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Time to Give Your Pooch a Pedicure?

If the gentle "pitter-patter" of your pet’s feet has recently turned into a clamoring "clickety clack", it could time for a nail trim. Winter weather often means fewer opportunities for outside play on pavement and hard ground that helps wear down nails.

Even when a pet has adequate exercise on hard surfaces, nails may grow uncomfortably long,

explains Val Penstone, Best Friends Director of Grooming. "Dog nails are iron hard, and many small breeds are just not heavy enough to wear them away."

Overgrown nails make walking difficult. They also may snag on carpets and upholstery, causing them to break, usually at the base of the nail where blood vessels and nerves are located. Most importantly, left unchecked, long nails can penetrate back into the pad of the foot, causing infections.

Manicure maintenance

The ideal length for a dog’s nail is barely touching the ground when the dog is standing still on the floor. For many pets, that requires monthly attention.

Pets should become accustomed to having their paws handled, so they won’t flinch at nail clipping time. The good news, however, is that the more frequently the nails are done, the more likely the pet can be taught to behave.

Handle your pet’s feet frequently — especially when you aren’t grooming him — so he learns not to pull away. When a pet is sensitive about his feet being touched, nail clipping is a difficult chore. If your pet refuses to cooperate, it may be better to put nail trimming in the hands of a professional.

The dog should also be familiarized with the nail clipper. If he’s seen it before and panics, just hold it in your hand and offer a treat, so the dog will associate the site of the clipper with a pleasant experience.

Avoiding the "quick"

Dog’s nails have a ‘quick’, containing a nerve and blood vessel that runs down the middle of the nail. Cutting the quick will cause bleeding. In dogs with unpigmented nails, the quick is easier to identify, but it is almost impossible to see in dogs with dark nails. A professional groomer, used to handling the clipper, will be less likely to cause bleeding even on dark nails.

If your pet’s nails haven’t been trimmed in a long time, the quick may have grown further down the nail, so getting them to the correct length without bleeding is impossible. In some cases, the nails may need to be filed or ground, removing only a fraction at a time. Fortunately, the quick tends to recede as nails are kept shorter.

If the quick is accidentally cut, it may bleed, in which case styptic powder can be applied.

Once the nails have been cut, you can smooth rough edges with an emery board or grinder.

The proper steps

If you want to take on the task of nail clipping at home, Penstone advises:

  • Teach the pet to stand still while his nails are clipped.
  • Use only specially-made dog nail clippers, which come in a variety of types. Ask your pet professional for a recommendation.
  • Trim nails after a bath, when nails are softer, easier to cut and less likely to splinter. Have a styptic powder handy.
  • Examine the nail closely to see where the quick is likely to reach.
  • Cut from top to bottom, a little bit at a time.

Keeping nails short is important to your pet’s health and well being, so be sure to make nail trimming part of your pet’s regular grooming routine.