Does Nail Trimming Really Hurt My Dog?

by Nicola Parry, DVM

Trimming Your Dog’s Nails

If you have a dog, chances are you’ve had  his nails trimmed at some point. If he sits happily for this, consider yourself very lucky! Most dogs do not enjoy this procedure, so if it was a more painful experience for you than him, you are definitely not alone!

Most dogs that exercise on hard ground tend to wear down their nails naturally, and don’t require nail trimmings very often. If your dog typically exercises on grass or sand, however, then this may not be the case, and you may have to trim his nails for him.

Why Do Dogs Hate Having Their Nails Trimmed?

Previous bad experiences with nail trimming: Your dog’s claw is equivalent to your fingernail – if you’ve ever had an injured nail that has torn very short, you’ll remember how painful it felt. This is because it exposed the “quick” – the sensitive tissue below the nail that contains blood vessels and nerves. So if you accidentally clip your dog’s nail quick, it tends to bleed and is quite sensitive. If this has happened to your dog even once in the past, he will remember it, and will then associate the experience with any attempt to touch his feet.

A dislike for having their feet touched: Some dogs just dislike having their feet touched, even if they have never had a painful experience with nail trimming. Typically these tend to be dogs that were never accustomed to this as puppies.

Six Tips To Make Nail Trimming Less Traumatic

Play with your puppy’s feet every day: This way he will become accustomed to having his feet handled, and when his nails need to be trimmed, the experience won’t be so traumatic.

Desensitize and counter-condition anxious dogs: If your dog hates having his nails trimmed, you can try to desensitize him in various ways. Start touching his feet regularly when he is lying down, and progress to gently squeezing his nails – in time, he may realize that nothing bad happens every time someone touches his feet. Ultimately you may be able to trim even a single nail without him reacting. Reward him with a treat – this will help him to associate something positive with the experience.

Don’t over-trim: Lighter colored nails are easier to cut than black ones, because you can see the pink quick through the nail. If you can see the quick, trim so that you leave at least 2mm of nail below it. With dark nails where the quick is invisible, trim only the tips – make a couple of short cuts on these nails to lessen the chance of clipping the quick.

Use appropriate tools: Buy clippers that are suitable for your particular dog’s size, and keep them sharp and clean. Using clippers that are blunt, or too small for your dog’s nails, can just make your life more difficult. There are many different types of nail clippers available for dogs – ask your groomer or veterinarian to help you choose some that suit not only your dog’s size, but also your preferences.

Help your dog relax: About 20 minutes before you are going to clip your dog’s nails, give her an all natural remedy to help her relax. We like Sleepytime Tonic. This herbal elixir will help calm your dog in just a few minutes an, there are no side effects and it’s not toxic in anyway.

Keep styptic powder – just in case! If you decide to trim your dog’s nails at home, buy some styptic powder to keep at hand – just in case you accidentally clip the nail quick.

If you have never trimmed a dog’s nails before, ask your veterinarian or groomer for a tutorial. They will be able to demonstrate the procedure and give you some guidance before you try it yourself at home.

Despite all good efforts, however, some dogs just never tolerate having their nails trimmed. If this sounds like your dog, then it may be wise to save your sanity and leave it to the professionals. Whenever your dog pays a visit to his veterinarian or groomer, this is the perfect opportunity to ask them to trim his nails if necessary. They do this every day for anxious dogs, and have a team of assistants to help make this a quick and painless procedure for your dog. Nail trimming should never be a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears for your dog – and certainly not for you!

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