June 3, 2019

General Wellness & Prevention

Trimming Your Pet’s Nails Is Important!

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

Who doesn’t like a relaxing manicure or pedicure, right? But did you stop and think that your pet might like (or NEED) one too? Often times, we forget that our pets need some of the same maintenance care that we do. Trimming your pet’s nails may seem like a daunting task, but learning how to do it correctly can make this process less stressful for both you and your pet.

The Structure of Your Pet’s Nails

Pet nails are different from human nails. Our nails lay just on top of the fleshy end part our fingers, while pets’ nails extend out of the ends of the tips of their toes. A pet’s nail has the hard nail part that we see, but inside the nail is a portion called the “quick”. If you look at the side of white or clear-colored nails, the quick appears pink. In dogs with dark-colored nails, the quick can be difficult to see until you start to trim. The quick is a fleshy area inside the nail, and if you cut it, it will bleed and will cause your pet pain. This happens to us if we tear our fingernails too short.

How to Know if Your Pet Needs a Trim

If you can hear your dog’s nails clicking on the floor, that is a good indicator she needs her nails trimmed. For other kinds of animals like birds, cats, and guinea pigs…you have to pay careful attention to know when it is time for a trim. Birds need nails trims when they have trouble gripping their perches correctly. If you can feel your cat’s nails when he is sitting on your lap, or if his nails feel sharp, he needs a nail trim. Guinea pigs should be able to stand comfortably without looking like they are standing on their tiptoes. A guinea pig on tiptoes needs a nail trim.

How to Trim Your Pet’s Nails

It’s best to have someone to help you hold your pet while you trim his nails. This allows you to be able to focus on the nail cutting and not the pet’s reaction. For dogs, I recommend using a dog nail trimmer. For birds, cats, guinea pigs, and other smaller pets, you may be able to use a human nail trimmer, as their nails are often smaller than and not as tough as a
dog’s nails.

Before you start to cut the nails, look to see if you can see the pink-colored quick through the nail. It is important that you don’t cut this! If you do, it will bleed and your pet yelp in pain. It is often easier to cut a little off at a time. If you start with one large cut, you are likely to cut too much and will probably hit the quick. As you are cutting the nail, watch the end of the nail for what looks like a light colored or pink circle or bull’s eye, this is the “quick”. When you see the circle, stop! Remember you can always come back later and trim more, and it best not to cut the quick of the nail!

Ways to Reduce Your Pet’s Nail Trim Anxiety

It is always easiest to get your pet used to something if you start early with him. With a puppy, the more you touch his feet and nails, the easier things will be when it comes time for his first nail trim. If your pet is older, don’t fret.  You can still use positive reinforcements like treats or praise to get him used to nail trimming. Food can be a powerful motivator for most pets!

When getting him used to nail trims, start slowly. This may mean that the first few times, you are just touching his feet or nails. Then, the next few times, you touch his nails with the clippers but don’t actually cut the nails. When you are ready to trim nails, just do a few nails or one foot. Get him used to the process and keep it a low-stress event. As your pet becomes used to it,  he will remain calm because he knows that it doesn’t hurt and that a treat is coming at the end.

Reasons to Trim Your Pet’s Nails

Just like with people, our pets’ nails can become overgrown. When this happens, it is painful for your pet. These nails can become ingrown and possibly lead to infection. With even mildly overgrown nails, your pet can have difficulty walking. Think of it as your pet constantly wearing high heels…ouch! In addition, longer nails can tear if they get caught on things like blankets or branches. As you can imagine, a broken toenail is painful for your pet and can require a trip to the veterinarian.

If the thought of having to trim your pet’s nails still sounds scary or impossible for you, don’t panic! Many people opt to have their veterinary clinic or their groomer do it for them. Having someone else trim your pet’s nails can drastically reduce your stress, and thus reduce your pet’s stress! No matter if you choose to trim nails yourself or have someone else do it for you, caring for your pet’s nails can help keep your pet happy and comfortable all year round.

Dr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.