As your pet’s nails grow longer and longer, you know that dreaded day is coming. You’ll bring your pet to the groomer or vet, or attempt to trim at home, and they’ll throw a fit that seems to get worse every time. Your pet might even scratch or bite to get away.
When your pet hates nail trims, your relationship with them suffers. They may also be at risk for injuries from walking on too-long nails. Here’s how you can make nail trims stress-free, even enjoyable for your pet:
Get Better Nail Trimming Tools
Nail trims shouldn’t hurt. If your nail clippers are more than a few months old, you might need to have the blades sharpened, or you might want to replace them entirely. Opt for a more expensive, professional product. Cheap, dull nail clippers may crush, squeeze, splinter or split the nail.
A Dremel tool allows you to quickly sand down your pet’s nails. These are preferable to clippers because they trim gradually, making it unlikely that you’ll hit the quick. If your pet hates their clippers, you can start fresh by conditioning them to love their Dremel. Give your pet plenty of time and encouragement to get used to the vibration and sound of the machine.
Be careful of which Dremel tool and sanding belt you use. If you’re unsure which model has the right speed to painlessly trim your pet’s nails, just purchase a Pet Dremel.
Counter-Conditioning the Fear Response
Nail trims are typically a stressful, uncomfortable, even painful experience. It’s normal for your pet to hate them. But you can use counter-conditioning to help them associate the sound, feeling and sight of their clippers with good feelings.
The key to effective counter-conditioning is to move so slowly, that your pet never actually experiences stress. At first, you’ll simply set the clippers (or Dremel tool) on the ground. Use a clicker or say “yes!” when your pet voluntarily approaches the tool, then reward them with a treat. After a few sessions, they should get excited when you bring out the tool.
Move along to holding your pet in your lap while you hold the tool. Again, mark and reward. Then, you can hold the tool against their paw for a few seconds (the Dremel should be OFF.) Gradually progress to clipping just one nail, then throw a party – lots of treats!
You should reward your pet between each nail, even after they’ve made progress.
A spoon covered in peanut butter or tuna juice can help you reward your pet during the nail trim. Some pets are happy to enjoy a long-lasting treat or chew during their paw-dicure.
Use a similar counter-conditioning protocol for introducing your pet to a muzzle. Even if they don’t bite, you’ll feel less stressed knowing that you don’t have to worry about getting injured while you trim. Muzzle training also comes in handy any time you go to the vet, and in case of an emergency. Any pet can bite if they get scared.
Naturally De-Stressing Your Pet
You’ll have a much better chance at a stress-free trim if you set the mood first. Essential oil based calming sprays, made specifically for pets, usually contain ingredients like lavender, which naturally soothes your pet’s nerves. Classical music has also been shown to make anxious animals calmer.
Make sure your pet gets plenty of exercise before you start trimming. Take your dog for a long walk, or play with your cat for a while. Wait at least 20 minutes for their heart rate to return to normal.
Just before you start trimming, cuddle with your pet. Stroke their fur and gently touch their paws. Continue to comfort them during and after the trim.
Alternatives to Trimming
It’ll take a while to condition your pet to tolerate nail trims. In the meantime, you can keep their nails at a manageable length.
Your dog’s nails can be shortened when they walk on concrete. During the summer, hot concrete can burn your dog’s paws, so it’s best to walk them on sidewalks or on concrete playgrounds or walkways in the early morning and late afternoon.
Cats naturally keep their nails short by scratching. If your scratching post doesn’t get much activity, you might need to invest in a different style. Some cats prefer their scratching post covered in sisal rope, while others only scratch carpet coverings. Some cats enjoy tall posts so they can stretch out while they scratch, while others prefer horizontal surfaces.
If you’re still having trouble keeping those nails trim, you can take your pet to your groomer or veterinarian to have them clipped. While this will still be stressful for your pet, it’ll give you more time to build positive associations with clipping at home.