Nail Care Basics

Ensuring proper nail care and health is an important aspect of the grooming process and involves much more than simply trimming off the excess.

Nail care is a big part of evaluating our clients’ pets each and every appointment to gather information on their health. Are they getting a good diet, plenty of exercise and the right care at home? This information and more can often be found with a good check-in process, which should include a close inspection of the nails. After all, a pet’s nails can reflect its overall well-being.

There is more to know about the toe nails than just trimming them. Take a closer look—are they normal? There are a number of toe nail and nail bed disorders. One such disorder is an infection that causes inflammation around the nail or claw. Fungal infections can also occur in or around the nail bed. Dogs may suffer from extremely brittle nails, or have nails that peel or chip away excessively.

Most nail or nail bed disorders have an excellent treatment outcome and can usually be treated in a short amount of time, but if we don’t check, we can’t help. If you see something abnormal, ask the owner if the pet has been licking at the paws, having difficulty walking or pain in the feet. If so, send them to the vet. Keep in mind that it is not unusual to see abnormalities on the skin at the same time you see them around the nail bed or with the toe nails.

Nails and ears are the first two things I do when prepping a dog or cat for the tub. Groomers who use grates in their kennels or bathtub should trim really long nails prior to placing a pet inside, or remove the grate to help prevent a potential nail injury.

 There are two kinds of nail clippers to pick from: a guillotine type and a scissors/pliers type. The guillotine trimmer has a stationary hole where the nail goes through and a blade that moves up to cut the nail when you squeeze the handles of the trimmer. The scissors/pliers type works just like a pair of scissors. You open them and put the tip of the nail between the blades to cut it. I prefer the scissor/pliers type—heavy duty, of course.

Keep a clotting powder, such as Kwik Stop Styptic Powder, close by when trimming a dog’s nails. You should try not to quick a nail, but it happens. Being prepared so you can quickly stop the bleeding is always best. Make sure the dog is properly restrained to keep both of you safe. Take the paw and hold it firmly but gently between your fingers. If you’re using a scissors-pliers type, hold the trimmer at the same angle as the front of the paw, with the tip of the nail between the blades. Then cut. When you see the quick through a clear or light nail, cut in front of it. With a dark nail, I look underneath for the split in the underside of the nail and cut in front of it. Both of these are normally safe methods, unless a dog has an abnormal nail growth and the quick grows with the entire nail.

When using a guillotine-type trimmer, insert the tip of the dog’s nail into the hole, holding the trimmer to the nail so that you cut from bottom to top, never from the side. To be safe, keep the blade to the outside or toward you rather than the dog. It will cut shorter than you have aligned for, and this will lessen the chance of cutting the quick.

Don’t forget the dewclaws as well. Most dogs just have dewclaws on their front legs, but some dogs have one or even two sets of dewclaws on their rear legs. Cats can also have extra toes with nails to be cut, so make sure you feel the hocks and pasterns thoroughly.

I like to finish many of my nail-trimming sessions with a grinder. Many of my aging clients and small children cannot handle their pet jumping on them or even sitting on their laps with freshly cut nails. For a small added charge, I grind and finish the nails off for them.

Dog nail grinding or finishing tools are becoming increasingly popular due to their ease of use and the benefits they provide. They come in a lot of shapes and sizes, and they come in electric, battery-powered or rechargeable models. My favorites are the lithium-ion models, such as the Oster Spin.

Pet nail grinders can be used to completely trim a short nail or to trim a dog that hates the feeling of the pressure produced by the guillotine-type and a scissors/pliers-type nail cutter. It is also a great way to reduce the risk of cutting the quick. Cut a smaller portion of the nail, and grind the rest.
Here’s another helpful hint: although it is not always convenient to do so, grinding after the bath will produce the best finish with less splintering.


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