Nail trimming is an essential part of pet care, just like with humans! Clean, trimmed nails on your pet can be a clear sign of good hygiene and health. However, the thought of trimming your pet’s nails on your own may leave you uneasy and headed to the groomers every time those nails need a trim. During this time, we understand that many of our pet parents may be handling their pet’s grooming in the comfort of their home and as such we would like to offer our advice when it comes to pet nail care. Armed with the right knowledge and tools, we hope to help you feel more comfortable caring for your pet’s hygiene needs.
More Than Cosmetic
Nail care is more than cosmetic. Long nails can cause pain and in rare cases cause damage to the paw. If left untreated, long nails can deform feet, injure tendons and soft tissues, and cause complications in the leg as the nails place pressure on the foot and leg of your pet. A quick trim now and then can help to prevent foot problems while protecting your pet, you, your family, and your home.
What is the quick?
Before you begin cutting your pet’s nails, it is important to locate the quick. The quick is the center portion of the nail that contains nerves and blood vessels. Just like the pink part of our nails, this area can be very sensitive, and cutting into the quick will likely cause bleeding and pain. Typically, the quick begins near the natural curve of your pet’s nail so it is best not to cut beyond the curve.
With light or clear nails, the quick can be easy to locate due to its natural pink or red color. For darker nails, it can be more difficult to locate and you may need to cut in small increments to tell. After you’ve made the first cut, look at your pet’s nail head-on. If the inside appears whitish, you are still in the dead area of the nail and it is safe to continue cutting. We recommend making several small cuts rather than one large one. Continue cutting and look at the end of your pet’s nail after each cut. As you get closer to the quick the center of the nail will change color. It may eventually appear black with a grayish or pink center right before the quick. The trick is to trim a short portion of the nail at a time and then stop once the colored center appears.
Does my pet need his nails trimmed?
It is best to perform nail trimming only as needed. One way to determine if your pet’s nails need to be trimmed is to examine their toes and the length of their nails. If your pet’s nails scratch the floor when they walk, it’s time for a trim. In the case of outdoor cats and reptiles, their nails are often worn down naturally and may not need to be trimmed as often. For most indoor pets, we recommend nail trimming regularly at least once a month to prevent injury and scratching.
Nail trimming can be difficult especially for first-timers and anxious pets. If possible, we recommend handling your pet’s feet while they are young, so they can become accustomed to the process. It is important to remain calm and patient while trimming your pet’s nails and remember to create a positive experience with praise and treats. Just like humans, pet personalities can vary widely. While some may not mind having their claws handled, others may take a more defensive route.
If at any point you feel uncomfortable with the process or think you are causing your pet pain, stop and contact your local veterinarian or groomer for further instructions. We are happy to help you and even give you a quick tutorial lesson beforehand if you need it.
It doesn’t take a full pet salon to trim your pet’s nails. You will only need a few tools. We recommend:
- Nail Clippers: There are a variety of options you can choose from. Ask your vet which is right for you and your pet. Some even include a guard to ensure you don’t cut the nail too short all at once. Always use clippers that are designed for your pet. For larger reptiles, it may be easier and safer to use a Dremel nail file and a sanding bit as they do not make clippers large enough for big lizards.
- Towel: A thick towel or blanket can be used to gently restrain and relax your pet during the process.
- Styptic Powder: In the event you cut the quick, use styptic powder or another blood clotting powder such as flour or cornstarch to stop the bleeding
- Treats: Treats and praise can help to create a positive environment and pleasant experience
In some cases, with larger animals or more anxious pets, it can be helpful to have an extra pair of hands as well.
How to Trim
Hold your pet in your lap or on a steady surface so he can remain still while you cut his nails. This is especially true for rabbits as they may kick out and injure themselves, so it is important to handle your pet correctly while providing firm support. Once your pet is comfortable and secure, you can begin the cutting.
For pups and kittens, pick up the paw and place your thumb on the pad of the toe and gently press down to expose the nail. Remember that cats have retractable claws so it may take some effort to extend the nail. Don’t squeeze the paw though!
For birds and reptiles, it is important to work quickly but carefully as often these pets don’t understand why they need to sit still for long periods of time. Talk to them gently to reassure them.
Cut or file the nail straight across in small increments. Your goal is to trim the bottom end of the claw only. Don’t go beyond the natural curve of the nail. Go slowly and take breaks between each paw or nail, especially if your pet is restless. We recommend giving treats and praise after each nail, so your pet associates the action with positive energy.
What do I do if I cut the quick?
If a nail is accidentally cut too short, don’t panic. Quickly pack some of the styptic powder on the end of the nail to stop the bleeding. Though cutting the quick does hurt, the styptic powder contains a numbing agent to provide relief to your pet. Unless the nail has been cut drastically short, there is no reason for alarm if you accidentally cut a quick.
After the nail-trimming session is over, make sure you reward your pet with treats and love. The more consistently you cut the nails, the less your pet will associate nail trimming with stress and discomfort. Remember we are only a phone call away if you ever need our help. We are always happy to assist you in all aspects of your pet care. For more information on nail care for your pet or to schedule an appointment, contact American Veterinary Hospital today.