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Does Your Dog Hate Nail Trims? Here’s How To Give Pups a Stress-Free “Pawdicure”

It doesn't have to be a struggle.

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Many people pay top dollar for someone else to beautify their fingers and toenails. But for our furry friends, getting their nails trimmed can be a scary experience. If your dog hates nail trims, you know how difficult it is to get the job done. You have to wrestle them to stay still, and when they inevitably wiggle, you risk cutting their nail too short, causing pain and bleeding. Yes, you can take your dog to a vet or groomer, but that doesn’t mean the experience will be less stressful for them — though it certainly will stress your wallet. By trimming Fido’s nails at home, you can bond, build trust, and save money. What’s not to love? Check out these tips for trimming your dog’s nails at home and giving them a stress-free spaw day. 

How often should you trim your dog’s nails?

If your dog hates nail trims, even doing it as infrequently as twice a year can feel like too much — but it’s important to keep their nails short. If the nails grow too long, your dog could experience painful pressure or develop an unnatural posture that can cause serious joint issues, according to Dr. Karen Gellman for Dogs Naturally Magazine. If your dog is active, their nails may not grow long as quickly, because they’re grinding them down by running around. But Dr. Gellman suggests you should trim — or at least check — your dog’s nails every two to three weeks.

What should I use to trim my dog’s nails?

The most popular tools for trimming your dog’s nails at home are clippers and nail grinders, which are electric tools with a rotating emery board that file the nail down instead of cutting. There are pros and cons to each tool, and which you use is entirely dependent on you and your dog. Whichever tool you feel most confident wielding — and whichever appears least stressful for your dog — is the right tool for you. Whether you go with clippers or a nail grinder, there are some important things to keep in mind. 

If you use clippers:

  • Use scissor-style clippers (Buy from Amazon, $12.99) instead of guillotine-style ones, recommends Dr. Gellman. Scissor-style clippers cleanly cut the nail, while guillotine-style clippers can crush it, which is painful. 
  • Keep your clippers sharp. If they start to dull, replace them. 
  • Only cut small bits at a time to avoid cutting too far. 
  • Use smaller clippers for better control. 
  • Keep clippers parallel to the nail when trimming.

If you use a nail grinder:

  • The American Kennel Club says to keep fur out of the way so it doesn’t get caught. 
  • Use a tool that’s specifically made for trimming your dog’s nails (Buy from Amazon, $19.99).
  • Grind across the nail’s bottom, and then carefully move in from the tip, being careful to smooth out rough bits. 
  • Hold nail grinder higher up for better control. 

What if I cut my dog’s nail too short?

In the center of your dog’s nail is the “quick,” which is where the blood vessels and nerves sit. if you cut into it, your dog will experience pain and bleeding. If you accidentally cut your dog’s quick, apply pressure for about two minutes and then use styptic powder, an anti-hemorrhagic agent to stop the bleeding, recommends PetMD. In a pinch, you can also use baking flour or corn starch, adds Dr. Gellman. 

In order to avoid cutting the quick, you must be careful. If your dog has light-colored nails, you can see it; but if your dog has dark nails, it may be a little more difficult to identify. Dr. Gellman recommends you only cut the nail until you see a white ring with a dark-colored dot in the center. If there’s no white, you can cut a little more, but only in small increments. “The insensitive nail will show as chalky ring around the sensitive quick,” she explains.

Tips for Stress-Free Trimming

No matter how well you prepare, trimming your dog’s nails can be a difficult experience for both of you. Good news: There are some easy steps you can take to set yourself up for success and make trim time a more paw-sitive bonding experience. These tips are from Fear Free Pets

Tip #1: Prepare the space.

When you go to a spa, you’re immediately welcomed by soothing sounds, sights, and scents. These elements put you in a restful headspace so you can relax. Do the same thing for your dog: Provide a soft, non-slip surface for them to rest on, play calming music, and use scents like lavender in the room. It’s also crucial that you have your dog’s favorite treats within reach.

Tip #2: Prepare your pooch. 

Jumping right into the nail trim without first familiarizing your dog with the process can cause extra upset. Fear Free Pets recommends slowly introducing your dog to each element of the nail trim, and rewarding them with treats after every step to create positive associations. For example, show your dog the tool you’re using. Let them sniff and investigate, then reward. If you’re using a nail grinder, turn it on so your dog can hear the sound. If you’re using clippers, snip a piece of dry pasta to simulate the noise of nail clipping. Touch their paws, gently squeezing the toes as if you’re trimming their nails. And again, remember to heavily reward your pup at each step. Going through the process allows them to feel more familiar and confident, so when it comes time to actually trim those nails, they won’t feel caught off-guard. 

Tip #3: Pay attention to your dog’s cues. 

Trimming your dog’s nails takes patience. If they are showing any signs of distress, pushing forward and trimming anyway will only make the experience scarier for them. Pay attention to your dog’s body language: if they’re leaning or pulling away, licking their lips excessively, shaking, tucking their nail, or pinning their ears to their head, it’s important to take a break or step away. You are your dog’s biggest advocate, and he or she needs to know they can trust you. 

If your dog’s nails are looking long, and they aren’t responding to any of your trimming attempts, seek help from your vet. They may have an easier and more successful time trimming your dog’s nails if need be, since they have access to advanced tools and sedatives. And remember to treat yourself to a mani-pedi too. You’ve earned it!

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