Nail Trimming

At our hospital we charge $23 for nail trims. Reactions to that price vary from outright disbelief at how high the cost is to people who feel it is a bargain at twice the price. The reason we insist on being compensated to some degree is that nail trims are a non-medical procedure that could be done elsewhere. In order to get a patient’s nails trimmed I have to pull two technicians off of whatever work they are doing--say getting a patient prepped for surgery or administering treatments to hospitalized animals--and ask them to spend 15 minutes wrestling with an animal who is more likely than not going to kick and thrash and spray anal gland material all over them and try to bite them. I hate unnecessarily traumatizing both animals and staff over such a simple procedure that could be done by owners with a little patience and training.

It is normal for dogs to dislike having their nails trimmed. The procedure isn’t painful, but they can feel the pressure on their quicks and they don’t understand what is happening to their feet, so their natural first reaction is to object to the procedure to protect their feet from injury. Dogs have to learn that you are not trying to cut off their toes when you are trimming their nails, and the best way to do that is to practice frequently in gradual intervals. Holding a dog down and just getting the job done as the dog spirals into crazy panic is not a productive learning experience, yet it is exactly what we have to do at the clinic if we want to get the job done. A graduated program instituted at home that doesn’t involve panic is much better for everyone involved. Start with one nail then give a treat. Keep practicing several times a day until you can trim several nails in a sitting. If you are diligent with the practice your dog should be able to learn that they will not die as a result of a nail trim and it is actually a pleasant activity because it is associated with treats. Depending on the dog this may take up to a few months, but tolerating nail trims with some grace and dignity is a basic citizenship skill that all dogs should learn, just like not going to the bathroom inside the house or being able to sit, come and stay on command.

The other completely understandable reason that people don’t do nail trims at home is that they feel unsure of how to do it properly and they are afraid of cutting too deeply and causing their dog pain. It is true that you can accidentally cut into the quicks on your dog’s nails and cause them to bleed, but your dog is not going to die as a result of that and you can learn where you can and cannot cut to keep that from happening again. Just as every person who has a car should know how to check the oil and change a tire, every person who has a dog or cat should know how to trim nails. Cats in general and dogs with white nails are easier because you can see the pink quick and therefore you have a visual cue about where you can cut. Dogs that have some white nails and some dark nails at least give you some nails in which you can see the quicks and you can extrapolate how much you can cut on the dark nails from there. Dogs with all black nails are harder, but not impossible. Start by trimming a small amount off the end of the black nail and gradually take small slivers off the end. As you get closer to the quick you will start to see a round grey area in the middle of the end of the nail which will be telling you that that is far enough. Your veterinarian or a groomer or a knowledgeble friend can also help you learn how to trim nails.

There are lots of tools out there for nail trims. I see guillotine style cutters, hedge trimmer style cutters, and even dremmel type grinders like the Pedi-paws device. All of them have pros and cons, but whatever tool you select you and your pet can practice and learn to use it effectively and end the crazy panic sessions at the veterinarian’s.