Mastering the Pawdicure: How to Maintain Your Dog’s Nails and Paws

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It’s no secret that we strongly believe sharing your home and your life with a dog is a wonderful and rewarding experience. But, being realists, we also know that it comes with challenges for both you and your dog. To make sure you get the most out of life with your pup, we’re sharing our favorite how-tos, tips, and tricks that every dog parent should know. Read on to learn about our first topic, proper paw and nail care, and be sure to check back monthly for new educational content.

A good mani/pedi can be a relaxing act of self-care. This simple bit of pampering can make you feel more put together and feel like you’re able to put your best foot forward… literally. 

But what about your furry friend? Your dog spends most of their life walking with no protection between their paws and the ground. Sure, they’ve got tougher feet than we do, and they probably aren’t going to ask if you want to go get mani/pedis together. However, proper care for their nails and paws is as important to your dog’s health as regular vet visits, dental care, and grooming.

Why Should You Make Regular Paw Care A Priority?

First and foremost, happy paws make for a happy dog. Overgrown nails, dry and cracked paw pads, or debris caught in their paws can all drive a dog crazy. Think about how uncomfortable it is when you have a hangnail, blister, or other injury to your hands or feet. If your dog is constantly licking or chewing their paws, it’s a sure sign that something might be amiss. 

Beyond comfort, neglecting your dog’s nails and paws carries serious health risks. Dry paw pads can eventually crack and split, providing easier access for germs and parasites. Overgrown nails can cause your dog’s feet to splay unnaturally, reducing traction and making walking painful. Over time, this can even lead to serious muscle or tendon injuries. 

Where to Start with Paw and Nail Care

Giving your dog a full pawdicure (yep, a pedicure for pups!) can be a soothing experience for your dog when done right, and it can even help strengthen your bond with them. However, even a few basic steps can go a long way towards ensuring healthy feet for your furry pal. 

1. Regularly inspect your dog’s feet. 

This may seem obvious, but just looking at their paws can help you identify issues. Check for dirt, ice melt, pebbles, or other debris that can easily get trapped in between paw pads. For breeds with longer hair or fur on their feet, be sure to gently feel for any foreign objects. Also look for abrasions, cuts, or other injuries to the pads or the skin in between them. 

2. Keep Those Pads Protected

Heat, cold, and exercise on rough surfaces can all compromise the health of your dog’s feet. Chilly pavement, ice melt, and dry winter air can all make paws more prone to cracks and injuries in winter. When temperatures soar, hot pavement can burn your pup’s feet and put them at risk for blisters and hot spots. And while they may enjoy it, playing and running on paved surfaces can lead to abrasions. You can keep your pup happy and healthy with pre- and post- exposure remedies. 

Before outdoor activities, specially formulated paw waxes offer a layer of protection from heat, cold, and rough surfaces. When the weather is truly nasty, booties offer your pup protection and added traction. Finally, sometimes cutting outdoor time short is the best remedy. Keep walks short during extreme hot or cold and try to stick to grass or other soft surfaces that tend to offer less intense temperature shock. 

After activities, you can keep those puppy toes happy by performing a quick inspection, cleaning if necessary, and applying a moisturizing paw balm to their pads. Just be sure to choose something specially formulated for dogs to ensure it’s free from ingredients that may be harmful.

3. Know When It’s Time for a Nail Trim

There’s no hard and fast rule on how often to trim your dog’s nails. Breed, activity level, and the types of surfaces they regularly walk on (i.e., grass vs pavement) can all affect nail growth. 

The easiest way to tell if it might be time for a trim is to look at your dog when they’re standing with all four feet on the ground. You want to aim for the tip of their nail to be slightly above the ground. Can you hear your dog’s nails clicking on hardwood or tile floors? That’s another sure sign it’s time to get their nails trimmed. 

Trimming Your Dog’s Nails at Home

While trimming your dog’s nails isn’t hard, it can be nerve-wracking for many owners. Each of your dog’s nails houses a sensitive pink nail bed, otherwise known as the quick. Cutting the nail too short can injure this area and cause it to bleed, creating a stressful situation for you and your pup. However, with proper technique and a calm approach, trimming your dog’s nails yourself can be a pain-free process for you both. 

1. Start Slow

If you’ve never trimmed your dog’s nails before, give them a chance to get used to the tools involved and to the new sensations. Try a step-by-step approach like the one below, offering treats and praise with each step. For some dogs, you may need to break the steps up over a few days. 

  • Begin by letting your dog inspect and sniff the nail clippers or nail grinder
  • Next, lightly touch the clippers or grinder (with the motor off!) to the paw.
  • Then bring the clippers or grinders near your dog’s paw and squeeze the clippers or turn the grinder on, without actually touching the nails. This helps your dog get used to the sounds of the tools.
  • Try trimming or grinding a tiny section on only one nail, being sure to give lots of praise during the process. 
  • Once your dog is comfortable with the small trim above, work your way up to more nails. 

2. Create a Comfortable Environment

Making sure you and your dog are both relaxed goes a long way toward making nail trimming a breeze. For your dog, this could involve laying down a blanket or towel for them to lie on during the process and providing a peanut-butter filled Kong or a frozen treat to help keep them occupied. 

For you, this might mean scheduling a special time to trim their nails—being in a hurry definitely isn’t going to improve the experience for either of you. Similarly, if there are other pets or even small children in the home, consider finding a quiet place where you can perform your pawdicures, like a bedroom or office with the door closed. Just make sure the place you choose has ample light so you can see what you’re doing.

3. Be Prepared

Having everything you might need during the process at your fingertips prevents having to stop in the middle and makes for a quicker, smoother experience. Aside from the clippers or grinder, it’s a good idea to keep the following items within reach:

  • A tea towel to collect nail trimmings for disposal;
  • Cotton gauze or tissue in case of any blood;
  • Styptic powder or other clotting powder to apply if you accidently cut a nail a little too short;
  • Treats to help encourage and reward your pup during and after their trim.

4. The Basic Steps of Nail Trimming

Once you’re set up, actually clipping or grinding your dog’s nails is a fairly simple process. 

  • First, take one paw in your hand and place your thumb under the pad of a toe and your forefinger on the top of the toe, above the nail. 
  • Gently push your thumb up and backwards (towards your forefinger), while pushing your forefinger slightly forward. This extends the nail. 
  • Using your other hand, clip the tip of the nail, straight across. Don’t cut further up than where the nail starts to curve downward; doing so increases the risk of cutting the quick.
  • If using a grinder, place the grinder on the bottom tip of the nail, slowly working around to the top of the nail tip. Repeat this process until the nail is the desired length, taking care not to go further up than the natural curve of the nail and risk working the nail down to the quick.
  • Repeat for the remaining nails.

Still Scared of Trimming Your Dog’s Nails?

That’s okay, too. At-home trimming is not the right move for every owner or for every dog. Whether you or your dog are too nervous, allowing a pro to do the job can save both of you a lot of anxiety.

Our team of professional groomers can perform nail trimming and grinding as part of your dog’s regular grooming service, or as an à la carte option. We also offer a foot rub with soothing paw balm as an add-on to any grooming service. Our knowledgeable and friendly groomers are always happy to provide recommendations and tips for keeping those puppy toes happy between visits as well. 

Proper paw care isn’t difficult to master and has great benefits for your dog’s health and comfort. Practiced regularly, it might even become a vital part maintaining the bond between you and your furry friend.

Book your Dog Spa appointment today!

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