We are seeing increasing numbers of patients (particularly dogs) that will not tolerate a nail clip conscious. 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 the person doing it! It also tends to make it even harder to do it the next time.
Even if your pet does not currently tolerate nail clips, some training and persistence could change this! 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.
For pet’s that are particularly fearful of the clippers, go SLOW! This process can take months so be patient! The following can be used with continuous positive reinforcement with high-value rewards. Do not proceed to the next step unless your pet is allowing the action without showing any fear or stress. If they do show stress, take it back a step.
- Practice as above handling your pet’s feet. Teach them a cue that indicates they need to stay still and allow you to look (e.g. “let me look”).
- Bring out the clippers and show them to your pet. Give high-value rewards.
- Place the clippers near the pet’s foot.
- Place the clippers near the pet’s foot and practice making the “clip” sound. You can use dry spaghetti to cut through for this.
- Practice holding the toe and holding the clippers up to the toe. If you can, do this whilst making the clip sound.
- Clip the nail. Start with one foot only.
- Clip all nails in one sitting.
If despite all of this they are still very fearful of the clippers it might be worth trying a dremel or a scratch board instead to wear the nails down.
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.