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How to Trim a Dog's Toenails

By Linda Cole

Dogs aren't always cooperative when it's time to trim their toenails. I’ve had dogs that sat patiently while I trimmed away; however, most of my dogs look at me as if I'm going to take their nails off all the way up to their elbow. It's not a chore most dogs or owners enjoy, but it is an important grooming necessity. Trimming a dog's nails isn't really that bad, and you can do it without losing a finger in the process.

Teach your dog it's OK for you to touch his feet. The best age to get your dog used to having his feet touched is when he's a puppy, but don't despair if you missed that part of your pup's education. You can still teach an older dog to accept having his feet touched by using the same method you use with a puppy. Pick up a paw and hold it in your hand. Massage in between the toes and gently pull on the nails so your dog can become accustomed to the feeling. Teach him to shake hands to help him learn that paw holding is OK. I've always played with my dogs feet when they're snuggled next to me so they get used to having their feet messed with.

I like to use scissor nail clippers made for dogs, which have a stop on the back to prevent you from getting too much of the nail at one time. It looks like a short blunt-headed pair of scissors. Another nail trimmer works like a guillotine, but this trimmer makes it harder to see the nail you're trying to cut. I have also used the dremel-like tool made for dogs. It works well, but it's slow and you still need to be careful not to take the nail down too far because it can cut into the quick. Some dogs don't like the whirling sound it makes. Experiment to see which nail trimming tool is more comfortable for you to use, because that's the one that will work best for you.

Put your dog in a position that’s comfortable for him and don't restrain him. If you scare him or make nail trimming too unpleasant, he won't be cooperative. Have some CANIDAE TidNips treats on hand to reward him for good behavior. Be gentle but firm, and take your time. Don't try to trim the nail in one cut. Take a little off at a time until it's at the desired length, and be careful not to cut into the quick. The pink color of the quick is easy to see on dogs with white nails, but dark colored nails are impossible to see through. It's better to leave the nail a tad longer if you can't see where the quick is. Don't forget to trim the dew claws.

If you do cut the quick – don't panic. Take a paper towel or cloth and apply gentle pressure on the nail. If you can't get the bleeding to stop, you can use styptic powder or a styptic stick. If the nail continues to bleed, call your vet. One way to know when to stop cutting is to look at the nail you're trimming. You should be able to see a little circle in the middle of the cross section of the cut nail. That circle can be seen just before you get to the quick.

Nail trimming isn't something that has to be done in one sitting. If you become impatient or your dog gets fidgety and won't hold still, stop. You can pick up where you left off later on that day or even the next day. You can do one paw each day, just a couple nails each day or, if your dog cooperates, the entire job in one sitting. The last thing you want to do is cause your dog a lot of stress or discomfort.

Most people stop with the initial trimming, but if your dog is willing to sit a little longer, take a nail file and round off the edges. My dogs actually like this part of nail trimming. If you're unsure about trimming your dog nails, you can use a nail file to gently file the nails down. It's a time consuming way to do the job, but it's still better than not doing anything at all. Nails that are too long can cause splayed feet, which is a deformity of the foot, and can also cause hip, back and feet problems.

Nails that are trimmed to a proper length won't click on the floor when your dog walks. You shouldn't have to trim your dog's toenails more than once a month, depending on his activity level and the surface he spends most of his time on. Cats should also have their nails trimmed.

Related reading: Winter Paw Care for Dogs; How to Clip Your Cats Toenails

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