A lot of our consulting time spent as nurses is for trimming and assessing your pet’s nails. We have found that this is becoming a new trend in good grooming practices with fur babies, but how do you really know when your pet requires a nail trim?
For a few reasons, many nail trims that come to visit are often sent home without the nails being trimmed – the three main reasons include:
1. The quicks are too long (the blood vessel that runs through the nail)
3. We strive to provide a fear free approach
We assess every patient individually, and each requires a different approach. Most of our fur babies have either never had their nails trimmed or have only had it done a couple of times. The feeling of pressure and the loud crunch the clippers make can be a trigger for an otherwise perfectly well-behaved pet.
But what about the sharp pointy ends?
A lot of the time your pet’s nails will grow into a natural point. This is due to their genetic make-up and the way their paws/nails sit when they walk. Some breeds will have worse or more nail issues than others, however just because it looks/feels sharp doesn’t mean the nail requires trimming. A lot of the time the quick (blood vessel that runs through the nail) is nearly all the way to the end of the nail - if we were to trim that nail, we would cause bleeding and unnecessary pain. This can make the animal foot shy/triggered when nail clippers come out, and cause anxious behaviour - none of which we want!
We use as minimal handling as possible when trimming nails but it can be a very stressful experience for some pets. Our job is to assess an animal’s behavior, and causing unnecessary anxiety that can turn a friendly pet into a fearful one is NOT something we are willing to do. If your pet suffers anxiety due to having their nails trimmed, then unless it is a medical or genetic issue, we advise you to avoid this. We can use medication to reduce anxiety and cause a sedative effect to allow the nails to be trimmed, but this is again not something we recommend on a regular basis (unless it is medically required).
With a fear free approach, we try a “less is more” handling technique with your pets when performing potentially stressful procedures. Unfortunately, this cannot always be done. An animal’s defense mechanism is fight or flight. If they can’t escape or run away, their response may be to bite or scratch when they are scared, nervous, unhappy, unsure or startled. While we put our bodies on the line every day working with animals, we do not want to cause ourselves unnecessary harm or an animal excessive stress for something so minor. We then have to use restraint techniques that can require holding, towels, muzzles and bags. These sometimes are required, but can also be very stressful for your pets.
So what can you do?
If you do want your pet’s nails trimmed for cosmetic or personal reasons, then bring them in from an early age and frequently. The more we see them and make it a positive experience, the better for everyone.
If you have a dog or cat that is anxious about having their nails done, we suggest booking a consult with the vet first. There might be some medications we can send you home with to give prior to the procedure to help reduce those stress emotions/reactions. The other option would be to start filing your pet’s nails at home. A lot of the time it is just the tips that cause the concern and nothing a strong metal nail file can’t fix.
And if you have a pet has had it done before but doesn’t really like it and requires a little restraint, please make it clear to us. Sometimes your pets are better behaved when you aren’t with them so often to help reduce anxiety, we will take them into another room to perform the nail trim. If you are confident holding your pet then please let us know, but please don’t take offence if we ask for further assistance from a colleague - we are professionally trained to hold your animals correctly to minimize risk to them, to us and yourself.
If your pet if foot shy or just not used to having their feet touched, the more you do this at home, the easier and less reactive they will be if they require their nails trimmed in practice. Holding, petting and moving your pets toes around while they relax on the couch with you will help condition them to a new normality. And if you are comfortable enough to trim your pets nails yourself and happen to ‘nick the quick’, a bar of soap or corn flour will help to stop the bleeding but playing the nail into the corn flour or pressing it into the bar of soap.
Also a quick fun fact: once cats have their nails trimmed, they will spend excessive amounts of time resharpening them over the weeks following - ensure you have adequate scratch posts and toys around to save your furniture!