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Cutting Your Dog's Nails: How Important is it Really?

Quille Kaddon

Manager for Therapy Dog Program and Foster Pets Program, Vancouver ecoVillage

How short should a dog’s nails be? 

Nail cutting is essential because “nails that are too long and resting on the ground can affect the dog’s posture and their movement”, says Dr Leslie Woodcock DVM. When nails are constantly jamming into their nail beds due to the impact of the long nails with the hard floor, it can get uncomfortable or sore for the dog. So your goal should be to cut your dog’s nails short enough that you cannot hear them on your tile floor. 'When the nail gets too long, in time the nail will twist or toe will turn which can lead to early arthritis and a sore painful foot,' says Brenda Cox, a groomer in Oregon.

Is there a proper way to hold or angle the clipper?

The most common suggestion is to cut it at a 45° angle. A 90° cut would work on a dog with short nails. 'If you grind the nail tip perpendicular to the floor (i.e., straight up and down), you can get more of the nail off close to the quick without actually nicking the quick,' says vet tech Dawn Garrett.

Step 1. Cut the nail short at 45°. Step 2. Cut slivers off the visible hard shell at the top of the nail so it helps the quick recede faster.

2. How do I know when I need to stop cutting?

Confidence comes with knowing that you are not going to hurt your dog! And that means you are confident when you know when you can cut and when you need to stop cutting so you don’t hurt the dog. But when your dog has black nails, it is very hard to tell when you are near the sensitive quick. Therefore, you can cut the nail until you see the pulp which is when you should stop cutting. The black spot or pulp tells you that you are near the quick. Watch 0:38 – 1:28 of this video here.

3. Is it really that easy to find the pulp?

This veterinarian explains in his video, that if you don't cut forcefully enough but slowly or tentatively, especially on very hard dog nails, you may end up getting a rougher finish rather than a smoother, cleaner cut. If you’ve spent time cutting your dog’s nails, you may have noticed the longer you hesitate slowly increasing pressure on the nail clipper, it increases the dog’s nervousness and awareness of the pressure of the blades on the nails. Therefore, you need to use the right tool ie. The QuickFinder Deluxe to enable you to get a quick, cleaner finish. 

4. How often should I cut?

Ideally you should not hear your dog's nails clicking on the floor. You don’t need to get the nails very short because your dog still needs to dig into the earth when running outside. The nails should be short enough to avoid touching the floor when standing. If the dog is clicking because the quick is too long, the nail cutting needs to occur more frequently to help the quick recede. Once every 1-2 weeks appears to be the best recommendation for dogs who need their quicks receded. This diagram explains the concept. Remember, if you grind or cut slivers off the top of the tip of the nail after you cut, you can help the quick to back up faster.

5. Is it really such a bad thing to cut the quick? 

Of course, it’s better to avoid if you can but even vets and groomers don't have a 100% success rate at this! Make sure you have a bottle of Styptic Powder (or baking soda made into a paste with warm water) on hand before you start nail clipping. This can be bought at any good pet store. Stopping the bleeding is simple. Just apply a pinch of the yellow powder to the bleeding nail and apply moderate pressure. The bleeding will stop quickly. Don’t let one or two unfortunate accidents deter you. If you counter condition by treating while clipping, like feeding while clipping one nail only, it will be less stressful with a shorter duration. You can increase the number of cuttings as the dog becomes more tolerant. 

6. Equipment: Guillotine clipper, Scissors clipper, QuickFinder Deluxe or Dremel/nail grinder?

Regardless of type, any new tool may require a period of adjustment because of variables like spring-resistance. 

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