Scratching the Surface

By serving as a reliable resource of information and supplies in the nail-care category, retailers can help customers keep pets' nails in top-notch shape, while boosting sales.


Baby boomers like me remember the days when dogs rarely, if ever, had their nails trimmed, and they did just fine. In the 1960s and 1970s, suburban dogs roamed freely, roughhousing and playing with each other and the neighborhood children until they were exhausted. The daily activity wore dogs’ nails down to a reasonable level in most cases. And when a dog’s nails did get a bit lengthy, the “click, click, click” of nails on wood or linoleum simply let the owner know that the dog was nearby. Today, the sound serves as a reminder to get the nails trimmed—but back then, no one had realized that if an animal can’t wear its nails down naturally, we are obliged to provide that service ourselves in order to ensure their good health.

Most retailers today offer nail-care products. Many, however, make do by stocking only the basics. But considering how important proper nail maintenance is to the health of a pet, it is wise for retailers to expand their nail-product assortments, and offer the information and guidance pet owners need to care for their animals. Retailers should start with making sure that their customers understand the benefits of keeping their pets’ nails trimmed.

Why Trim?

A dog with over-grown nails cannot stand or move with bones and ligaments that are aligned as nature intended. The result can be an injury or at least serious discomfort. Imagine wearing four-inch spike-heeled shoes all day, every day—and to bed at night as well. Your medical bills would mount up quickly. Yet this is effectively what happens to an animal whose nails are not getting trimmed regularly.

Geriatric animals need extra help keeping nails to a comfortable length. Just as older people are advised to wear quality, supportive shoes, older dogs need their nails kept short to avoid exacerbating problems such as arthritis and less-elastic connective tissues.

Trimming pets’ nails benefits humans, too. Keeping a dog’s nails properly trimmed prevents damage to floors and rugs—or one’s pantyhose. Cats, meanwhile, can ruin expensive furniture in no time at all in an attempt to sharpen their claws. They can also panic and harm themselves if a long nail gets caught in a rug, upholstery or draperies. Yet, some pet parents are still reluctant to take on the task.

The most common concern clients have about trimming their pets’ nails at home is that they will hurt the pet by quicking it. They also don’t want their pets to develop negative feelings toward them through the nail trimming. The quick of the nail is the blood supply, and cutting the nail too short can cut into it and cause bleeding. Each dog also has a nerve underneath the blood supply, which can vary in length—touching the nerve is what makes a dog unhappy about having his nails trimmed. In some dogs, the nerve extends beyond the end of the quick, and trimming the nails can result in pain even when no blood is drawn.

On the other hand, sometimes the nerve is quite short, so you can accidentally cut quite deeply into the quick and the dog will not mind. An Internet search on “dog nail quick” yields enough excellent instructional images to embolden the most timid of the nail trimming public to try it. has several good videos on how to trim nails, and Dr. Sophia Yin’s is particularly useful.

One great way to sell more nail-care products is to have a clinic teaching folks how to trim pets’ nails. Have a groomer or vet tech come in for the day and advertise that customers can learn to do it themselves, which can help them save money while keeping pets well groomed.

Retailers should have various types of nail trimming equipment available for sale. Although the pliers-type trimmers are much more in demand today than the guillotine style that enjoyed popularity years ago, stores should offer both. Sometimes overlooked by stores despite their growing popularity, grinding tools also add value to the nail-care assortment. Grinding tools reduce the risk of quicking, and most dogs mind it less—addressing the two biggest reasons that pet owners often don’t trim nails at home. Another plus is the satiny smooth finish these tools leave behind.

Grinders, which are easy to use and do a great job, are available in corded or cordless varieties and are made powerful enough to work on a great Dane or small and quiet enough for a Chihuahua. Always ask about styptic powder or pads with every nail trimmer or grinder that you sell. The hope is never to use it, but it should always be on hand.

Additional Items
Soft Claws nail caps, available for both dogs and cats are another popular option to prevent damage in the home or to humans. Scratching posts for cats as well as double sticky tape to prevent clawing furniture are easy upsells to cat-claw trimmers. Although human nail trimmers work on felines, cat claw trimmers are much easier to hold and use. Nail files, both emery boards and metal types to smooth rough edges, come sized for cats to giant-breed dogs.

Don’t forget the fun stuff. Quick-drying nail polish or nail caps are appropriate for any short-coated dog, especially on holidays. You can probably even find the local high school’s colors just in time for fall football playoffs. There are peel-and-stick decals for dog nails just like those for human nails, as well as rhinestones or other faux jewels that can be glued on for that extra snazzy look. I’ve even seen matching jewels on the nails of both a poodle and her owner. The possibilities for added income are endless—and fun.

Carol Visser is a Nationally Certified Master Groomer and Certified Pet Dog Trainer. Formerly a pet product expert for PetEdge, she and her husband Glenn now own Two Canines Pet Services in Montville, Maine, which provides grooming, boarding, training and day care services to Waldo County.

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