Dr. Mason is trimming her dog, Pippi’s nails at home.
What is the most stressful part of a routine veterinary visit for most dogs and cats?

The exam?
Getting on the scale?
Injecting vaccines?
Drawing blood?

The majority of veterinary professionals would agree that the most stressful part of an appointment is actually the nail trim!

Dogs and cats of all ages are prone to becoming anxious about their nails being trimmed. Some pets have had a bad experience, but for many it is simply not having their feet touched regularly! As veterinary professionals, we have a wealth of fear-reducing techniques to get through the necessary medical parts of the visit. With a calming voice ang gentle touch (and often many treats!) our patients often don’t even notice our exam and needles!

After a nail trim, many pets refuse to tolerate our normally gentle and painless exam. This can be especially damaging to the fear-free relationship we are trying to cultivate with your beloved pets when they need medical care for an illness or something painful, like an ear infection. In the pet’s mind the veterinary hospital is now associated with something that upset them, the nail trim, making important medical treatments more stressful.

How can we help our pets to have less anxiety about going to the vet?
One really good way is by training them, ideally from a young age, to have their nails trimmed at home. It does take some time and commitment for some pets, but if done properly, can make a huge difference when that pet then needs medical care. Veterinary visits that do not include nail trimming are generally less stressful. If the pet is sick, they are usually much more willing to go along with what we need to do if they have not experienced unwanted nail trims at the hospital. For example, if we need to have them lay still for an X-ray or ear treatment but they think they are being told to lay still for a dreaded nail trim, they may be too anxious to hold still, making it impossible to take a quick X-ray or apply an ear medicine without sedation.

Here are some great resources for learning to trim nails at home:

https://resources.bestfriends.org/article/grooming-and-medical-handling-dog-training-plan
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sisprxhsc6I
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmyU1zMN8YM

What if I gave it a good try and I still can’t manage to trim nails at home?
The next best option is to seek help from an experienced groomer. Groomers are great at nail trims and they are generally able to take more time to work with an anxious pet since they don’t need to also attend to the pets medical needs. Having nail trims take place at a different time and setting from veterinary visits removes the association between the vet clinic and nail trimming.

When does my pet need to see a vet for nail trims?
There are still plenty of situations where it is necessary to see a veterinarian for nail trims. Some pets are so anxious that they do need sedatives for their mani-pedi. Your veterinarian can discuss the situation with you and prescribe anxiety-reducing medications so that you or a groomer can work towards stress-free nail trims out of the clinic. The most anxious pets may need injectable sedation administered at the hospital, but even if this is the case, some of those pets can eventually be trained to accept the nail trim without being sedated in the hospital. If a nail becomes ingrown and damages the paw pad or if your pet is diagnosed with a nail bed disease then it is important to get medical care from a veterinarian right away.

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