Some pets just get off on the wrong paw when it comes to nail trimming. If their first nail trimming experiences were painful or scary, they’ll do their best to squirm their way out of it going forward. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you have a puppy or kitten, you can make sure they have a positive experience from the start.
But even if your pet is older and hides behind the couch whenever the clippers come out, it is possible to retrain the lil’ furball. Read on for some tips to help you and your pet.
If you walk your dog regularly on pavement, the surface acts as kind of an emery board, gradually wearing down the nails. That dog may need less frequent nail trims than a dog who isn’t walked much and plays mostly on grass. Trim the nails when they get long enough to touch the ground, or when you hear the “clickety-clack” of your dog’s nails against the flooring.
Your supply list
Most important on the list? Treats, treats and more treats. The more delectable the better. Your goal is to associate everything positive with the nail trimming session. If possible, cut or break up your pet’s favorite treats into small pieces the size of peas.
Next, you’ll need a nail clipper. There are generally two types: those shaped like scissors or guillotine clippers that feature a hole the nail fits through. You can also try a grinder, but some dogs don’t like the vibrations and noise, and the chore may take longer.
You’ll also want styptic powder. This will help stop the bleeding if you accidentally cut the nail too short. It’s available at more pet stores, but if you’re in a pinch, cornstarch also does the trick.
Retraining your pet to like nail trims
It’s all about keeping the session positive. Take each step slowly; it may take several days or weeks to make your pet feel comfortable.
- Help your pet become accustomed to having its paws handled. Touch and hold your pet’s paws. Lavish your pet with praise and treats so they know that good things happen when you touch their paws.
- Introduce the clipper. Place the clipper on the floor and encourage your pet to approach the tool by creating a trail of treats up and on to the clipper. Let your pet sniff the clipper.
- Enlist a helper. When you first get started, it’s best if you can have someone distract your pet while you’re busy with the nails.
- Go easy on restraint. When an animal is held down against its will, it can become stressed and possibly aggressive. To avoid this, ask your helper to gently hold your pet in their lap.
- Bring on the treats. Ask your helper to give your pet treats every time you handle its paws. Remove the treats when you stop touching the paws.
- Tap the nails with the clipper. If you have a cat, gently press on the paw to extend the nails. Again, ask your helper to dish out treats every time you tap the nails. Ideally, your pet will be distracted by the treat and won’t even notice what you’re doing.
- Place the clippers over the nail, but don’t cut. Again, praise and treat your pet while it becomes comfortable with the touch of the clipper around the nail.
- Avoid the quick. This is the pinkish area in the middle of the nail that contains a nerve and blood vessel. If you accidentally cut the quick, it can be painful for your pet and the nail can start to bleed. Pets with dark nails can be more challenging because the quick may not be visible.
- Cut one nail. Make sure your pet is distracted with treats and praise. If your pet has light nails and you can see the quick, cut the tip of the nail below the start of the quick. If your pet has dark nails, clip about 1/16th of an inch at a time. As you get closer to the quick, you will begin to see a darker dot at the center of the nail. That’s your cue to stop.
- Work your way up gradually. It’s not necessary to clip all the nails at once. If your pet starts being uncomfortable, you can stop the session and resume another night.
The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.