Claw Problems
Part of the Family contribution

Your pet's claws -- just like your nails -- need regular care. In fact, lack of regular claw care can cause real health problems for your pet. In dogs and cats, too-long claws can grow around into the pads of the animals' paws, causing an infection. The overgrown claws can become ripped or torn, too, causing injury to the paw. Such problems aren't restricted to larger pets. Birds, guinea pigs, and iguanas need their claws trimmed regularly, too. Regular nail care also keeps the "quick" (the portion of the nail containing blood vessels) from growing longer and longer, ultimately preventing you from trimming the nails to the proper length. (The quick bleeds when cut -- not exactly an enticement to clip away once things have gotten out of hand.)

For Pets in General

If You Slip When You Clip
What if you slip when you're clipping your pet's claws and cut the quick? It's a good idea to visit a pet supply store and pick up a styptic product such as Kwik Stop to stop nail bleeding, and to keep it on hand for emergencies. Be sure to check the product label and buy the right product for your type of pet. Some products are made just for dogs and cats, but others also are suitable for birds.

For Dogs Only

Deal with the Claws of the Problem
Sometimes a dog is born with an extra claw, called a dewclaw, along the side of the foot. If left alone, a dewclaw can get caught on things and tear out, bleeding profusely and causing injury to the foot. Some breeders remove dewclaws when their puppies are only a few days old because the procedure is simple and can be done without anesthesia. If your older dog still has a dewclaw, have it removed surgically by the vet. (You can even have it done at the same time as spaying or neutering.)

Keep Fido in Fine Trim
As a rule of thumb, it's a good idea to trim your dog's claws about every six weeks -- or as soon as the claws start to snag on the rug. You may be able to go longer between trimmings if you take your pet outside for regular walks and exercise. Such activities help shed the claws' dead tissue.

Soften Her Up First
The best time to clip your dog's claws is after a bath or a swim, when the nails are soft. Use clippers made specifically for pets (rather than ones intended for humans) and be careful to avoid cutting into the "quick" (the area containing blood vessels, which will bleed if cut). If your dog has clear nails, you can see the quick, so this shouldn't be a problem. If the animal has black nails, just cut a little off the end of the nail, perhaps trimming a bit more often than every six weeks.

Don't Let Him Make Snap Decisions
If your dog tries to bite or snap at you while you are clipping, drape a bath towel over his head. This technique will often quiet a dog and stop him from trying to bite.

For Cats Only

Toe the Line
Sometimes a cat is born with an extra toe and claw between the first two normal toes. The extra claw can grow too long, cutting into the foot pad and causing an abscess. You can keep the claw trimmed along with the other claws or have it surgically removed by your vet. You can combine this operation with other surgery, asking the vet to remove the extra claw while the animal is already anesthetized for spaying or neutering.

Keep the Main Claws Short
It's a good idea to check the length of your cat's claws once a month unless your pet has been surgically de-clawed by a vet. Particularly if your pet stays indoors, her claws will probably need clipping every four weeks or so.

Squeeze and Clip
For clipping, it's best to use specially designed pet clippers rather than those made for humans. These clippers can be used for either cats or dogs. Cats' nails are retractable, so you'll need to squeeze the paw slightly to push the claws outward. Then carefully clip well outside the "quick" (the area containing blood vessels, which will bleed if cut). Since cats' nails are clear, it's generally easy to identify the quick.

For Birds Only

Clip This Reminder
Clip your bird's claws two to three times a year with special bird claw clippers.

Let Polly Do It Herself
Alternatively, you can let your bird do her own trimming. Place special sandpaper (available at pet stores) on the bars of the cage so that your bird can scratch at it