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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Nail Trims Don't Have to be a Dog's Worst Nightmare -- or Yours

Quick, look at your dog's feet. Are your pet's nails too long? Do you remember the last time you cut them? Are you dreading the next?
If they're too long and you've been putting off the chore because of how awful the experience was for you both, well, you're in good company -- or, at least in the majority. Everywhere I go, I see dogs with nails that desperately need trimming. And sometimes I don't even have to go anywhere: Even I can get so busy that I forget to trim them on my own dogs!
But keeping nails trimmed is important. 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 both important and far easier than cutting them back bloodily and painfully every few weeks or even months.
The problem with nails is that each has a blood vessel inside it. 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 and groomers, 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 tip 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 you and your 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. And make sure not to catch any fur while you're working. (Tip: Look for online videos on grinding nails to see the technique.)
Whichever 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. 
If you work with your pet frequently, trim just a little at a time and reward generously for cooperation, the days of nail-trimming dread will be behind you both, and your dog will step out more comfortably on your walks together. - By Gina Spadafori

How to protect pets from coyotes
Q: When I'm walking my dog through a parkway near my home, we occasionally see coyotes. While they seem to keep to themselves, we have had a couple of small dogs killed by them in their own yards. Judging by the "lost cats" signs, I suspect they've taken a few pet cats, too. I live in the suburbs of a big city, and I guess I'm surprised that coyotes will take a pet right under an owner's nose. Is there any way to protect our pets? This seems to be a relatively new problem here. -- via Facebook
A: Coyotes are everywhere, and they've learned that household pets are relatively easy prey. They've been able to use the ability to find food easily to expand their range dramatically. Coyotes are plentiful in suburban areas across the United States, and have even been reported in New York City and other highly urban environments.
Free-roaming cats seem to be especially at risk. Many times missing cats or the gruesome finding of feline remains is initially thought to be the work of sadistic cat-haters, but often these apparent "crime sprees" turn out to be the work of neighborhood coyotes. Keeping cats safely inside is the only way to completely protect them.
Small dogs are often targets of hungry coyotes as well, and for these pets, it's important to be sure to supervise them in your yard, especially if you back up to a wooded area, golf course or other potentially coyote-rich environment. When walking small dogs, don't let them off leash. Few coyotes are bold enough to get so close to a person as to snap up a leashed dog. Larger dogs are considerably less at risk, but not completely so, and it wouldn't hurt to keep a leash and close eye on them as well.
To discourage coyotes from colonizing your neighborhood, work with your neighbors to remove food sources that attract these predators, such as pet food left outside, garbage cans that aren't securely closed or compost piles that are not correctly maintained. If food sources are denied them, the animals will move on to a more promising area.
While none of these steps will completely protect your pets, they will reduce the risk from these ever-more-common predators. -- Dr. Marty Becker

The Buzz
Male cats haven't always been 'toms'

  • While a male cat -- especially an unneutered one -- is today called a "tom," that wasn't always the case. Up until the late 1700s, male cats were known as "rams" (like sheep) or "boars" (like pigs). A book about cats with a character named Tom became popular in the latter part of that century; after that, male cats started being called tomcats. 

  • As noted by, a study by the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association highlights concerns that have been raised with human pharmacies dispensing drugs for pets. The OVMA reported that more than a third of veterinarians said that an external pharmacy changes a prescribed dosage or medication without asking for authorization. Even more concerning, 17 percent of the respondents said that their patients experienced adverse affects as a result of changes made by the pharmacies. In one case, a pharmacist recommended a product with acetaminophen for a pet, apparently unaware that the common pain-reliever is deadly for cats. 

  • Providing palliative and end-of-life care is a trend in veterinary medicine that's resonating with pet owners, according to the VIN News Service.  There are now guidelines and organizations that promote the concept of hospice for pets, extending life without extending suffering for older or sick animals. The trend mirrors the human hospice movement in many ways, with the notable exception that when suffering can no longer be eased, veterinary medicine can offer euthanasia. Even the administration of euthanasia is changing, with many veterinarians offering to provide this last gift of kindness at patients' homes or in specially designed rooms in their practices.

Date Published: 12/3/2012 7:46:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 12/03/2012


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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 at

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