Like many aspects of grooming, nail clipping is not a natural procedure your dog would have experienced as a wild animal and not something that he will be keen on. Instead it is an activity you will have to teach him over time, preferably from puppyhood. He might get used to the procedure and tolerate it with your help, and the love and trust you instill in him.
Where to start? Probably the most important thing about taking care of your dog’s nails is understanding the anatomy of the nail.
The anatomy of a dog’s nail
A dog’s nail is either pigmented (black) or non-pigmented (white). Some breeds like fox terriers have some black and some white nails.
The nail has a thick outer layer, which acts mainly as protection of the inner layer which is soft tissue containing blood vessels and nerve endings. The inner layer is called the quick (nail bed).
The nails of dogs grow in a circular form which gives the nail the curve of thinning to the tips. If not clipped, the nails will grow to a complete circle. It is often seen in the dew claw (the little toe in the side of the leg). If the nail grows to almost a full circle the nail will push into the paw bed or leg (dew claw) and cause infection and problems with mobility. It is also very painful. Excessively long nails can also force the toes into an unnatural position, and this can cause problems for older pets especially, when walking on smooth surfaces.
When to trim your dog’s nails?
Trimming nails are like all the other aspects of grooming and will depend on the breed, the dog’s level of activity and also age. If your dog is very active and spends time on hard ground/paving, his nails will probably wear down on their own and won’t need trimming. But if he spends most of his time on grass or other soft surfaces, even the beach, he will most likely need a regular trim.
The TEST = Get your dog to stand in a normal relaxed position. His nails should just not touch the ground. If they touch but only the tips, it's okay, but if they're squarely and heavily on the ground, it may be time for a trim.
If your dog is groomed professionally, the groomer should include nail care at each visit.
How to trim your dog’s nails?
Only trim the free edge of the nail. If you look under the nail, you will see there is a part that is hollow – that is the part that you want to clip. If you stick to this rule you will not cut into the quick of the nail and hurt your dog. Even if the nail still looks too long, only clip the free edge.
Tips on trimming your dog’s nails:
- Start by asking your vet to give you a training session on how to hold your dog, how to hold his paw, how much to trim and what to do if you cut into the quick.
- Training your dog. Get your dog accustomed to you holding his paws, handling his nails and putting pressure on his paws and nails. Do it with love and reward your dog with comforting words and a treat for allowing you to do this. Then after a few days of the above exercise, start introducing the clipper to your dog. Then you can gradually start to clip one or two nails at a time, and make sure to reward him with the same kind words and treats.
- In black nailed dogs the quick is totally invisible and trimming should be done in small nibbles instead of one clip. As soon as you see the dark spot (the quick) in the middle of the nail you should stop.
- Never use scissors or human nail clippers as it will crush the nail. Most pet shops sell proper dog nail clippers. There are a variety of nail clippers and trimmers on the market. The guillotine type is a favourite tool when trimming dog nails, though a strong claw cutter may be required for the bigger breeds and basset hounds as they have very big claws.
- As a nail grows in length - so does its blood supply. Long nails that have not been clipped in a while cannot be trimmed to its normal length at one time without causing bleeding. If you trim an abnormally long set of nails, trim only the free edge and repeat trimming at seven to ten day intervals. During this period the blood supply may recede so the nail may gradually reduce to a proper and safe length. In white non-pigmented nails you can see the blood supply.
- Keep a blood-stopping agent and anti-septic handy just in case you clip into your dog's quick, as the bleeding can be profuse. -(Hilda Geyer/Health24, June 2009)
Reviewed by veterinarian Dr Katja Bier.
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