Depending on your pet’s attitude, you may not want to say N-A-I-L T-R-I-M too loud. While some cats and dogs barely notice when you’re trimming their nails, others just plain don’t like it and will let you know by squirming, whining, or worse-growling or biting. By knowing beforehand the proper way to do a nail trim on your pet, you may be able to save Kitty or Rover (and yourself!) some distress. But if your pet simply refuses to cooperate, becomes aggressive, or if you just don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, it may be better to let a professional groomer or veterinarian conduct the dreaded deed.
First, you should know why trimming your pet’s nails is important. While long nails may be fashionable for supermodels, your dog’s or cat’s overgrown nails will drag on the ground and make walking or running uncomfortable for your pet. This, in turn, could result in soreness or other problems further up the leg. Dewclaws (the sixth toenail that’s found higher up on the paw near a pet’s "ankle") that are not trimmed regularly can curve back into the skin, which is very painful, and cause infection. Although it’s common for many dogs to have their rear dewclaws removed when they’re young pups, dewclaws on their front legs often remain. Cats have them, as well.
In addition to trimming nails for health reasons, a pet’s blunt nail tips are less likely to hurt you or your furniture by scratching. (For more on destructive cat scratching, see Declawing.)
So how often should nail trims be done? Generally, dogs will need their nails clipped once every one or two weeks. Cats’ nails will need trimming about once a month, or maybe more for older cats. If you hear a scratching noise as your pet walks across the linoleum or on concrete, his nails are too long!
For Rover’s manicure, be sure to use only nail trimmers that are designed for dogs. For Kitty, you can use either specially made cat nail trimmers or human nail clippers. Never use scissors!
If your pet is not used to or is nervous about having his nails trimmed, be sure to start slowly. In fact, don’t even bring out the trimmers the first few days. Instead, gently lift each paw and just pet it or massage it to get your cat or dog used to having his feet handled. Reward him afterward with praise or a yummy treat. When you’re ready to actually clip a nail, do so in a relaxed, quiet area of the house where you won’t be disturbed. You may want to begin by clipping the nails on only one paw, or even just one or two nails on a paw, if Kitty or Rover becomes restless or fearful. Above all else, you want to make this as pleasant an experience for him as you can. So don’t rush it!
Since cats can retract their claws you’ll need to gently press Kitty’s paw between your finger and thumb to expose the nail. In both dogs and cats, trim only the end of the nail, at the point where it begins to curve downward. And trim only small amounts at a time, so that you’re less likely to cut the "quick" of the nail. The quick contains the nerves and blood supply, so if you cut it, you’ll know it and so will your pet! Cutting the quick is painful and will make Rover or Kitty bleed. If bleeding occurs, sprinkle a clotting powder such as cornstarch or press a styptic pencil (a stick of a medicated clotting substance) on the nail tip. If necessary, hold a gauze pad firmly to the nail until the bleeding stops.
The quick is easy to see and avoid in white nails-it’s the pink part. Always cut below the pink line. Dark nails are trickier, though. It’s hard to tell where the quick is until you’ve cut it. So when trimming dark nails, be conservative. Go slowly and only trim the curved part of the nail.
If you’re new at trimming your pet’s nails, watch your veterinarian or groomer do it first, and then let him or her talk you through it as you try it. With practice, both you and your four-legged friend will learn that nail trims really aren’t that bad. But if you still feel uncomfortable, there’s certainly no shame in letting a professional perform the manicure.
Click here for an instructive video by the Cornell Feline Health Center on trimming your cat’s claws.