Whilst a nail clip is a simple procedure to perform, it is often a very stressful process for the pet. Even the calmest of pets can dislike their feet being touched. For most pets this procedure induces fear, stress or anxiety that can lead to escape efforts, aggressive responses or cowering in fear. If we choose to ignore these signals and use firm restraint to get the job done this can lead to life-threatening respiratory distress, life-long anxiety issues not to mention the danger it imposes on our staff or the owners. This is not what we want! That’s why we aim to make nail clips a fear-free experience. Yes it might take more time and effort but trust us, it’s worth it in the long run to ensure your pet’s fear is reduced and they can take part without unwanted stress.
Here are some handy hints for making your pet’s nail clips fear-free:
As soon as you get your pet you should be working on getting them used to you touching areas of their body they may be uncomfortable with, including the feet. Using consistent, positive reinforcement (e.g. treat rewards), practice daily gradually working up to a nail clip. A good desensitisation program may take weeks to achieve the desired effect but can result in a pet that is comfortable with you touching their feet and even clipping their nails knowing they will receive a reward for their compliance. Speak to your vet about tailoring a desensitisation program specific to your pet.
Do they really need doing?
Quite often we are asked to cut nails that do not need to be cut i.e. they are already short enough. Many dogs’ nails will stay short purely from being walked on harder surfaces that act as nail files to file them down to an acceptable level. If this is the case only the dew claws may need cutting which is a much quicker procedure and usually better tolerated by the dog.
If the nail is not curling over, is just touching the ground or shorter and is not causing any discomfort then we don’t recommend cutting it.
Cats are anatomically a little different. Because they retract their claws they tend not to wear them down even if they are scratching on natural surfaces such as trees. Because of this cats’ claws should be cut every 2-3 months, depending on the speed their nails grow.
Doing it at home
Owners are often very worried about clipping their pet’s nails at home because they don’t know how to do it or have previously cut a nail too short and vow never to attempt it again! Rest assured it’s quite a simple procedure and with a compliant pet can be performed easily at home. Be sure to find the right set up for your pet to reduce their stress and ensure your safety. For example many cats will tolerate a towel “burrito” wrap with each foot removed one by one for clipping. Or your dog may tolerate you doing it whilst eating a high-reward treat such as peanut butter. Be sure to focus on making it a positive experience as forcing them into it will only lead to increasing fear and anxiety in the future. Our staff can demonstrate how to perform the nail clip.
For more information on how to clip your pet’s nails, check out this handout.
Nail clips at the vet
For many owners clipping their pets nails at home may not be achievable. This may be because they are unable to do it with one person or the pet due to years of poor experiences will not tolerate it. That’s where we come in.
The first step is ensuring the pet’s fear is reduced whilst being transported to the vet and waiting for their appointment. For more information on transporting your pet fear-free click here.
The staff will then determine if you’d like to be present for the nail clip. This varies pet to pet as some may be calmer with you present whilst others relax once the owner has left. The team then use fear-free handling techniques to complete the nail clip. These include the use of treats and gentle restraint.
For many patients a nail clip may not be achievable in which case the staff will recommend delaying the nail clip until another day with a plan in place to reduce the pet’s fear and stress. This plan will likely include:
- The administration of pre-visit anti-anxiety medication to facilitate the nail clip and ensure the pet has a positive experience. This can take some tweaking to find the right dose or medication.
- The use of pheromones (Adaptil or Feliway) before and during the nail clip.
- A request to the owner to desensitise and practice handling the pets feet and nails at home.
- The vet may suggest a broader behavioural assessment.
- The vet may suggest admission for injectable sedation to facilitate the clipping in severe cases.
It’s never too late to improve your pet’s nail clipping experience. Please speak to our staff if you’d like more information.
Article by Dr Prue Honson