Clipping your pets’ nails

Alison Laurie-Chalmers, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness

We are often asked to clip dog and cat nails while they are in for their check-ups.  Sometimes it is a necessary procedure if the nails are over-long. However, sometimes their nails are not over-long at all and the sensitive nail quick could be easily cut, especially if their nails are dark or black in colour.

Excessively long nails can cause some pain and lameness by causing pressure on the nail beds and digits. Over grown nails, especially in cats, can curl around until the sharp nail tips pierce the pad, causing pain and infection as the overgrown nail continues to grow into the pad.

Not all nails need clipped though. Well exercised dogs generally don’t need their nails clipped as they wear down their own nails naturally as they walk and run.  It is tempting to trim off the sharp tips but care should be taken not to clip the nail quicks as this can be very painful for your pet ... and the cut nail quick will bleed!

Some dogs and cats do need their nail trimmed regularly:

  • Older dogs and young puppies that don’t get to exercise as much as they would need to naturally wear down their own nails, will need fairly regular nail trimming.
  • Some of the small dog breeds, for example Chihuahuas, need regular nail trimming every three months, as they don’t naturally wear their nails down as well as the heavier large breed dogs do.
  • Also, dogs walked mostly on grassy surfaces generally don’t wear their nails down as well as dogs that are walked regularly on harder, paved surfaces.
  • The “dew claws”, which generally sit higher on the inside of the front paws, need to be regularly clipped as they are not weight -bearing claws. These dew claws are usually found on the front paws but can also be found on the hind paws too. These claws do not wear down as well as they are not naturally weight bearing, and they often need trimming to prevent a sharp or hooked tip, or a painful ingrown dew claw.
  • If your pet’s nails are longer than the level of their adjacent pads or if the nails have notably sharp, curved or hooked ends, then they probably are too long. Your pet’s nails can be clipped by a Vet Nurse at your Vet clinic every three months if required, or checked on by your Vet if your pet is in for their regular check-up. Do be very careful of the nail quick if you are cutting your pet's nails yourself. The quick has a generous supply of blood vessels and nerves. If you cut into this nail quick, then the result is pain and bleeding.
  • Indoor cats generally do need regular nail clipping if they are not wearing their claws down on provided scratch posts or rough surfaces. Also, elderly cats don’t tend to manage to use a scratch posts and they can easily then get overgrown claws. If an overgrown claw has grown into an adjacent pad then this should definitely be checked by a Vet, as the punctured pad and digit can then quickly become infected.

Alternatives to nail clipping can be manual nail filing, using a strong, metal emery board, or by using a pet-safe, nail- file dermal tool which will carefully trim your pet’s nails down. However, you will have to get your pet used to and comfortable with this procedure slowly and remember to file the nails down carefully and gently and as directed and to a safe level, always avoiding the nail quick.

If you need advice on your pets’ nails or wish to have your pet’s nails checked over and clipped if required, then please contact us for an appropriate appointment for this procedure.