Archive for October 24th, 2011

Pedicures: Definitely Not for Everyone

October 24, 2011

Quinn's longer nails


I receive oodles of emails with questions from folks who love their dogs and want what is best for their health. A popular  question topic is toenails! Should they be trimmed and if so, how often? What if they bleed? What to do if the pedicure becomes a wrestling match in which the dog is invariably the winner? Here are some general guidelines and recommendations pertaining to your tootsie’s toenails.

Nellie's nubby nails

Every dog wears down his or her nails differently. For example, consider my two doggies. The three of us walk together daily on a variety of different surfaces, from grass to cement. Whereas Nellie’s nails naturally remain at an ideal length, Quinn needs a nail trim approximately once every two months (and he’s the one who runs two miles for every mile I walk).

One technique for determining if your dog needs a pedicure is to manually extend the toes and assess the length of the nails in relation to the bottom of the foot. To do this, place your thumb on top of your dog’s foot and your other fingers on the large pad on the underside of the foot. Gently squeeze your fingers together which will cause the toes to extend outward. With the toes in this position, check to see if the tips of the toenails are level with or extend beyond the underside of the foot. Nails that are level can be left alone. Those that extend beyond the underside of the foot are in need of a trim.

Some dogs have clear nails in which case you can readily see how far the tip of the nail extends beyond the “quick,” the pink to red colored blood filled cavity that runs down the center of the toenail. If the nail extends well beyond the quick, it’s time for a pedicure. This trick doesn’t always work because some dogs with chronically overgrown nails also develop lengthy quicks. And then there are those dogs with black toenails, making it impossible to observe the quick at all. To be certain about whether or not your dog’s nails are too long, consult with your veterinarian, vet tech, or groomer.

If you have never before trimmed a dog’s toenails, my advice is this. Ask a pro (veterinary technician, groomer, breeder) to teach you how. Pedicures can be tricky business! If your dog has clear nails (quicks readily visible) and happens to be an angel about having his or her feet handled, you are good to go. Black nails or dogs who are moving targets make the job far more difficult. It is easy to hit the quick, and that can be painful for your dog. And nicking the quick results in bleeding, not in an amount that is harmful to your dog, but it sure as heck might be harmful to your carpeting! If bleeding occurs, your best bet is to drag the tip of the toenail through a softish bar of soap with hopes that the soap will form a plug that stops the bleeding. A safer bet to stop the bleeding is to have some silver nitrate sticks or powder on hand.

Some dogs (even the most well behaved dogs) absolutely, positively hate

having their nails trimmed. They will fight tooth and nail (pun intended) before allowing a pedicure. If your dog resembles this description, know that you are not alone. Trimming just one or two nails at a time may be the ticket for success. For others, the use of a dremel tool rather than nail clippers may restore sanity to the situation. Certainly routine handling of your dog’s feet and lots of praise can be of benefit in preparation for pedicures.

There are those dogs who, no matter what, struggle to the point that four people are needed to accomplish the nail trim- three to restrain the writhing, wriggling beast, and one to trim the nails (and these are dogs who are often perfectly well behaved in every other situation). In such cases one has to question whether or not it is really worth it. If your dog becomes a professional wrestler in response to a pedicure, I encourage you to talk with your vet about how to make the nail trim less stressful and more successful. She might be able to recommend a more effective restraint technique, behavior modification strategies, and/or the use of Rescue Remedy or chemical sedation.

Performing pedicures on black toenails and/or wiggly dogs is not for the feint of heart. Don’t hesitate to request help from a seasoned veteran. It will be a relief for you and your dog! Have you ever attempted to trim your dog’s toenails? If so, how did it go? If you happen to be a dog trainer or behaviorist, your advice is always most welcome here.

Best wishes for good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.