CANINE CONNECTION: If Fido’s nails click, it’s time for a snip

Trimming my dog’s toenails has to be my least favourite canine grooming task.

I feel like a politician, dangling a big reward in front of my dogs to entice them to trust me only to trick them into agreeing to something they actually object to. Then I manipulatively convince them the meagre treat they were given at the end of the session is actually more valuable than the original big reward we started with.

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Let’s face it, neither dog nor owner really enjoys the task of nail trims. But trimming your dog’s toenails is a necessary evil and it is important to do them regularly to keep your dog healthy.

Long toenails can cause health problems. They can break and chip when walking on hard surfaces. This can lead to infection as bacteria can potentially enter into the nail bed through a split nail. Toenails that are too long can spread your pup’s feet wider than they are naturally designed to spread, causing tension on the tendons and ligaments of the feet and toes. This can result in painful toe deformity or an injured or torn flexor tendon in the toe which leads to a flattened toe that is unable to do its job of stabilization upon walking. In worse case scenarios a toenail that is overgrown can grow into a dogs footpads! 

A dog’s toenails should be trimmed at least every two weeks to maintain a healthy length. Your ears can determine if your dog’s toenails are too long or just right. A healthy length is a nail that cannot be heard clicking against a hard floor when a dog walks across it. No clicking equals a healthy length.

Special nail trimming tools are required to trim your dog’s nails properly. Do not use nail clippers designed for humans as a dogs toenails are considerably harder than human nails and will splinter if trimmed with human clippers. Your choices are either a scissor or guillotine style nail clippers designed for dogs or a Dremel tool. My personal choice is a Dremel because the risk of cutting the dog’s quick which contains both a nerve and blood supply to the nail bed is nil. When you cut the quick it causes pain and it bleeds, like a lot!

But the Dremel is not risk free. The friction caused by grinding down the dog’s toenail causes the toenail to heat up and this can cause discomfort to your dog. So you do have to learn how to use the Dremel appropriately.

If you have never trimmed your dog’s toenails, I would suggest going to your veterinarian or a professional groomer to learn how to do it properly.

Some boutique pet stores offer nail trims for a nominal fee and they can also show you how to do it. There are some YouTube videos but because of the danger of cutting the dog’s quick, it is better to have someone show you directly instead of watching a video.

If you are determined to try it on your own, it is best to start by spending a few days touching your dog’s feet and gently pressing their toes while giving your pup a high value treat. Once your pup is used to having its paws handled, take the nail trimmers or Dremel tool and touch it against your dog’s toenail, but don’t attempt to trim it yet. Give your pup a treat for allowing you to do this.

Once your pup has become comfortable with the trimming tools around their feet you can attempt to trim the nail.

Start by gently pushing your thumb on the base of the toenail which will push the nail out a bit farther. Trim or file off just the curved tip of the nail, a couple of millimetres is all you should remove for your first trim as this will make the quick recede into the nailbed, allowing for more toenail to be removed on the next attempt.

It is better to err on the side of caution and leave the nail too long until you become more proficient at trimming. Don’t forget your dog’s dew claw (if they have one) which is located farther up the inside of their leg.

Whether you trim your dog’s nails on your own or take them to a professional to do it, make a habit of giving your pup a pedicure at least twice a month.

Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 20 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation.



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