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Dr. Evan Antin shares: How to trim a dog’s nails

You might want to purchase some corn starch before trimming your pet’s nails at home.

There’s nothing better than when your dog welcomes you home (even if you were only gone for a short period). Is your pup the type of greeter that gives you a big bear hug immediately after entering the door? If you get an accidental scratch during these loving body slams, it might be time to trim your dog’s nails.

We turned to Dr. Evan Antin, a practicing small animal, exotics and wildlife veterinarian at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital and member of Fetch’s Veterinary Advisory Board, to learn tips for trimming dog nails. 

What are some signs that a dog’s nails need to be trimmed? 

When the nails start curving a nice radius, then it’s definitely time for a trim. Some dogs with long nails get stuck on things, like grates or weaves with small holes, which is also an indication. 

If your dog’s nails are translucent and not black, then you can see the “quick,” aka nail bed and living tissue, and if you see that there’s 1/8th to 1/4 inch or more beyond the tip of that, then it’s about time for a trim. 

How often should dogs get their nails trimmed?

This varies from one individual to the next, but the average is every 2 to 3 (or more) weeks. 

What are the health risks of not trimming a dog’s nails? 

Dogs get their nails caught in things all the time and partially or fully rip the nail off. This happens most commonly with overgrown nails, and most often, it’s a dewclaw, aka their thumbnail. 

Do dogs of specific breeds, ages or lifestyles need their nails trimmed more often than others? Why or why not?

Lifestyle is a big factor. Dogs that regularly walk on pavement often get enough pavement wear on their nails and hardly need trims. Of course, the exception is the dewclaw because they never touch the ground and will need regular trimming. 

Is it OK for pet parents to trim their dog's nails at home? If so, can you share some tips?

I recommend this, if possible, and the key to success is positive reinforcement training. If your dog is averse to nail trims, then you need to go slow and reward them every step along the way. 

Start by touching and holding their paws, without trimming their nails or trimming instruments, and give treats to teach them that it’s worthwhile to get their paws touched. Once they’re comfortable with that, you can progress to trimming, and at first, I would recommend rewarding them after every individual nail is trimmed. 

It’s important to not overcut. Accidentally cutting the quick can cause pain and reinforce your pet’s aversion to nail trims. It also will bleed, so getting that clotted quickly is ideal to avoid a mess or continued bleeding. 

We use a product called Quick Stop at the vet hospital, but cornstarch is also a good option for bleeding nails. Just manually pack corn starch onto the bleeding nail tip and hold it there for about 30 seconds. Bleeding should cease by the time you let go. 

RELATED: Dr. Evan Antin shares: Eastern vs. Western pet medicine

Are there any tools pet parents should purchase to trim a dog’s nails?

A standard dog nail cutter that kind of looks like pliers and Quick Stop or cornstarch. And, of course, treats! 

Some pet parents might want to have their dog’s nails trimmed professionally. What can they expect at that appointment? 

If a patient is easy and cooperative, then one tech will go slow and trim by themselves. If a patient has high anxiety about their paws or nail trims, then one to two additional techs will help to comfort and restrain a pet for nail trims. They use the same tools I recommended before.

Is it common for dogs to feel anxious before or during a nail-trimming treatment? 

Unfortunately, yes — many dogs feel that nail trims are a negative experience and may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) associated with nail trims, making them even more challenging to get the job done. 

It doesn’t have to be this way for most patients, though. Positive reinforcement goes a long way, and with patience and consistency, you can condition your pet’s behavior when it comes to nail trims and much more. 

How can pet parents help their dogs feel calm before or during a nail-trimming appointment? 

For high-anxiety patients, I recommend giving vet-approved CBD before nail trim visits. For some patients, it’s best to give them prescription anti-anxiety medications. Keeping your energy calm and tranquil also helps your pet. 

Do you have any care tips for after a dog’s nail-trimming appointment?

Monitor your pet if there were any bleeders. Otherwise, continue normal daily activity. 

Should pet parents be concerned about their dog's pain after having their nails trimmed? 

Nails are composed of keratin, and just like in people, nail trims don’t hurt them. So even in the case of a slightly over-trimmed nail with some bleeding, by the time the nail trim is finished, your pet will be fine. 

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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