Training Tips for Manicure and Pedicure Time with Your Pets

“Fido! Here, boy, it’s time for a mani and pedi!”  

Yet Fido can’t be found because he has heard you rustling around for the nail trimmers. His fear and anxiety have taken over because of the impending clipping of his nails. Then you start to fret and fear you will hurt him, and the situation can then spiral out of control.  

How can we make this situation better for both your pet and you? Dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, and even reptiles need routine nail trimming. If nails become too long on your pet, then this can alter posture causing abnormal walking then resulting in joint pain.

Picture Credit: Grooming Unleashed @groomingunleashedSP

Here are the steps that I recommend making nail trims easier:

Step 1: Desensitization of the paws to touch

Your pet needs to become used to having its paws touched. Imagine you have never had your feet touched by a stranger before, then suddenly someone is touching them and trimming your nails. You would panic and either have a fight or flight response. You may even think the person is trying to take your toe off!

This is the same feeling animals have with sudden touching and trimming of toe nails. Your pet needs become desensitized to having their feet touched, which decreases their stress and anxiety level. 

So, start touching those toes! Touch the toes, the webbing, the nails, the paw pads. Touch! Touch! Touch!

But wait, Fido won’t let me touch for long! That is OK in the beginning. Work with your pet’s feet once a day for as long as they will let you. Ensure your pet is in a comfortable area and is relaxed when you try to touch their feet.  

Also, have a high-value treat that is only given during these sessions. Treats can include a new biscuit, peanut butter, squeeze cheese, or pet-safe fruit or vegetable. Distraction with the treat during and after the touching helps with desensitization.

Additionally, I recommend making strange requests with your neighbors, friends, or the mailman to touch your pet’s feet too! Making sure other people can feel your pet’s feet can help your veterinarian, veterinary technician, or groomer.  

So what is the end goal for this step before I can move on? You want to be able to easily touch all toes on each paw for at least 5 to 10 seconds. Strangers may not be able to touch for this long but your pet should be comfortable with outside family members touching a foot.

Picture Credit: taniche/Getty Images

Step 2: Desensitization to the equipment

Fido is now comfortable with touching his paws and toes without a hint of paw recoil or fear.  Now he has to become used to the equipment, whether nail trimmers or a grinding tool.  

Side Note: I like these types of products for trimming nails and grinding. Also, I am not sponsored by any of the products, nor am I currently an Amazon affiliate (although I wish I were).  

Dog nail trimmers:

Cat, rabbit, ferret, reptile nail trimmers:

Nail grinder

Back to my tale of helping make nail trimmings a breeze!

Which ever piece of equipment you plan to use, gently place the product on your pet’s feet and give a treat. Please do not attempt to trim or grind the nails yet, as we are not at this step yet.  

When your pet is comfortable with being touched by the product, it is time to make noise. Many pets become scared of the noise made when the nails are trimmed or ground. The fear of the noise then makes them adverse to the process.

With nail clippers, use a piece of celery, a small twig, or another object to cut near your pet’s paw. 

If you are using a nail grinder, turn the product on near your pet’s food. An additional step that will need to be taken with the grinder is placing the battery pack side on your pet’s foot while turned on. This placement will allow your pet to become used to the vibration emitted from the machine.  

Did I mention giving the high-value treats during this entire process? If not, provide the high-value treat during and after to make this a pleasant experience. Also, if your pet begins to recoil their feet or seems nervous, then stop for the day and try again later.

Step 3: Nail Trimming Time

It is time to start working on trimming your pet’s long, overgrown nails. But wait, Dr. Michelle, how far back do I cut the nails. I am scared to hit the quick of the nail, especially with my pet’s black nails!

The quick is the blood vessel that runs along the center cuticle of the nail. In pets with white nails, you will easily be able to visualize the pink in the nail. You will want to trim the nail at a 45° angle, 2 millimeters away from the quick.  

With black nails, which you cannot see the quick, I recommend starting at the tip of the nail and slowly trimming towards the paw at a 45° angle. With each trim, look at the cut portion of the nail. If the center is still white with no evidence of a black circle in the center (and there is no bleeding), then trim a little bit more. When you see the black circle, stop cutting.  

Make sure to have styptic powder or pen on hand if you trim too far and the nail starts bleeding. 

When a nail is “quicked,” the scene can quickly start looking like a homicide. Do not panic, as it seems much worse than it is. Make sure to apply pressure to the nail with a towel, then use the styptic to stop the bleeding.  

Now it is time to tackle your pet’s nails. Make sure your pet is comfortable, you have all of your equipment, and you have those tasty treats ready. Give your pet their high-value treats, and start trimming or grinding the nails. 

Continue to give treats throughout the entire process, along with giving praise.

You may only be able to trim a few nails at a time before your pet starts to become anxious or stressed. AND THAT IS OK!!! Allow them to take a break and try again the next day on the rest of the toes. 

Continue to praise and give those treats.  

Now praise yourself for trimming your pet’s nails and get yourself a high-value treat (I like ice cream).  

I recommend trimming your pet’s nails every 4 to 6 weeks, depending on how fast they grow. Frequent trimmings will help prevent unwanted problems, including torn nails, joint pain, and improper gait.

Conclusion

Nail trimming is necessary for our pets on a routine basis the same way we need to trim our fingernails and toenails (OK, please tell me you cut them regularly). The task can be scary for both your pet and you. 

With time, patience, and practice, you can become a pro at nail trimming and have your pet calm and relaxed during the process.

If you have any concerns trimming your pet’s nails or find this desensitization method is just not working, I recommend speaking with your veterinarian about alternative approaches. 

Alternative methods can include medication prescribed to help with at-home nail trims or scheduling sedated nail trims with your veterinarian.  

Please also remember to be kind, patient, and courteous with your veterinary staff. They love your pet as much as your do and want the best for our four-legged friends.  

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