How and Why To Use A Power Tool For Your Dog’s Nails

The top 5 reasons you should use a power rotary tool to trim your dog’s nails!

1) It causes less discomfort or outright pain for the dog. This leads to less stress for you and your dog.

2) It avoids cutting into the quick which can lead to a potential blood bath.

3) Over time, it allows you to force the quick to recede, leading to shorter nails eventually. Trimming nails as often as every 4-5 days will help the quick recede.

4) It lets you grind off the sharp corners and rough edges that can hurt YOU and your things – rugs, furniture, etc.

5) The smoother finish also keeps the animal from harming themselves when the scratch.

What to use

1) Use any brand of power rotary tool, preferably one that is variable speed. This allows you to use a slower speed to do the trimming, thus avoiding overheating the nail which can be painful. Speeds in the range of 5,000 to 8,000 RPMs would be recommended. Dremel, Oster and Craftsman are some brands I know of.

2) Use a fine grit sanding drum mandrel (typically 120 grit or more – the higher the number the finer the grit), NOT a stone mandrel. The stone mandrels definitely overheat the nails – causing pain! Use a 1/4” mandrel for smaller breeds and a 1/2” mandrel for medium to large breeds.

3) An inverted bit with a hollow-tip works very well because your dog’s nail fits nicely inside the hollow area. Check hobby stores for a hollow-tip bit, but you may have to order one. The cylindrical bit has a flat circular tip that offers safety and control. Avoid using a very small bit or a pointed bit that can slip and injure the dog.

4) It is a good idea to have two drums on hand so you can quickly switch them out if they get worn. If you have to stop and change the sandpaper on the mandrel, you will frustrate even then most patient dog.

Safety first

To avoid injury to your dog or yourself, please heed the following:

1) Wear safety glasses and a dusk mask – the small particles come off at a high velocity and there is significant dust created.

2) Keep hair out of the way – both the dog’s and yours (if it is long). At several hundred RPMs this tool can un-root a large chunk of hair in a split second.

How to do it

1) Most importantly, introduce the tool to your dog slowly. It is best to do this in an inviting way with all positive experiences. I have heard of groomers who employ the tool to initially give the dog a massage, so the dog relates the sound to pleasure. But just introduce the tool in a friendly, non-threatening way to get your dog used to it. Let him sniff it while it is turned off, then turn it on and off to allow him to hear the sound it makes. If your dog is frightened by the tool, the first few trimming sessions should be very brief.

2) Even after the dog is comfortable with the tool, secure your dog since he may struggle or run away. A grooming table with an overhead arm to which you can attach the leash is optimal, but you can get a friend to help hold the leash.

3) Hold your dog’s paw firmly, but don’t squeeze it. Push gently on the top of the dog’s paw, just above one nail, to separate that nail from the rest. This pressure will cause the nail to extend slightly. If your dog has furry paws, smooth the fur back and away from the nail or trim the fur away before using the tool. If the tool catches in long fur, it can injure your dog’s paw.

4) Never apply pressure to the nail with the grinding head. Allow the speed of the spinning drum and the friction of the sand do the grinding. If you apply pressure, it will press on the quick and it will get too hot.

5) Never keep the tool in one spot longer than a few seconds and never do the same nail for more than three seconds continuously. Alternate around nails and then come back to allow cooling time.

6) Touch the spinning bit to the tip of your dog’s nail, using very little pressure. The spinning tool will grind away the tip of the nail. Too much pressure may cause the tip to slip and injure your dog.

7) Move the tool lightly around the end of the dog’s nail, keeping the hand that is holding the tool moving. Make sure not to get the bit too close to the skin or fur.

As you grind the nail keep watching the end of the nail. Eventually, the meaty area will have more of a circular (or if very near the bottom then an arched) center area becoming visible in it. When you see a dark inner area with a white pinpoint you are approaching the quick and should stop shortening that nail. Ideally, you want a nail that doesn’t click on the floor, is not sharp, and doesn’t scratch or gouge. Add a little Vaseline to get a nice black gloss to the nails.

8) Speak reassuringly to your dog and do only a few nails at a time. Keep treats handy and praise often for being so patient. A few short sessions are  better than one long session.

These tools are available new for $20-40. Dremel and Oster offer models specifically for pet nail grooming, but any rotary tool can be used as long as you can get the appropriate sanding mandrel and the slower speeds.

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