Trimming nails on dogs is often a hard-fought war, with bloody casualties on both sides. Because of that, many people leave the task to their groomer or veterinarian. But unless you're seeing these professionals a lot more than most people do, your pet's nails aren't being trimmed often enough.
Long nails can make walking uncomfortable and can even cause lameness. This is why trimming nails short -- they should be just off the ground when your pet is standing -- and then trimming them just a pinch every week is a better way to go.
The problem with nails is that each has a blood vessel inside. The trick is to trim to just beyond the end of this vein. If you nick it, the nail will bleed, and your dog will yelp. Everyone hits this vein on occasion, even veterinarians, which is why you should be sure to have blood-stopping powder on hand, such as Kwik Stop, before you start trimming.
If your dog has light-colored toenails, the blood vessel is the pink area. Black nails are harder to figure out, but you should be able to see the vein by shining a flashlight behind the nail. If you can't tell, just clip back a little at a time. If you draw blood, take a pinch of the powder and press it against the exposed bottom of the nail for a few seconds to stop the bleeding.
If your dog's nails are so long that they're forcing her foot out of position, you can take them back to where they should be in two ways. The first is to cut a little off every few days: The quick recedes before you as you go. The second way is to have your veterinarian take them all the way back at once when your dog is under anesthesia, such as for a teeth-cleaning. After the nails are at a proper length, keeping them that way is easy with a weekly trim.
If your dog is resistant to having her nails trimmed, work up to the task over a few weeks' time by taking the trimmer in hand and touching it to her feet, then her toes, then the nails, while praising her and giving her treats for each step. When she is used to having her feet handled, put the trimmer against the nail and praise and treat more still. Then trim a little off, and so on. Praise and more praise! Treats and more treats! Don't insist on getting all the nails done at once. Do one or two toes a night, and put the nippers away while both you and the dog are feeling positive about the experience.
An alternative to nail-trimming is nail-grinding. You can buy a canine nail grinder, or just use a lightweight rotary grinding tool, such as the Dremmel.
Some dogs prefer having their nails ground instead of clipped, perhaps because with a grinder it's easy to stop before you hit the quick. The most important thing to remember when grinding is that nails can get hot while you're working on them. Don't grind continuously. Touch the grinder to the nail in very short bursts -- a second or two at most -- to keep the heat from building up. You can also file the nails, using an 8-inch "bastard wood rasp," which is available at most home-supply stores.
Whatever method you're using to shorten the nails, don't forget the dewclaws, those extra toes you can find up on the inside of the leg. Not all dogs have them, but for those who do, neglected nails can be a problem. Long nails can catch on upholstery and tear the dewclaw partly off the leg. Keeping these nails short will prevent injury, which is why you haven't finished trimming nails until you've done the dew, too.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Humane Society of the United States has come out with a list of the best and the worst animal-related stories of 2003 (www.hsus.org/ace/20185). Included is the saga of the 170 collies and 11 cats seized in appalling conditions from a couple hauling them in a semi from Alaska to Arizona. The animals were nursed back to health over a period of months by volunteers at "Camp Collie" in Montana as the court case went forward against the owners. When the owners were found guilty of animal cruelty, the dogs were released to loving new homes. Other stories include the attack on entertainer Roy Horn by one of his tigers, the strengthening of laws in some states against cock-fighting and other animal cruelties, and the sale of a U.S. stamp promoting the neutering of pets.
Socialization is one of the most important parts of turning that promising pup into a loving, trustworthy pet, but it's something that's commonly neglected. Writing in the monthly newsletter The Whole Dog Journal, nationally recognized trainer and author Pat Miller stresses that new experiences are key to a puppy's development. By the age of 4 months, she writes, a puppy should be introduced to 90 new experiences –- people of all shapes, sizes and ages, different environments and lots of new sounds. For the safety of your pup, who is at risk of catching diseases before his final series of shots, avoid areas where dogs you don't know go, choosing instead to socialize your pet with dogs you know to be healthy and fully vaccinated, such as those of your friends and family.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I live in a residential neighborhood, and my precious dog was killed by a coyote last month in a gruesome fashion. If I'd had any idea these animals were in my neighborhood, I never would have let my babies out to go potty at 2 a.m., as I have done for years.
I don't think people realize that these animals roam residential areas and that their feeding and hunting habits are different from those in the wild. Would you please get the word out so others will be more careful? -- L.W., Macon, Ga.
A: It's true: You don't need to live in the country to share your space with coyotes. The animals are plentiful in suburban areas, and have even been reported in New York City and other highly urban environments.
Work with your neighbors to remove food sources that attract them, such as pet food left outside, garbage cans that aren't securely closed or compost piles. If food sources are denied them, the animals will move on to a more promising area.
Large dogs are not at high risk of attack, but small dogs and cats are tempting to coyotes. The only way to keep cats safe is to turn them into indoor-only pets, since a free-roaming cat is not safe day or night. For small dogs, do not let them out unsupervised, and walk them on leashes to keep them close to you. While there have been incidents of dogs being taken off the end of the leash, most coyotes won't want to get that close to a human to risk it. And try to avoid letting any of your dogs out at night if you can.
While these steps will not completely protect your pets, they will reduce the risk from these ever-more-common predators.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife has collected some good information about coyotes on its Web site (http://wildlife.state.co.us/Education/LivingWithWildlife/CoyoteCountry.asp), including more information on protecting pets.
Q: Even though I give my 13 1/2-month-old Yorkie mix chew toys and bones, when I leave her alone, she almost always chews on the edges of area rugs. If I catch her, I always tell her "no" sternly and then replace the wrong chew item with a chew toy. I know I could simply get rid of the rugs, but I would prefer that she learn not to chew on them. Any suggestions? -- K.G., Sacramento, Calif.
A: When you leave her, put her in an area without rugs and anything else you don't want her to chew, leaving the acceptable chewing objects. Choose one special toy that she gets when you're leaving and no other time, such as a small Kong toy stuffed with a little bit of peanut butter. Praise her for chewing the "right" things.
You can try over time to test her in areas with items she shouldn't touch, but some dogs cannot ever be fully trusted not to chew and must be secured in a "safe" area when left.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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