The Quick And the Dread

In this dream, you’re standing on dirt road in a town out of the old west. As your pet walks into the street to face you, shutters slam shut and doors lock—there’s going to be a showdown!  Your pet flexes his paws; his long nails glinting in the hot sun.  He gives you the squinty-eyed look that says, “Do you feel lucky?  Well, do you?”    He’s ready for a fight, and your heart starts to beat fast, because it’s another ‘Showdown at the Toenail Corral.’

    If this scene is similar to Toe Nail Trimming Day at your house, then you feel like most pet owners. Trimming an animal’s nails is unpleasant for everyone, including the pet. Dogs and cats seem personally offended when their nails are trimmed, and really, who can blame them?

    There are several steps to safely trimming a pet’s nails.  Of course, it is best to start training the pet at a very young age and the first step is to properly restrain your animal.  To safely trim the nails, dogs and cats must be held still—so that the nails aren’t accidentally cut too short.  Practice a “quiet hold”, in which you simply hug the animal (no petting, no talking) and he learns to accept the restraint.

    Once the quiet hold has been accepted, you can begin to slowly pet the animal and handle its feet. A caress, a squeeze of the foot, a caress, nice words, touch another foot—all while holding the pet tightly but comfortably.  Distraction with treats might also be helpful to reward the pet whenever you touch his foot, but the hypnosis of treats usually wears off once the toenail trimmers come out.

    In cats, the toenails are usually translucent and many dogs also have a semi-transparent nail or two.  These see-through nails are important, because they allow you to visualize the blood vessel within the nail—it will be a light pink color.  This blood vessel, called the Quick, is an important landmark, because trimming the nail too short will cut into the blood vessel and the nearby nerve. If you cut the blood vessel and the nerve, then it will hurt your pet and cause the nail to bleed. I usually ‘warm up’ on the see-through nails first, so that I know how short to cut the dark nails.

    For cats, I find that regular human nail trimmers work very well. Since the cat’s nail is flattened from side to side, the nail trimmer should be held sideways.  Your cat will appreciate it if you use a sharp set of trimmers.  In younger cats, the front nails are usually the ones that need to be trimmed. Older cats don’t always wear their nails down very effectively, so trimming all feet may be necessary. This is usually a two-person job. One to hold the cat and probably scruff the neck, and the other to push each toenail down out of the paw and nip off the tip.

    Trimming a dog’s nails is easiest if there are two people, though an obedient dog can be taught to lie on his back and allow you to trim his nails.  It is ideal if one person gives the dog a big hug and holds the head and neck against her body, while also holding the leg out for the nail trimmer. It is the nail trimmers job to work quickly and not take off too much!  A fussy or slow job will just create stress for everybody.

    If a pet’s nails are trimmed too short—don’t worry.  Have styptic powder or Kwik Stop handy (available at pet stores) to stop the bleeding. In a pinch, cornstarch dabbed on the end of the nail also works. Apply direct pressure to the end of the nail for a couple of minutes, and everything will be fine.

    Don’t forget the dewclaws—your pet’s “thumbs.”  These dewclaws don’t wear down like other nails, and they will actually curve as they grow and circle right back into the foot.  Ouch!

    Some pets never accept toenail trimming without a fight. In these cases, the nicest thing to do (for everyone) is to have the pet sedated by a veterinarian. This allows us to get the nails really short, and the pet wakes up with a wonderful pedicure that won’t have to be repeated too often.

    Properly trimmed toenails are important for your pet’s overall health. Long and neglected nails actually change the angle of the foot and lead to a number of joint problems and painful movement.

    If you aren’t ready for the Showdown at the Toenail Corral, then take your pet to a veterinary clinic or a groomer and have these professional nailslingers do the job for you.  It will be worth the money!