What we don’t know about cutting toenails…….

Many of us have a companion animal, or know of a friend’s, that has “severe objections” about having their nails cut!!!  I have heard people say that their pets are overly dramatic, or “drama queens”, without understanding the nuances around the procedure for their pet, about having their nails cut.  It is important to know that the nail of an animal, is not unlike our own, growing out of the last bony digit of their finger or toe.  Sometimes, it is possible in light or white colored nails to visualize the “quick” or live part, but very often, especially in black nails it simply is impossible to predict.  It is prudent to know the anatomy of a nail in this case.

The following are to be kept in mind:

  1. For some animals, young or old, there are underlying conditions like osteo-arthritis of one or several joints in the body, including their spine, that we may be unaware of.  This is important to know, because the way an animal is expected to shift and control its entire bodyweight onto a leg, or even the leg that is manipulated for cutting, normally under extension, could cause quite severe pain.  Especially in cases where animals are not used to these kinds of postures, or lack core strength.  Very often for the sake of the owner and veterinarian, the animals are handled on a cold steel surface, which combined with anticipatory anxiety, can cause severe lack of control of their own body.  Combine this with underlying painful conditions, and you may understand their objection.  My personal preference is to ask for a gentle flexion of the leg, with the dog standing on a firm proprioceptive surface like a mat or grass, and supporting the rest of their body weight gently.
  2. Some animals have moderately to very long hair over their body and feet, and unbeknownst to most owners and vets, these VERY SENSITIVE hairs gets pinched in the nail clippers. This is due to no fault of your vet, as it is simply impossible to cut the nail, of a moving paw, without catching some hair in a bulky appliance.  It is simply another reason for pain and objection.
  3. Unbeknownst or otherwise, some animals may have experienced a VERY PAINFUL accidental clip of the “quick”. This is the last bony digit, from which the nails grow, and is very vascular.  Animals are, in my experience, very intelligent and any anticipatory reaction or objection may be due to a past painful experience.  They can, under the right circumstances, sometimes be very forgiving though.
  4. Last but not least, a calm and supportive owner normally helps greatly to make this process smoother. It is very important to discuss with your vet your preferences and concerns before the procedure.

Thus before a quick “mani- and pedi-cure” gets out of hand, do keep these points in mind.  As a responsible parent it is important to understand our pets experience, reactions and needs better; then we are better able to assist them with a less stressful experience.