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How To Safely Trim Your Pet's Nails by Wayne Morrison

The care and trimming of your pet's nails isn't just about grooming, it's about giving them a comfortable and healthy quality of life. Just imagine for a moment the agony of having to walk on feet with toenails so overgrown that they contact the floor before your toes do. Besides the immediate toe pain, your muscles and joints would ache so much from the strain that you would become irritable and listless. You wouldn't want to do anything that required moving on your feet, and just the thought of getting up and walking to the kitchen would put you off eating and drinking altogether. Basically, your health would decline and your life would be miserable. That is exactly what dogs and cats are forced to endure when their owners fail to keep their nails trimmed and healthy.

Does your cat frequently snag his or her claws on your furniture and carpet? Do your dog's feet go click-click-click when he or she walks over your tile or wooden floors? Have you noticed a decline in your pet's activity or interest in meal time? If so, then it's time to inspect and trim those nails.

Before going any further allow me to say that if you are the nervous, squeamish or impatient type then please save yourself and your pet the stress and possible nail injury by paying a professional groomer or your vet to regularly maintain the animal's nails. Since all pets should have a semi-annual physical exam this is a good time to schedule a nail trim.

For everyone who wants to do the job themselves at home, the following pet nail trimming tips and procedures will give you a safer and less stressful experience:

-- Firstly, if you've never trimmed your pet's nails yourself, then ask your vet to show you how to trim safely with minimal stress to your pet before you ever attempt it.

-- The best time to start is when the pet is young but regardless of age it's very important to pet and comfort your animal before beginning to trim. This is especially true if they are nervous or not used to you handling their feet.

-- Trim their nails in a comfortable and familiar place. For small breed dogs and for cats this could be your lap or their pet bed, for mid-size dogs you may want to put them on a sturdy outdoor table and for giant breed dogs i.e., great danes, big labs, etc., the floor, patio surface or lawn will work best. The important thing is to set them at ease in a familiar spot and, if your pet becomes nervous, you may want another family member to hold and comfort the animal while you trim.

-- Use a professional grade pet nail clipper and never use clippers or files designed for humans. A dull clipper will damage the nail end rather than cut it cleanly so routinely replace it with a new sharp one.

-- Examine each nail closely to determine how much trimming is required. The rule of thumb is the nail should be even with the paw pad, so trim only the excess growth that is curled down, and make the clip at a 45 degree angle with the cutting edge of the clipper facing the nail.

-- Avoid "quicking" your pet's nails - The sensitive quick is easy to see as a pinkish area in white or opaque nails but it can be difficult to locate in black nails. Cutting the quick is very painful and it will bleed so avoid this injury by always trimming in thin slices. Never attempt to remove the excess growth with one big cut. In case you do accidently cause the quick to bleed it's a good idea to have a styptic on hand which you can buy at your pet store or from your vet.

-- Lastly, it's recommended to lightly buff the clipped nails with an emery board to remove any sharp or jagged edges. A pet rotary nail grinder may also be used to smoothen the nail ends. The buffing will help protect anyone from being scratched by a playful pet and will prevent nail snags on carpet and upholstery which can injure the toes and nails.

In conclusion, you can minimize the risk of injury to your pet's nails by following the above tips and procedures. You may also want to consider buying and using a rotary pet nail grinder. These are based on the design of the original Dremmel Tool® and they offer a somewhat less stressful way to trim pet nails by eliminating the risk of accidently cutting into the quick. Pet nail grinders have gained a lot of popularity for home use as well as by groomers and, if used according to the instructions, they are easy and effective trimmers. There are a couple of well made grinders on the market, but be aware there are also cheap knockoffs that simply won't do the job. My personal preference is the Gentle Paws Cordless Trimmer by Oster®, however, the Dremmel 7300® is also a top quality product. Both of these are sold on as well as other online and local pet stores. Regardless of the brand you may buy, it's important to gently introduce the grinder to your pet before using it on their nails.

Wayne Morrison is the co-founder and managing partner of Woodmor', a commercial/informational website targeted to the lifestyle needs of the baby boomer generation. Wayne is a lifelong dog and cat owner whose favorite cause is pet rescue and adoption. To learn more about the specific products recommended in this article and Woodmor's in general, please visit

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