How is it that something as potentially simple as a nail trim deserves its own post when I still haven’t offered you entries on important diseases like pancreatitis, chronic colitis or prostatic enlargement? What’s up with that?


It’s because nothing has the potential to go so horribly wrong (relative to its miniscule risk) like a simple nail trim. It’s no wonder vets are expected to trim nails during every visit. It’s also not surprising some vets charge for it. (Our hospital doesn’t but I don’t blame those that do.) Trimming nails can be an absolute nightmare.


You may say: How bad can it be? I trim my own dog’s nails at home and it’s the easiest thing in the world!


My take: 50% of the time it’s a cinch. Another 25% is a struggle. The next 20% is highly problematic. The final 5% is not advisable except under anesthesia or heavy sedation.


How do I define nightmare? Dog howling, limbs flailing, blood flowing freely all over the floor and exam room table, client near tears…all for a would-be, simple pedicure.


Let me explain. Dogs and cats have very sensitive feet—as do we. In fact, a mammal’s nerve endings are most plentiful at the extremes of their extremities, such as fingers and toes. When we clip toenails, even the simple pressure the clipper exerts can be excruciatingly intolerable. While not quite painful in the traditional sense, perhaps, the sensation is unbearable to some animals, nonetheless.


Factor in the possibility of actually causing pain by clipping a toenail too short (altogether too easy to do with a moving target) and you have highly favorable conditions for in-hospital disaster moments.


I only wish that I had a video collection of nail-trim-moments-gone-awry. My own experiences would provide fodder for at least several episodes of a vet reality show. Most would be quite funny if you watched them with the audio off (to the strains of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, perhaps?).


I don’t mean to poke fun at my patients’ very real fear. I know how much they hate it so I always save it to the end and make it as quick as possible (and always follow up with a low-cal treat peace offering). Furthermore, I always try to soothe them by informing them I hate pedicures, too.


Beauty hurts, it’s true, but canine nail trimming is more than skin deep. It’s better to get a nail trim every two to four weeks than to get that one, nasty fractured claw every once in a blue moon. Trust me. That hurts. In fact, I usually anesthetize patients when I treat this common malady.


And felines? Cats of a certain age are commonly afflicted with curly-nail issues. As in—the nail curls into their pads. Talk about ouch! No lifetime’s worth of nail trims can be worse than just one episode of ingrown claw.


So what do I tell my clients? Apart from training them to train their pets at a young age to accept foot handling and nail trimming, I tell them…go to your local groomer—they do great nail trims! Better them than me. I don’t have a reality show’s footage to stock up for. And that’s their bread and butter anyway, right? Far be it from me to usurp their patronage.



Image: Barna Tanko / Shutterstock