For the love of your pet: Listen for the click to know when to clip

By John Beck

It appears to me that my wife is always taking our Shih-Tzu to the vet clinic to get her nails trimmed. I think she goes a little overboard and takes her too often. How often should your pet have this thing done?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. How often do you trim your fingernails? How often does your wife trim her fingernails? How often does your friend trim his fingernails? Ask every person this question, and I bet you will receive a host of different answers.

The rate at which your fingernails grow can be determined by many different factors; the same goes for dogs and cats. Excellent nutrition can lend to faster growing nails. But don't worry if your pets nails are not growing really fast, food is not the only thing that can affect them. Activity plays a huge role. Pets who tend to be very active will naturally wear their nails down, especially if they are running or playing on a hard surface like concrete. The hard surface acts like a nail file does and keeps the sharp edges off and the nail from getting very long.

So what are some signs that it is time to get your pet's nails trimmed? If you can look at your pet's paw up close and from the side, your pet's nail should come out of the paw and have a soft gentle curve forward. If the nail is beginning to curve down, towards the ground, or back in towards the paw ... it is time to trim their nails. If you are not able to look that closely at your pet's paws, then you can try listening. In most cases, you should not be able to hear your pet's nails clacking on the floor when they walk ... if you can, it is time for a trim.

If you would like to try trimming your pet's nails at home, make sure you follow some simple steps. You will need a good pair of nail trimmers intended for dog or cat nails. If you have a pair, make sure you keep them sharp. Some can have the trimming blade replaced in them, others you will just need to purchase a new pair once they have become dull.

Trimming with a set of dull clippers can cause the nail to split, which can be painful for your pet. Consider purchasing some Kwik-Stop from the pet store. This is a yellow powder that can be applied to the nail tip if you accidentally cut the nail too short. It will help stop the bleeding quickly.

If you can't find any of this powder, then you also can use regular baking flour. It doesn't work as well but is common around households and will get you through.

If your pet's nails are clear, like ours, you can trim only the white part off. Do not trim off any of the pink colored part of the nail. If the nail is dark or black in color, then you will have to visually look for the curvature in the nail from where it stops moving forward and starts curving down. Always guess conservatively. You can always trim more off, but cut too short and you will have to stop the bleeding and regain your confidence and your pet's trust.

If you are still concerned about the amount of trips your wife is making for nail trims, go with her and ask the doctor or technician what the appropriate amount of time is for your specific pet. If they are trimming the nails, they will know the perfect amount of time that should lapse between trims.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at drjohnbeck@hotmail.com.