Sextiped Valley column: How often to clip doggy claws
Nail trims! How can something that takes 2 minutes, one simple tool and just an ordinary level of manual dexterity be so daunting?
When claws get too long, they snag on carpet, scratch the kids and click annoyingly on hard floors. You can’t help knowing they aren’t getting worn down enough with regular activity. But how often to clip? How short? Is it actually harmful if they grow too long? What if you struggle and hurt them?
What’s at stake? Take some time to watch your dog’s feet in normal motion! He pushes off with a hind foot, rocking forward from the big pad to the claws, flexing so that the bones, ligaments and tendons align for a fully functional gait. Then imagine how it feels if nails strike the ground, taking his weight first! If you have long nails, hit the table top fast and hard with them! Ouch! Imagine this pain occurring in your feet, with every step you take. To avoid this, dogs alter their stride, resulting in abnormal posture and gait, which over time wreaks havoc on joints, ultimately diminishing mobility. As the nails grow longer, so does the “quick” — the vein inside the nail, and the nerve alongside it — so when you do cut them, you won’t be able to cut off all the excess length because it will bleed and cause pain. It can take weeks to get the quicks to recede and the nails to return to normal function.
If you have a new puppy, it is so easy to prevent this distress by never allowing claws to get too long. Start as soon as you get him. At seven or eight weeks, the little paws are so adorable they just beg to be touched and kissed and played with. This is important desensitization, so indulge. Snip those tiny hooks every couple of days, and you’ll never have a problem.
But with an older dog who hasn’t learned to tolerate the process, you have to get yourself into the right frame of mind first. Picture his relief when it’s done. Go into it knowing you are performing a wonderful service for him. Pick up each foot, paying attention to how he holds his body with one foot off the ground. Discover the positions where he is most balanced and comfortable. Determine whether he wants to watch, or not. In the latter case, hold the paw under his body. Push back the hair so you can see the quick (on black nails, look at the bottom of the claw. The vein ends just behind the point of the “V”). Give him — and yourself — a reward.
To actually do the deed, have the right tools, location and an assistant ready: a sharp nail clipper, a vial of styptic powder, a supply of absolutely irresistible treats, and a platform big enough for him to stand on and high enough for you to easily see what you are doing. Tiny dogs can be held by your assistant with their backs upright against the person’s chest and all four feet straight out, the holder’s arms around the dog’s torso. If the dog is on floor or table, any position will work: sitting, standing or lying down. The important thing is for you to be able to hold the toe still when you cut, which can be from the top, side or bottom as long as you can see the quick.
Assess his resistance before you start to cut. Don’t even try if he is panicky and flailing around. Practice everything up to the cutting, rewarding profusely until he’s calm and looking forward to the treats. (Think bites of steak or chicken or cheese — aromatic and delicious.) You can spread this over days, but do it every day.
When you are ready to cut, make sure the nail is still and stable, then cut decisively. Until you are confident about where the quick is, cut a little further out from it. If you do happen to draw blood, wet your finger, dip it in styptic powder and hold it firmly against the cut surface until the bleeding stops. The pain is pretty minimal.
Not every nail will need to be cut every time. Sometimes only the front ones and dew claws, or the middle two nails grow out. If you notice that one foot’s claws are much longer, see if he favors that foot when he moves. This can alert you to subtle limps you can follow up with your veterinarian.
When you are done, party! Reward yourselves with a fun activity and treats. When you approach this task in a spirit of service, knowing you’re making your dog happier and more comfortable, he will know, your confidence will grow, and it will be so, even if your learning curve is steep at first. Still daunted? Ask your vet or groomer — or me — to show you how and coach you. It really is worth it.
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.