Tonawanda News

July 20, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Foot care for flip flop season

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — It’s the middle of summer and we are seeing a lot of people. And I don’t mean we are seeing many people, I mean the people we are seeing — they are revealing a lot. 

Whether it is short shorts, tight T-shirts or thongs on their feet (or elsewhere), we are seeing a lot of skin. Sometimes, if we are unfortunate enough, we even see nails. Tiny, perfectly manicured, painted with polka dot toenails may be acceptable, however, most of us are not 15-year-old girls.

If you find yourself with gnarly, twisting, overgrown, dirty toenails, please do us viewers and yourself a favor and cut and clean them. Now, if your pets have similar-looking nails, they are not at fault.

They do say that people start to resemble their pet after a certain period of time.

I understand if your pet hates to have their feet touched. Who can blame them? That body part is naturally sensitive and the feeling of being restrained is hard to overcome. Of course there is a solution: Train the behavior.

If there is a clicking when your pet is approaching you from the kitchen floor, it is most likely time to cut those nails. Other warning signs could be problems with their gait, toenails crossing over each other or nails starting to bend in the incorrect way. Cats and dogs do walk on their toes so ensuring that their nails do not bend is very important. Untrimmed nails could lead to torn and bleeding nails, arthritis or ingrown nails.

Here are a few ways that I have trained critter companions to accept their nails being trimmed. If you are not the one cutting the nails, your pet pedicurist will surely appreciate the desensitization you have trained.

When we first got our kitten, Julian, he would curl up and sleep on our legs or on our chest. Sadly, sometimes we would have to move and in order to do that we would disturb the cat. We would shovel him up into our arms and relocate him on a real piece of furniture. When transporting him, Julian would be a little groggy so we would touch his feet. He did not react so we rewarded him with a treat.

The next time we moved him, we were ready with cat nail clippers. We would trim a few nails at a time, as we held him and then give him a treat. The first time he might have looked at the nail clippers but quickly ignored them, looking into our eyes and giving us eye kisses. Once a few nails were trimmed we placed him down and gave him two to three cat treats. Behavior trained.

Our next cat was not so wiling. We adopted Princeton when he was already 2 or 3 years old and he most likely experienced some forced nail trimming. To resolve this problem, we would pick him up as we do to hug him and barely touch his feet. For being calm, he was rewarded with being set down and a food reward. Progress did not happen quickly, but it did happen. With Princeton dictating how the session would go, he was much more eager to begin the next day’s session. The calmer he was the quicker the session would end. Gradually we would add more restraint to the foot and nail with the end result being able to trim a few nails at a time with a calm cat in the arms.

This last method is for parrots. With the bird inside its enclosure, show them a small food reward. If it is a parakeet or cockatiel, a seed ball of millet spray will last the entire session. For a cockatoo or macaw, a dozen raisins or two peanuts will work. 

Showing a treat the bird will lean forward and place a foot on the mesh trying to get to the treat. Once they have one foot on the cage, the bird gets the treat. Slowly phase out showing the food and pair it with a cue, like showing them a closed hand. Once you have the presentation of the foot, slowly introduce the nail trimming device (dremel or nail clippers) and reward for them staying calm. The next step would be to touch the nail with the device and then finally trim. The last part of this behavior could take a few weeks. 

I have been able to train two green wing macaws and a Moluccan cockatoo this behavior in around two to three weeks. The best part of this behavior is that at the same time of the foot presentation I also trained the bird to look away, to decrease the potential fear of seeing a strange device touching their body. I have posted a 2-minute video of this behavior on our Facebook page if you would like a more in-depth look.

With a little training you and your domestic or exotic pets can have “purrfectly-pedicured,” polka-dot-free, healthy nails.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.

Contact Sunday Lifestyle editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116 or follow her on Twitter at @DanielleHaynes1.