails of all four feet.

8. Praise the dog and reward with a treat.

Although trimming your dog nails can be a daunting task, filled of apprehension and uncertainty, you can master the process by using proper tools, staying calm, and practicing proper technique. Once you gain your dog’s trust and develop a regular routine for trimming his nails, the entire process will become more relaxed and comfortable for both of you.

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