Nail trimming

Nail trimming is quite an art!

Many pet owners dread the thought of trimming their pet’s nails. The fear of hurting their pet by trimming a nail too short, either because they have misjudged where to cut or because their pet jerked its paw away at the crucial moment, is the main reason many owners hesitate to perform this basic grooming task themselves and instead seek professional help. The good news is that, with practice, anyone can safely trim a pet’s nails.

Getting your pet used to having its nails trimmed

While it is obviously easier to teach a young pet to willingly participate in its care, older animals can learn to comply with the procedure just as well. In fact, contrary to popular belief, you can teach an old dog (and cat!) new tricks. When an animal is unwilling to let you trim its nails, this is often due to a bad experience which has taught it to fear the procedure. Don’t rush things. Teaching your fearful pet to tolerate the procedure requires time and patience, gradual handling sessions and, above all, plenty of treats!

Before you trim all your pet’s nails in one go, you need to be able to handle his paws without triggering signs of stress. Reward your pet with treats every time you handle his paws and spread the sessions over several days or even weeks. This allows you to shorten the sessions and trim only one or two nails at a time. This gradual approach will teach your pet that having his paws handled is nothing to fear, and that it actually ensures a steady supply of delicious treats!

(If your pet is particularly reluctant to let you trim his nails, we recommend that you read the article on how to desensitize him to the procedure.)

How can I tell how far to trim my pet’s nails?

1 Locating the vein by its colour (side view)

Examine one of your pet’s nails from the side; if your pet is a cat, gently squeeze a toe to make the nail protrude. The pinkish vein will show up clearly in the middle of clear or light-coloured nails. If your pet’s nails are dark, the vein may be difficult or impossible to spot in this way.

2 Locating the vein by the shape of the nail (side view)

To locate the end of the vein, examine the nail from the side. The upper edge should be a smooth curve, while the lower edge is slightly angled. The point of the angle is usually where the vein ends.

3 Locating the vein (front view)

Examine the tip of nail from the front. You should be able to see a dot in the center; the dot will be pinkish in light coloured nails and black in dark coloured nails. This dot shows the approximate location of the vein. If you do not see such a dot, this means that the vein is still further back inside the nail and that it is safe for you to cut the nail shorter.

  • Vein visible through the claw: Do not cut shorter

  • Vein not visible through the claw: Possibility to cut shorter

How to trim your pet’s nails

Once you have learned the anatomical landmarks that allow you to locate the vein, all you will need are the right tools. A scissor-type nail trimmer is better than the guillotine style, as the latter tends to put more pressure on the nail and is less comfortable for the animal. Also, make sure the blades are sharp, to ensure a clean cut and avoid crushing the nail. For your pet’s comfort and to prevent a sudden move while you are cutting, hold your pet’s toe and nail firmly between your thumb and index finger. Apply the blades at a 45-to-50-degree angle and start by cutting just the very the tip of the nail. Keep cutting, one sliver at a time. Make the process more enjoyable for your pet by giving him breaks between nails and remember to reward him with plenty of treats throughout the session. To make things go even more smoothly, ask another member of the household to act as a non-stop treat dispenser; this will pleasantly distract your pet while you focus on your task.


Help! I cut my pet’s nail too short!

First of all, don’t panic. Although cutting into a vein is a stressful experience for you and painful for your pet, it is rarely an emergency and the bleeding usually stops quickly. Start by taking your pet’s mind off the event by giving him treats so that he does not associate nail trimming with something negative. To stop the bleeding, you can apply styptic powder, available from your veterinarian; this will make the blood coagulate and thus quickly stop the bleeding. If you don’t have any styptic to hand, apply pressure to the nail with a clean compress or, as a last resort, use cornstarch.

With patience, the proper technique and the right tools, you will have everything you need to successfully trim your pet’s nails! If you have any questions, feel free to contact your Passionimo veterinary team.

Click here to watch our nail trimming demonstration video : 

Have more questions?

Please do not hesitate to contact the Passionimo veterinary clinic near you.

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