Nail trimming is important for maintaining healthy happy feet for dogs and cats. Many dogs and cats will wear their nails naturally during daily activities, but the vast majority require additional trimming to maintain nails a proper length.

Why Trim Nails?

Overgrown toenails in dogs and cats are more prone to snagging on things and being ripped or even torn out. Nails can also curve back and grow into the foot pad, causing a painful wound and infection. Left for a long time, overgrown nails can cause abnormal foot posture, resulting in permanent deformities of the toes.

Additionally, long nails can do damage to owners during rough play or self defense, and can damage furniture and floors. Cats require frequent trimming in particular to prevent damage to furniture should the cat scratch inappropriately. Scratching is normal and necessary social behavior for cats, but when the nails are kept short, scratching will not leave permanent marks on furniture. Soft Claws nail caps are also available to further dull cat nails.

When Should Nails Be Trimmed?

For dogs, anytime the nail can be heard “clicking” on a hard floor, it is time for a trim. Nails should not touch the floor when the dog is standing or walking. Nails should only dig in at faster gaits for added traction.

For cats, any time the point is becoming long or sharp. For most cats this is every 4 weeks or so.

What Supplies Will I Need?

First, you need a cooperative partner. To build cooperation, practice holding or massaging feet for a brief period every day. We want to build trust, not force the animal to “submit” to handling. Always reward good behavior with plenty of praise and a treat.

Second, you need the right tools. Sharp nail clippers (there are many varieties available), KwikStop or other stypic powder, and a reward for afterward.

Lastly, you need the knowledge and confidence to trim the nails properly.

How Do I Know Where to Cut?
Every nail is made up of a dead section which can be removed and a living section commonly called the quick. The quick contains a blood and nerve supply. When the nail is trimmed too short, the quick will bleed and be sore. As long as you are prepared with styptic powder, the occasional accidental quick cutting is not a big deal. Remember, eventually everyone will cut a quick at some point. Just be prepared in case it happens.

Dogs with light color nails
For dogs with light color nails, you can generally see the quick within the nail. It appears pink or flesh-tone. Begin by identifying where the quick appears to stop. Cut the nail perpendicular leaving a space between where you cut and where the quick ends. Inspect the tip of the nail. If you are getting close to the quick, you will see a dark dot or a pink dot. If all you see is dead white nail, it is alright to cut a tiny bit more off the nail. Continue removing tiny bits of nail until you get to the dark or pink dot as described above.

Dogs with dark color nails
For dogs with dark color nails, you will not be able to see the quick from the exterior of the nail. Be conservative, and start with trimming only the tip of the nail. After each trimming, inspect the tip of the nail. When you are far away from the quick, you will only see dead, grayish nail matter. As you approach the quick you will see a dark or pink dot in the center of the nail with a different texture. This is the precursor to the quick and your signal to stop trimming.

Cat nails
Cats have unique nails. They are almost always clear and the quick is visible through the nail. Also, they have a wedge shaped nail with a hook-like tip. When trimming cat nails, remove as much of the hook-like tip as possible without clipping into the pink area of the nail.

What Do I Do if it Bleeds?

Always have styptic powder available. Should the nail accidentally be trimmed too short (remember, this is inevitable at some point), dab off any excess blood with a tissue, then apply a pinch of styptic powder to the tip of the nail and apply pressure with your finger for 10 seconds. This should stop any bleeding. If bleeding continues, repeat with more styptic powder.

Most nails will stop themselves even without styptic powder within 5-7 minutes. Any nail bleeding longer than 10 minutes requires a doctor’s attention.

What About Grinding or “Dremelling” Nails?

Using a rotary grinding tool such as a dremel is an excellent way to take care of dogs’ nails. It is less likely to result in a bleeding quick and gives finer control over how much nail is removed and in what shape. Very popular with owners who show their dogs, grinding requires practice to perfect the technique and to get the pet accustomed to the noise and sensation of the tool. Grinding nails gives excellent results with a little practice.

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