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Nailing It



In the fog of working on an individual pet, let alone keeping tabs on what else is going on the salon at any given moment, groomers should take the time to focus on excellent nail care to increase client satisfaction and potentially provide other revenue sources. From the most basic nail trim to the finishing touches, having the right equipment handy for the right situation makes for a much easier grooming session. In some instances, an extra fee for optional services above and beyond the norm can be an opportunity to increase revenue.

The first step in caring for a pet’s nails is to ensure its safety by knowing the animal. If the pet is new to the salon or hasn’t been in for a time, observe how aggressive it is or learn if it has had a prior behavior issues related to nail trimming, or even an extreme nail trim phobia. If so, position the pet in a manner that will protect it and the groomer, as well as make the job easier. When necessary, use a cloth muzzle or Air Muzzle for extra protection. If the pet ultimately requires sedation, it is best to refer the client to a vet.

Next comes the inspection of the pet’s nails. Each time the pet appears for a regular groom, check its nail condition. Changes in diet, exercise routine, aging, normal or abnormal nail growth, and other conditions will affect nail health. This nail inspection is especially important for a new pet, or one in for infrequent grooming. These are some areas that should be checked thoroughly:

Nail Length—Check the front and hind nails separately, as growth rate varies. Nail clipping may not be needed as often in active, healthy pets, as the nails will wear from running and walking. However, the dew nails present in some breeds are higher on in the inside of the legs and grow more slowly. These nails will generally not wear as quickly and may require more frequent trimming. Left unchecked, the dew nail can grow into the nail bed, rather like an ingrown toenail, making it painful and hard to get at.

Nail Health—Look for signs of infection, disease and other concerns in the paws and nails. Note the nail color, thickness and texture. Brittle, cracked nails can be a sign of infection, disease or nutritional deficiency. A diet including zinc and omega-3 fatty acids can help with nail health, but infections and other diseases will need to be properly diagnosed by a veterinarian and treated with medications or even surgery, in serious cases.

Paw and Pad Health—Inspect the pet’s paw and pad condition for dryness or cracking. Note any cuts or wounds, and refer to a veterinarian, if necessary. Many over-the-counter pet-pad moisturizers are available, but avoid using or recommending human moisturizers, as they can soften pads and lead to more complications or injury. Apply pet-specific moisturizer and send some home with the owner for daily application.

Nail Color—Light-colored nails are easier to cut, as the blood vessels and quick are more visible. Black and darker-pigmented nails tend to have longer nail beds, which can complicate things.

Thickness—The thickness of the nail will determine what type of nail clipper to use.


Choosing Equipment
What are the best nail clippers to use: guillotine, scissor or plier-style? That will depend on the pet and the job at hand.

Guillotine—As the name implies, these nail clippers work like a guillotine, with a small blade moving up from the handle when squeezed. This style of nail clipper works best for smaller to medium-sized nails.

Scissor—Scissor clippers are a popular and inexpensive option for small dog nails. The scissor design has curved blades to cut through rounded dog nails. They are a great value, but always inspect before using; loose hinges and dull blades can injure the nail.

Plier—Plier-style clippers are popular among pet professionals. With similar action to the scissor style, their sturdier construction and spring handle keep the heavier blades in an open position. Available in a variety of sizes, the larger plier-style size works for almost all nail sizes except very small nails. Plier clippers are usually extremely durable and last many years before blades dull.
Aside from clippers, groomers should make sure these tools are handy before starting nail care:

Styptic Powder—This is best tool to stop bleeding if nail is cut too short. Flour or corn starch are not as effective.

Nail File—This will allow the groomer to smooth rough edges and shape the nail. It can also be used by itself to file the nail.

Nail Grinder (Rotary Tool)—As with nail files, some groomers opt to use a grinder exclusively, but the motor and vibrations can cause increased anxiety in some pets.
Also be sure to keep cotton gauze or balls, gloves and pet treats close by.


Clipping the Nail
Make sure the pet is comfortable and hold the paw firmly. Locate the quick, which contains the nerve and blood supply to the nail. Clipping the nail too short can cut the quick, and cause pain and the nail to bleed. Cut the nail two to three millimeters from the nail quick. When trimming dark nails, remove a small amount at a time. Look at the center of the nail after each cut. The center of the nail will turn a lighter, fleshy color compared to the outer nail. Stop clipping when the center of the nail is a light white to light gray color. An option is to keep darker nails longer, rather than risk cutting into the quick.

Cutting the nails more frequently with only small amounts of nail removal can encourage the nail quick to shrink back slightly, which can make future clipping easier. If the pet yelps and there is no blood, stop cutting. This may be a signal that the cutting is getting too close to the quick.

Resistance may be due to a prior experience of having its nails cut too short. Comfort and reward the pet throughout the nail trimming.

If the quick is cut, hold a cotton ball or gauze against the nail and wipe the blood away. Then pack a pinch of styptic powder into the nail tip. The pain should only be temporary for the pet and should not affect its ability to walk. Comfort the pet and give a treat.

Finally, after clipping, finger-rub each nail tip to detect any sharp, splintered or brittle edges. Use a nail file or grinding tool to create a smooth, rounded shape.


Finishing Touches Bring Extra Revenue
Groomers can offer add-on nail-care services when booking the appointment or before the grooming session begins. Having a display available, so the client can visualize the choices easily for purchase, will go a long way in generating extra revenue. Here are a couple of add-on options:

Nail Caps—When scratching is a problem, nail caps are a practical solution for dogs and indoor cats. Applied to pets’ nails with a non-toxic adhesive, these soft vinyl caps mute scratching damage to delicate skin and help protect floors, doors and furniture. Nail caps also help senior dogs with hip or arthritic conditions get more traction on smooth flooring. Available in many fun colors and color combinations, these are a fashion accessory or at holidays and special occasion celebrations.

Nail Polish—A variety of pet nail polishes and easy-to-apply pens are available on the market. Check that the polish is safe and non-toxic.

After the session, groomers should discuss the pet’s nail condition and care given with the client, opening up the conversation for add-on care services and retail products the salon offers. Clients will appreciate knowing the extra effort taken to ensure their pets’ appearance, comfort and health.


Matt Faulhaber is the Pet Care Manager of SmartPractice, Inc., a company with a 40-year tradition of providing quality products for pet health professionals, including Soft Claw Nail Cap and PlaqClnz Oral Cleansing Treatment, and PlaqClnz Spray and Gel.

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