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How to Take Care of Your Pet's Nails

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Should I Take My Pet to the Veterinarian?

When to take your pet to your veterinarian:

  1. Broken toe nails. If your dog breaks or completely tears off a toenail he needs to see a veterinarian.   Each nail encompasses a bone and when the nail tears off then that bone is exposed.  This requires medical attention.
  2. Abnormal nail beds or nails. Infections can cause swelling and or discharge from the skin around the base of the nails, or cause the nails to grow abnormally.  The infections can be bacterial or yeast or a combination of both.   Also there are many other diseases of the nails and nail beds that can occur and will need a veterinarian to diagnose.
  3. If you see a toe nail penetrating a footpad.  It will need to be removed, cleaned, and the pet usually needs antibiotics to prevent the possibility of infection.

Many pets dislike having their feet touched and their nails trimmed. Owners worry that they may hurt their pets especially if the pet struggles when having their nails cut. This is probably why many owners take their pets to their veterinarians or groomers to have this done. If you are thinking of trimming your pet's nails at home, there are a few steps that might help you.

Start by touching your pet's feet gently when you and your pet are in a relaxed mood, perhaps when both of you are on the sofa watching television. Get your pet used to your touch: handle their feet, spread their toes and extend their claws. Start with very short sessions, perhaps just a few seconds and then give them a treat or play with them.  

There are many types of nail trimmers. Your veterinarian or groomer can help you select the trimmer that is right for you and your pet. Avoid nail grinders: they tend to over heat and many pets dislike the vibrating sensation on their toenails.

Don't try cutting off large parts of the nail. Start with small short cuts. Nails that have not been trimmed recently will often have an extended quick. The quick is the part of the nail that supplies blood to the growing part of the nail. Cutting through the quick is painful for the pet and the site can bleed profusely. It is easy to actually see the quick in light colored nails: it is a darker color (often appears to be pink), in the center part of the nail towards the nail bed. 

Always have supplies on hand in case the nail does bleed. Kwik Stopâ„¢ is a yellow powder available at pet stores that helps to stop the blood flow. Take a good amount on a cotton ball and press into the end of the nail and hold for a minute or two.  Once the blood stops, don't disturb the clot at the end of the nail for at least 24 hours.

Cats have different nails than dogs, but may need their claws trimmed too, especially as they age. They don't really sharpen their claws, they shed their nail like a reptile sheds its skin. They scratch to remove this outer layer of the nail and this reveals a new sharp tip.  Older cats sometimes stop scratching and their nails can become so long that they curl around and pierce their foot pads.

Dog nails can also become so long that they interfere with their ability to walk and can pierce their footpads. This is often missed until the pet is limping, especially with the dewclaws on long-haired dogs. Therefore, you should regularly monitor the nails of all your pets.

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