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Keeping Your Dog's Feet and Nails Healthy

Examine your dog's feet frequently. Check between his toes and pads, especially if he spends time in places where he may pick up burrs, stones, small sticks, and other debris. Remove foreign matter carefully with your fingers or tweezers. If necessary, trim the long hair between his toes, especially on the bottom, so that it doesn't form mats or collect debris that can hurt him, and so that he will have better traction on smooth surfaces.

Keep your dog's nails trimmed. Long nails hit the ground, forcing the dog's toes out of their normal position. Long nails can distort the foot, especially in a puppy, and cause lameness and permanent deformity. They may curl into the foot or, in the case of the dew claw, into the leg. When your dog walks on a hard surface, you shouldn't hear the click of nails. If you do, it's time to trim.


The dew claw is the small toe located above the foot on the inside of the leg. Some breeds have dew claws on the front legs only, while others have them on front and back. In many breeds, the dew claws are customarily removed, but the breed standards of a few breeds require front and back dew claws, and a few even require double back dew claws.

Clipping your dog's nails isn't difficult. Doing it regularly will get you both used to the process, and at each session you'll need to trim only a tiny bit.

As with bathing, you can take certain steps to make nail trimming much easier. If the only time you touch your dog's feet is when you're going to clip his nails, he's likely to object. Teach him that having you fiddle with his feet is no big deal. When you're snuggling your dog, hold and gently massage each of his feet. If you start this with a young puppy, he'll get used to it quickly. If he doesn't like it, start with short sessions and slowly extend the time. If he fights having his feet held, keep some treats nearby. Gently take a foot in your hand, and give him a treat with the other while still holding the foot. If he pulls his foot away, don't give him a treat until you're holding his foot again. You want to reward him for having his foot held, not for getting it away from you. When you can hold your dog's foot for at least 30 seconds without a struggle, you can begin trimming his nails. If necessary, do just one nail, give him a treat while still holding his foot, and quit. Do another nail later. Eventually, you'll be able to do all his nails without a fight. If your dog is relaxed, then go ahead and do all the trimming in one session.

Use good, sharp dog nail clippers. A dull blade will not cut cleanly and may cause pressure and pinching, hurting or scaring your dog. You may want something handy to stop any bleeding if you cut into the quick. Pet supply stores carry styptic powders to stop bleeding, as do the shaving sections of drug stores. An inexpensive and effective alternative to commercial products is corn starch. If you accidentally cut the quick, put a little styptic powder or corn starch into a shallow dish and dip the nail into it. The powder will stick to the nail and seal the blood vessel.

When you're ready to trim, find a comfortable position. If your dog is small, have him lie on your lap or on a towel on a table at a comfortable height in front of you. If he's bigger, have him stand, sit, or lie on the floor or on a grooming table. Hold his paw gently but firmly. Press on the bottom of the pad—that will extend the nail and make it easier to get at. Trim the nail below the quick. If the nail is light colored, you'll be able to see where the quick ends (the quick appears pink from the blood it contains). If the nail is dark, look for the place where the nail curves downward and narrows. Cut a little and then check by looking at the nail end-on. When you see a black dot near the center of the nail, you're at the start of the quick and it's time to stop trimming.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Dog © 2003 by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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