A Good Clip...For Your Dog or Cat

by Lee Chambers

One of the most frustrating experiences one can have with their dog or cat is trying to trim their nails without them entering the Witness Protection Program every time the clippers make an appearance.

Many people have given up and bring their pets to groomers or veterinarian offices for nail trims, but this becomes costly and inconvenient compared to the ease of doing it at home yourself.  Can your dog or cat be trained to endure this process?  If you’re patient and willing to do the work, success can be yours!

Get them used to being handled

Before you bring out the clippers, you need to get your pet used to having their paws handled.  Most cats and dogs are no fans of this, and will instinctively pull away from your hand when it reaches for – and makes contact with – their paws. 

Begin the training by spending five minutes every day handling your pet’s paws.  You should touch their paw, then give them a treat, which will reinforce that a positive experience follows a paw touch.  If you’re cuddled up on the couch with your cat or dog, make it a point to touch their paws lightly, and have the treats ready to reward them for putting up with it!

The next step – when you feel your pet has become accustomed to having their paws touched is to put the clippers as close to them as possible.  This will make them familiar with the tool.  After a few rounds of this, you can actually touch the clippers – lightly – to their paw without using them.  It’s a rehearsal for things to come, but a valuable one, as your pet will become comfortable with the process.  Be sure to reward them with a treat each time…and it wouldn’t hurt to do this before meal time, so you know they’ll be hungry, and eager to please you for the treat!

Let the clipping begin!

The first time you use the clippers should be short and sweet.  Have your pet in an area of your home without distractions, like birds out the window, or other pets in the room.  You should clip one nail only, taking the tiniest tip off the nail.  This prevents you from cutting the quick of the nail (it’s where the blood vessels are, and the part of the nail that will bleed if cut), and it also leaves a good amount of the nail so you can repeat the process the next day.

Be sure to keep the clipping sessions brief and reward your pet each time immediately afterward.  This brief, repetitive approach is an ideal way to teach your pet that nail clipping isn’t such a bad thing.

Patience is a requirement for this effort, as it will take your pet about a month of this activity before they become calm and tolerant of nail trims.  When you hit that golden milestone, you can start clipping two or more nails at a session, but that depends on your animal’s personality.  At this point you can graduate to taking a bit more of the nail off, but again, be careful not to cut the quick, which is usually pinkish in color.  Stick to trimming the bottom, white part of the nail.  Black nails, often found on dogs, are a bit of a challenge because the quick is not clearly visible.  Always err on the side of caution, and take only the smallest end tip of the nail.

Cutting too far

At some point you may make the mistake of cutting the quick and causing a bleed.  It happens to everyone, even the pros, so don’t panic.  The best way to stop the bleeding is to apply styptic powder to the cut surface.  This helps clot the blood quickly.  If you don’t have styptic powder, corn starch or flour will work as well, but not as efficiently. 

Still not sure?

If you’re still having problems, talk to your veterinarian or groomer about the correct procedure, and they may be able to demonstrate it for you, and supervise your first attempt!


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