The dog’s nails do not retract like those of a cat, their claw is in a fixed position. The dog relies on the nails of their foot to help them grip and maintain balance and it would not be advisable to remove their claws. In fact, in many places around the world, this is considered animal cruelty.
How to Deal with Sharp Claws on a Dog
Ideally, a dog should have their nails trimmed from the time they are a little puppy. The sooner you start doing regular nail trimmings, the easier it will be for you to do this on them. Dogs that have had a bad experience or who have never had their feet manipulated may be very difficult to have their nails trimmed. This is difficult to get past and will take some time.
Let’s say that you’ve recently adopted a shelter dog and their nails are quite long. They jump up on you because they’ve had no training yet and those nails hurt. What you’ll need to do is make the choice whether to attempt this yourself or to have veterinarian or groomer do the job. It is typically between $10 and $20 to get the nails trimmed once and then after this initial trim it will be easier for you to keep the nails maintained on your own.
If your dog doesn’t like having their feet handled you need to move slowly. Here are some steps to getting them used to having their feet handled.
- You might begin by offering them some peanut butter in the bottom of a cup. Let them get involved in the treat and gently stroke their feet, one at a time. Don’t try to lift them at first, merely touch them until the dog isn’t paying attention anymore.
- During cuddle times, gently stroke their feet and play with their paw gently, rubbing it and holding it longer. You may use your peanut butter in a cup trick if you need to or feed them another treat that will make them happy while you manipulate their paws.
- If your dog is now very accustomed to having their paws massaged, start pushing your finger into the area between toes, as if you are checking for splinters or lesions of any sort. If there is no adverse reaction, gently take a hold of the nail and wiggle each one on the foot very gently. Make a point of doing this from now on, each time that your dog is in your lap or cuddled nearby. This process may take a few weeks.
- You should be ready to clip a nail. Be prepared that you may only get one clipped. Have a very good reward treat ready. If your dog doesn’t react poorly, go for the next nail. If they are visibly getting upset, distract them with a treat and get the next nail the next time.
It is a slow process to help them trust you and lose their fear. If you are patient, they will grow to hold still even when they pin their ears back in absolute dislike of the situation. ALWAYS reward them afterward and make sure to talk to them during the process, in a very calm voice. If our demeanor remains calm, theirs is more likely to as well.
Physical Design of the Dog’s Nail
The dog’s nail has a blood supply in it. If your dog has clear nails, you can look closely and shine a light behind their nail and actually see the vein that is there. As their nail grows longer, the vein moves outward with the nail. When you keep them cut short, the vein will recede each time you clip the nail so that you can clip a little more the next time until you have their nails at the proper length.
You should hold your clippers so that the flat cut will be made even with the bottom of their paw, not up and down like a wall. Think that the nail should touch flatly on the floor. This is the proper angle. Most clippers will have a small guard that touches the bottom of the nail and prevents you from cutting more than about 1/8th of an inch at a time.
If you do cut too low, it isn’t the end of the world. It does sting and your dog will be upset with you, but it will not be catastrophic. You’ll have to go slow and earn trust back but most dogs are very forgiving. The biggest concern with cutting into the vein in the nail is that it will bleed and bleed profusely. Styptic powder will stop the bleeding. A small dab on the end of the nail and hold your finger over it for a few seconds and it will help the blood clot.
If you have no styptic powder handy, it is possible to use some cornstarch or flour in a real pinch. You will dab it on the same way and hold it until bleeding stops. Keep an eye on the nail as it may start bleeding again. As it heals, just watch it for any sign of infection, though this is rare.
By keeping nails short, there is no reason to ever consider removing a dog’s nails. T would excruciatingly painful for them and likely will land you in court over animal cruelty charges if you live in the US or Canada. The dog may never be able to walk right again and could develop severe infections from the removal of the nails which might require amputation of the entire foot and part of the leg. Some animals might even need to be euthanized.
Other Ways of Dealing With Nails
There are booties made for dogs and you can teach them how to wear these. These will protect their feet in dangerous conditions and in snow. You can also have them wear them in the house for slippery surfaces but dogs require time to get used to wearing them.
Another product that exists is a silicone or plastic nail cover that is temporarily glued over the nail. This is a softer material than the nail itself and it prevents people and floors from being scratched. You can purchase either of these products at pet stores or online.
Another option to nail trimming is the rotational devices that resemble a Dremel and work in the same way, grinding the nail edges off so that they are rounded and smooth. Many groomers use these and the dogs seem to be more tolerant of the buffing than actually having nails cut. Another plus is that nails won’t splinter and crack when they are cut in this way, rather than with nail clippers. You also will never hurt a vein using one of these tools. You also can find them in most pet stores.
Many veterinarians will now refuse to crop dog ears or dock tails, citing that these surgeries are overly invasive and unnecessary. Cats are no longer declawed by most veterinarians as well. It’s considered a horrible amputation of each finger of their front paws. The nail itself is part of the first joint and removal is a major surgery.
As humans, it is our duty to take care of our domesticated animals in a way that causes them no pain. Veterinarians take an oath to do no harm. Many of them stand on this oath and refuse to do surgeries that use to be considered very common practice.
In Europe, ear cropping hasn’t been done for many years. It’s only recently fallen out of favor in the US but it isn’t illegal as of yet. Many pet owners, particularly of pit bulls, will do the cropping themselves which is a highly risky thing to do. The infection will take the dog’s entire ear from them, if it spares them their life.
Cosmetic surgeries and convenience surgeries, such as nail removal, declawing, are just not done much anymore. The outcome is typically a lifetime of pain for the animal. Many things can go wrong that cause disfigurement in the end as well. People are being taught that there are better options and certainly choices that are more kind to your pet in the end.
Good for you to be asking questions and exploring the options to give your pet the best possible outcome. When you have specific questions, you should also take those up with a veterinarian who is board certified who can answer your questions and properly address your concerns about all potential health issues and how to treat them. Regular care is important and yoru veterinarian will happily teach you how to do basic care things, like ear cleanings and nail trimmings. Simply as them at your next appointment. You’ll likely find that they are very helpful and patient with teaching you proper ways to restrain your dog and how to use styptic powder when you need to.
Dawn Greer is a passionate blogger and animal rights activist. She is a pet lover, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, pet nutritionist, and former veterinary technician. She continues her work while writing blogs for pet lovers around the globe.