Category Archives: Health

Thundershirts and Body Wraps Help Your Pet’s Health and Behavior

Penny A. Watkins-Zdrojewski
© October 2014

“Is that a ThunderShirt?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Does that really work?”
“Yes.  It can really help dogs and cats who are afraid of thunder and loud noises.  It can help with a lot of other fears and concerns, too.”

I’ve had this conversation many times.

Most people think the Thundershirt is just for fear of thunderstorms, a reasonable assumption based on the product’s name.  It can actually help with many more situations in which pets may feel fear or anxiety, such as car rides, vet visits, and people coming into your home.  I’ve even found that it helps my dog Murphy when his arthritis is flaring up, and have used it for a variety of physical concerns.

The Thundershirt is very similar to the Body Wraps we use as a key component Tellington TTouch Training®.  Body Wraps are simple elastic bandages, wrapped around different parts of the body to apply very light, steady pressure.  Using these has proved very helpful for improving a host of behavior and health concerns, from noise phobia to increased mobility.


So how do Body Wraps and Thundershirts work, and how can we know how it feels?  In August, I had an incredible personal experience with Body Wraps, while attending an advanced training for Tellington TTouch® practitioners in British Columbia.  This special training that combined work with dogs, horses, and humans was a great opportunity to understand more about our similarities and how Body Wraps and other TTouch® work have much the same effect on all of us.

I’ve had two injuries to my left leg in the past 5 years.  Physical therapy has helped a lot, but my balance and gait are still not as good as I’d like.  Challenges with certain activities undermine my confidence, and occasional discomfort and pain can affect my mood.

Instructor Robyn Hood, sister to TTouch® founder Linda Tellington-Jones, has worked with Body Wraps since they were first used on horses decades ago.  Robyn is a genius with the wraps, and literally wrote the book – authoring the series “All Wrapped Up,” for horses, for dogs and cats, and for humans.  She outfitted me with a wrap to address my concerns.  She started with a full body wrap, using several 3” wide elastic bandages that went from both shoulders to torso and hips, then down the legs.  After a few minutes, she made a couple of adjustments to the wrap, and the results were nothing short of amazing.  My balance improved, I was standing straighter, and my gait was smooth and even.  Equally important, my confidence was greatly boosted; I did not feel the need to carefully watch where I was placing my feet and could walk with ease.

Wearing a Full Body Wrap helped with balance, gait and confidence.  Robyn uses lovely colors!

The next day, all of the participants were treated to a demonstration and experience of the Sure Foot™ and Fit Trail, systems developed by Wendy Murdoch, a training participant, equine expert, and Feldenkrais Practitioner.  The Fit Trail involves stepping onto a series of therapy devices, from foam pads to knobbly domes and more.  The goal is to establish balance in challenging situations.  Remember seeing a toddler learn to stand and walk?  Or remember when you learned to ride a bike?  To be successful, we had to find our balance point with each and every new challenge.

Wendy Murdoch (left) and Robyn Hood.
Photo by Indra McMorran

The Fit Trail.  Foam therapy devices are laid out to first challenge, then establish physical balance.
Photo by Indra McMorran

My first pass through the Fit Trail wasn’t a complete failure, but let’s say I’m glad no one will be sharing it on YouTube!

I’m in the pink blouse.  The foam pads on which I’m standing aren’t too difficult.  But notice how I’m thinking hard about how to successfully step onto the blue half-spheres that come next!
Photo by Indra McMorran

After seeing me struggle, Robyn wrapped me in the same configuration as the previous day, to see how that would influence my abilities.  The changes were dramatic and awe-inspiring.  My balance and confidence greatly increased and my discomfort and pain decreased significantly.  I stepped from one object to the next with little challenge, barely losing my balance on even the most difficult objects.   Other participants were amazed, and I got a lot of questions about how it felt.  This was a great opportunity for both me and them:  I was able explore and explain how I was affected; they were able to get descriptive, verbal, concrete feedback – communication we have to interpret when working with animals.

My second try, wearing a full body wrap.
The soft foam slopes were somewhat challenging during my first try, While standing on them this time, Wendy Murdoch tests my balance, and there is no problem!
Photo by Indra McMorran


So, what did I actually experience?  How were my physical, mental, and emotional processes influenced, giving me such a positive experience?  Because the sensory input and nervous systems of dogs, cats and humans are very similar, my experience and the ways in which I was influenced are basically the same.

First, wearing the Body Wraps created specific body awareness – the gentle, steady pressure called my mind’s attention to parts of my body that I may have forgotten, neglected, or consciously tuned out.  Second, they created sensory input – hundreds of nerve endings were gently stimulated, enhancing communication between my brain and body.  The awareness and communication stimulate the mind and body’s ability to restore balance and promote healing.  Third, they provided a sense of comfort, much like what a baby experiences with swaddling.  TTouch® Practitioner Julie Moss summarizes by stating, “TTouch is really good at filling in gaps where there are proprioceptive deficits (lack of awareness and communication between parts of the body).”


There are countless reasons to use a Body Wrap or a Thundershirt for your pet, and we’ve only scratched the surface of the many benefits.   Just as a Body Wrap helped my mobility, it can help dogs and cats who are mobility-challenged from aging, injury, or surgery.  In addition to mobility concerns, my dog Murphy is also afraid of thunderstorms and fireworks, and his Thundershirt is a great help.  Some of the many reasons you may want to use wraps or a Thundershirt for your pet include:  phobias (noise, strangers, car rides, visits to the vet); nervousness or anxiety; excessive barking or whining; balance or mobility issues; increased speed of recovery from injury or surgery; and enhanced learning with new skills.


Here are some guidelines to get started with Body Wraps:

  • Materials: Use an elastic bandage that does not stick to itself.  Self-adhering bandages do not move freely and can cause excessive pressure.  High-quality bandages, like Ace brand, work best; cheap bandages tend to be flimsy and are difficult to apply correctly.  The bandage width depends on the size of your pet, which body part is being wrapped, and how much area you want to influence at once.  If you are wrapping a larger animal or multiple body parts, you will need multiple bandages and may want to tie, pin or Velcro them together.  Bandages with Velcro ends are easier to secure, but you can also tie the ends or use a diaper pin.
  • Introduce Before Putting On: Remember that this is a new experience for your pet, so introduce the wrap before applying it.  Let your pet smell it.  Use it like a platter and place a treat on the wrap so that your pet associates it with something positive.  Rub it lightly on their fur.  Lay across their back for a just a moment, and repeat.
  • Configurations and Pressure: There are no limits to the ways in which a Body Wrap may be applied, and you are encouraged to try different configurations as you learn more about your pet’s responses.  The basic Half Wrap is a good place to start.  See the instructions at the end of this article.  The wrap should fit snugly enough to stay in place and give awareness, but should not be tight or apply excessive pressure.
  • How Long To Wear and Frequency: For the first experience, leave the wrap on for no more than 5 minutes, and remove sooner if your pet seems agitated and is unable to relax after a minute or two.  You can gradually increase to 25 minutes for dogs, 15 minutes for cats.  Between experiences, allow plenty of time for your pet to process the experience and information.  Using the wrap 2-3 days a week will have noticeable effects.  If you can use it every day, the effects will be more rapid.
  • Movement: While Body Wraps and Thundershirts give input and create positive influence in sedentary positions, their effectiveness is increased with light movement.  Any movement increases awareness and brain-body communication.  Purposeful movement provides the greatest benefit.

Ready for a Thundershirt?  Not sure?  Here is some information to help:

  • Availability: Thundershirts can be ordered through Penny at HappyPAWZ, and are available at many pet retailers, online stores, and
  • Size: For dogs and cats, size is generally determined by weight.  The material is very stretchy and the design allows for a lot of adjustment. If in doubt, buy one size larger.
  • Introduction and Movement are the same as for Body Wraps above.  If you are using the Thundershirt for any type of fear, be sure to introduce it when the fear stimulus is absent, to avoid any negative assocations with it.  For instance if your cat is afraid of storms, introduce it several times when the weather is good.
  • How Long To Wear and Frequency: For the first experience, leave the Thundershirt on for no more than 5 minutes, and remove sooner if your pet seems severely agitated and is unable to relax, as with Body Wraps.  Gradually increase the amount of time.  Once used to the Thundershirt, your pet should be able to wear it as long as needed to help with its fear or other concern.  In warm weather, be conscious of the possibility of overheating.
  • A Tip Before Buying: If you are unsure about whether a Thundershirt may help your pet, try using T-Shirt that fits snugly, but not tightly.  For a small dog or cat, use a newborn’s Onesie or large doll T-Shirt.   To further test the effectiveness, apply the Half Wrap Body Wrap illustrated below.

For additional guidance and help with Body Wraps or Thundershirts, contact Penny at Happy PAWZ.


While there is no limit to the ways in which a body wrap may be applied, the basic Half Wrap is a good place to start.  It is a basic figure-8 that begins at the chest and covers the torso.  While illustrated on a dog below, the Half Wrap is applied the same way to a cat.


Start by holding the wrap slightly off-center.  Place this point on your pet’s chest. Cross over the shoulders, under the belly, and up to the back.  Connect the wrap with Velcro, with a pin or tie it, ensuring that the connection does not sit directly on the spine.


TTouch® senior instructor Robyn Hood offers a good explanation of Body Wraps and demonstrates how to apply the quarter wrap on a dog in this YouTube video:


A dog and his guardian enjoying the benefits of his Rugby-striped Thundershirt
Photo by Penny Watkins-Zdrojewski

Applying a Body Wrap to a Labradoodle at a TTouch® Training
Photo by Penny Watkins-Zdrojewski

Penny’s dog Buddy wearing a custom Body Wrap to help with some hip issues.
Photo by Ed Zdrojewski


Lessons Learned from a Health Scare

Penny A. Watkins-Zdrojewski

© March 2014

Winter’s harsh grip is easing up some in our slice of the Midwest.  Even though cold, snow and ice keep coming back, we’ve been treated to hints that spring will eventually arrive.  Along with promise has also come the harshness of transition.  Bad winds and rains on top of feet of melting snow brought flash flooding and threats of tornadoes.  This year’s transition seems to be harsher than normal for the ailing, seniors, and our pets.  In the past 3 weeks, several people I know have had challenges and heartbreaks with their pets, facing serious health crises, receiving a terminal prognosis, or watching a beloved friend cross the rainbow bridge.

We had our own scare two weeks ago, when our dog Buddy developed a life-threatening emergency.  In short, he exhibited extreme distress in the middle of the night Sunday, with a distended abdomen, labored breathing, and indications of pain. A trip to the emergency room showed a mass that was bleeding into the abdominal cavity.  He had surgery Tuesday morning to remove the mass and a large part of his liver, and was able to come home late Wednesday.  Thankfully, biopsy results showed that everything is benign.  Buddy is making a full and rapid recovery, and we plan to have him with us for several more years.

Through all of the ups and downs, I’ve learned new lessons and been reminded of others.  In the hope that our experience with Buddy may help you, your pet, or that of someone you know, here are 12 Lessons I Learned from Buddy’s Health Scare.

Lesson 1:  Know What’s Normal
Know what is normal so you can tell when something isn’t.  Check each of the following details when your pet is fine, and keep a record on hand.

  • Energy level
  • Temperament
  • Tolerance for pain
  • Body temperature, heart rate, lung sounds (or normal breathing pattern) and blood pressure
  • Body shape and any growths on or just below the skin
  • Normal pliability (feel) of the body, especially the abdomen

Lesson 2: Be Prepared
Be prepared.  Have tools and supplies readily available so that you can check your pet if something seems wrong.  Know how to use the tools you have on hand.  I highly recommend taking a class in Pet First aid.  If you cannot, most care providers will be willing to teach you how to use basic tools.  At a minimum,  you should keep these in your emergency kit:

  • Thermometer, probe covers, and lubricant
  • Stethoscope
  • Disposable gloves and/or disinfecting soap
  • Harness and Leash, so that you can encourage your pet to remain still while you thoroughly check him
  • Blanket, which can be used to keep a pet warm if they are going into shock and can be used as to carry them if needed
  • Contact information for your veterinarian and local emergency clinic

Lesson 3: Time
Time can be critical.  If you think there may be a real problem, act.  Call your veterinarian or emergency clinic, go in, follow up.  It’s better to spend money and lose a little time than to wait and risk losing your pet.

Lesson 4:  Be an Advocate
Be your pet’s advocate.  He (or she) is unable to speak for himself, so you will have to speak for him.  Your care provider knows more about your pet’s health condition.  You know more about your pet — his normal activity and habits and how those may (or may not) be restricted, what he will and won’t handle well, his home environment, his likes, his overall quality of life.  Take a little time to think about what your pet would choose, and factor that into all of your decisions.

Lesson 5:  Learn About It
Learn everything you can about what is going on.  Ask a lot of questions.  Listen carefully to the answers, write things down, and ask follow-up questions.

Lesson 6:  Explore Options
Explore options.  Consider all factors and choose what is best for you, your family, and your pet.

  • If a major procedure, such as surgery, is recommended, what are the risks, likely benefits, and possible outcomes?
  • Are there alternatives?  If so, are they reasonable, and you and your pet likely to be happy with the outcome?
  • Is there a better provider or facility for the procedure?  Price is a consideration, but also consider experience, expertise, and follow-up care.

Lesson 7:  Good Health Starts Early
Support your pet’s health from an early age so that he can maintain optimal health for years.

  • Start with regular veterinarian exams and continue with wellness exams at least once a year.  If possible, choose a holistic veterinarian.
  • Provide a high-quality, species-appropriate diet.
  • Use supplements, including Probiotics, antioxidants, joint support, vitamins and minerals as needed with each life stage.
  • If you have questions about diet or supplements, contact an animal nutrition counselor.
  • Provide ample clean water, preferably filtered.
  • Use only steel or ceramic bowls; plastic and aluminum carry health risks.  Clean bowls daily or after each meal.
  • Learn about the merits and dangers of vaccinations and choose wisely.
  • Be aware of any chemicals you use, either directly on your pet or around the house.  These include items you may automatically think of as harmful, but also everyday cleaners, disinfectants, air fresheners, and fabric softeners.

Lesson 8:  Can I Visit?
Ask to visit your pet while he is hospitalized and understand if the answer is no. There are times when a visit is helpful for you and your pet.  We were even able to take our other dog, Murphy, to visit Buddy before surgery.  At other times, your pet needs to rest and recuperate.  The added excitement of seeing you may be too much.  The doctors and support staff need to be able to give your pet the medical support he requires.

Lesson 9:  Alternative and Integrative Practices
If you know an alternative practitioner or are one, draw on that skill and expertise from the onset of symptoms through recovery.  Do not rely solely on alternative practices, because they are not a substitute for veterinary care when it is needed.

  • Because I am an animal wellness counselor, I was able to help Buddy from the time that we first noticed symptoms to the time he was taken for tests.  One very valuable technique was Tellington TTouch® Ear Slides, which helped with his anxiety and pain, and helped regulate his blood pressure.  They may have also helped to save his life.  In the emergency department, his blood pressure was recorded at 90 systolic when it should have been around 120.  Ear Slides are known to help blood pressure, especially during emergencies.
  • I am also helping to speed Buddy’s recovery.  Along with several TTouch® techniques, I am also using an appropriate combination of homeopathic remedies, Bach Flower Essences, and energy work.
  • I am drawing on the expertise of fellow alternative practitioners, who can be more objective with my pet than I can.  One of my mentors and dear friends is a Healing Touch for Animals(r) practitioner.  She had a distance session with Buddy, after which he had a great deal more energy, improved comfort level, and improvement in many post-operative symptoms.
  • Buddy is getting recommended follow-up visits with our holistic veterinarian.  At the first visit, she was able to run blood tests to determine that everything was rapidly returning to normal.  Only a veterinarian would be able perform tests to confirm that he was recovering from anemia.  Buddy also received a prescription medication for liver support, which only a veterinarian could provide.

Lesson 10: Pet Insurance
Pet Insurance is worth it.  While it may seem like an added financial burden when your pet is young, a single emergency will make you glad to have it.  We did not insure either of our pets.  As they have aged, expenses have mounted.  Buddy’s crisis this week will cost several thousand dollars.  While we are quite willing to find a way to pay this to have our companion with us, insurance would have greatly eased the financial stress.

Lesson 11:  Other Pets in the Household
If you have more than one pet, remember to give the others the care and understanding they need.  It’s likely that they are confused, concerned for their companion, and may be afraid or grieving.  Talk with them as if they can understand what you are saying and explain what is happening; it will likely help them more than you expect.

Lesson 12:  Support is Important
Have a support system in place.  You need someone who can listen to and support what you are going through.  It’s best to have one or more supporters who are not part of your household.  The rest of your family is dealing with their own feelings and can’t be objective.  If you don’t already have a support system, find at least one person as quickly as you can.  Ask your veterinarian if there are support groups or help lines.


I’m very grateful to all of the wonderful people who taught me various skills over the years, as well as my dogs, who are great teachers.  Without some knowledge and preparedness, it’s very possible that Buddy would no longer be with us.  I hope that you never need to use these tips, and hope that they help you if you should.

Benefits of Movement for You and Your Pet


Penny A. Watkins-Zdrojewski
January 2014

Is one of your goals for the New Year to move more – exercise, or simply get your body moving?  It’s one of mine; just getting up and moving provides many benefits.  Why not include our pets?  Whether you have a cat or dog, it will help you both.

Walk your dog.  Is it too cold outside, or just not your thing?  Keep your walk to just 5 minutes, allowing plenty of time for sniffing.  Or play games inside.  I injured my knee and can’t walk on the icy surfaces right now, but I can be active with our Buddy and Murphy indoors.

Play fetch.  Instead of just letting Buddy retrieve, toss the ball or favorite toy and chase after it with him.  Walk or run with him as he brings it back to his favorite retrieval spot.  Fetch is great for retrievers and hunters who need the stimulation of going after a target.

Play “Find It.”  Put on a leash.  Let him know that you have treats or a favorite toy.  Have him wait in one spot while you hide it.  Holding his leash, give him the direction, “Find it.”  Walk with him and encourage him to use his nose, checking every nook and cranny until he finds the treasure.  The treasure is a reward, but also praises him for a job well done.  Start simple, increasing the difficulty as he gets better.  While nose work doesn’t seem like much activity, it gives your dog’s brain a serious workout.  Fifteen minutes of nose work may tire him as much as a one hour walk.  Nose work is great for terriers, and easy for most dogs to learn.

Do you have a cat?  Get active for 15 minutes a day with “Prey Play.”  Cats have a strong need to stalk and catch prey, and need at least 15 minutes of active prey play daily, either all at once, or broken into 2-3 sessions.  Get up and move with Kitty’s favorite prey toy.  Whether it’s a toy on a line, a laser, or a small toy, instead of remaining stationary, move around as you play.

With any activity, remember to end things formally and on a positive, high note.  Let them see where you store the toy or treats, so they can look forward to the next time and know when you are starting a session.

So, how does getting involved in all of this activity help you?  There are multiple benefits to you for just getting up and moving.  It can help decrease blood pressure, improve heart health, lower cholesterol, keep muscles more limber, and improve breathing and lung health.  Studies have shown that people who sit most of the day show some benefits from simply getting up and moving for just one minute every hour.  Want to up your game and increase your benefits?  Throw in some occasional, squats, jumping jacks, leg lifts, arm circles, or whatever you can do that your pet can accept without becoming too excited or nervous.

By playing with your pet this way, you should both release endorphins, making life more pleasurable.  The quality time spent with your pet will enhance your relationship.  They will see you as a fun leader or partner and appreciate the attention.

Toenail Trimming: How to Make It Easier

Penny A. Watkins-Zdrojewski
December 2013

Many dogs, cats and critters don’t like to have their nails trimmed and display behaviors that make it nearly impossible to try.  Working harder to get it done only increases your pet’s fear and your frustration, producing even worse results the next time.  If you live with one of these animals, you know how frustrating and stressful it can be.

Are long toenails a major health hazard?  Usually not, but they can be for some animals.  Nails that are excessively long can affect an animal’s gait and balance, permanently deform the foot, or curve too far and puncture the paw pads.  Long nails are also prone to snagging, breaking and tearing.

Check with your vet to determine your pet’s optimum nail health.  Even if your pet’s health isn’t an issue, nails trimmed to the appropriate length are better for the overall wellness and comfort of a pet animal, as well as the comfort his human guardian.

What do you need to look for when trimming nails, and how can you make it easier?  Here is some information to help you get started on the right foot – or paw.  Read on to learn about toenail anatomy, types of equipment and selecting the right tool, how to correctly trim with clippers or a rotary tool, the importance of being comfortable, the best ways to introduce tools and help your pet accept them, and damaged nails.


Dog, cat, and mammalian critter toenails consist of: a nail bed, or germinal tissue; a nail shell; the “quick”; and, in the case of cats, a sheath.

The nail bed, or germinal tissue, is at the base of the nail, and appears to be part of the paw.  The germinal tissue is the beginning of nail growth and affects the health of the nail.  Toenails grow out from the base, downward in a curved arc.

The nail shell is hard and curved.  It may be black, white, or translucent.  Black nails make it more difficult to see the quick, and may be tougher to cut or file.

Immediately inside the shell is a darker, somewhat softer tissue, which protects the quick.

The quick is the soft cuticle in the center, which consists of nerve and blood vessels.  If the quick is cut, it will bleed and cause your pet pain.  As nails grow, the quick grows with them.  The quick should normally be near the “hook,” or most curved part of the nail.  If nails are not cut or filed on a regular basis, the quick will grow toward the nail tip, making it more likely for it to be damaged during trimming or if the nail is injured.

Dogs have fixed toenails and cats have nails that can be retracted into the nail sheath at the base of the nail.


Pet toenail trimmers come in a wide variety of styles, and each has its own use.

  • Guillotine style clippers are mostly used for dogs.  They require that the nail be inserted through a cutting hole and do not have a trim guard to prevent over-clipping.  They may be less effective on larger dogs or dogs with very tough nails.
  • Pliers (or “Miller’s forge) style clippers are commonly used by professionals and experienced pet guardians for most dogs.  They come in a of range sizes, with and without a guard to prevent over-clipping.
  • Scissor style clippers are the type most often used for cats.  They can also be used for puppies and small dogs.
  • A power rotary tool can quickly grind and file nails as an alternative to clipping.
  • Human Nail Clippers can be useful for small kittens and puppies, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, and other small critters.
  • A metal hand file is sometimes used to smooth tips after cutting the nail, and can be helpful with some damaged nails.

When trimming nails, it’s good to have a clotting agent in case of bleeding. Styptic powder is common.   Kwik Stop is styptic powder with Benzocaine, an numbing agent.  In an emergency, plain flour can work.


When selecting a nail trimming tool, your first consideration should be whether it is an appropriate size for your pet.  Tools that are too small will not cut well.  If they are too big, they may break the nail or make it difficult to see and avoid cutting the quick.   As pets grow, you may need to switch tools.

Any tool needs to fit well in your hand.  It should also be comfortable and be easy to use.

If you choose clippers, it’s important they be sharp enough to cleanly cut your pet’s nails.  Your pet’s tolerance for noise and vibration may be a factor in choosing a rotary tool.  However it is generally possible to help them become comfortable with any tool, as explained below in “How to Introduce and Desensitize to Tools.”


Identify the Quick

If your pet has light or translucent nails, the quick should look pink, and should be easy to see.  With dark or black nails, it is not possible to see the quick, but the anatomy is the same. If you look at the anatomy of the underside of the nail you will see a triangle. The end of this triangle is generally where the quick begins.   When in doubt, cut or file just a little nail; you can always remove more in a few days or a week.

Trimming with Clippers

Ideally, you should make the cut 2-3 millimeters from the nail quick.  With dark nails, where you can’t see the quick, trim a little at a time and check the nail.  If the tip has a waxy look you are close to the quick.  If it looks dry, you can remove a bit more.  You can also look for a pale, third, inner circle, or a dark spot in the middle of the clipped nail. Stop clipping here.

If you go too far, the nail will bleed and cause pain.  While you may feel like panicking, don’t worry.  Apply styptic powder, Kwik Stop, or, in an emergency, plain flour.   The nail will heal quickly.  A common misperception is that a pet who has had their quick cut will never allow their nails to be trimmed again.  While they may have some fear the next time, you can help to make them comfortable again, following the steps outlined in the section below on introducing and desensitizing to tools.

Remember to clip the dew claws located on the inside the legs.  They can curl in and cause pain, and can tear easily.

Filing with a Rotary Tool

Guidelines for length, identifying the quick, and what to do if you trim too far are the same as for using clippers.  However, the actual process for filing with a rotary tool is a little different from using clippers.  The process and additional precautions are detailed in the next section.  You may also need to take longer to introduce the tool, due to the noise and vibration.


If your pet won’t tolerate having her nails trimmed with clippers, you might try switching to an electric rotary tool, such as the Oster Gentle Paws Nail Trimmer or a Dremel® tool from the hardware store.  For animals whose nails tend to be brittle or fragile and break frequently, I highly recommend that you file the nails instead of clipping.  Getting your pet used to the electric trimmer may be a long process, and you may have to put your efforts into it for a while.  But the results, which are positive for most animals, will pay off your patience and effort.

Still, the electric trimmers offer a set of challenges as well.  What can you do to help your animal learn to accept having its nails filed?

Select the Right Rotary Tool:

Do a little research and buy a high-quality (not necessarily high-priced) electric trimmer.  You can find lots of specialized models in pet stores.  Similar products sell for much less in hardware stores.  The main thing to consider is how comfortable the tool will be for you and for your pet.  Factors include: whether the tool is corded or cordless; how it fits in your hand; the motor noise; and the vibration.

Follow the Guidelines for Comfort and for How to Introduce and Desensitize to Tools below

How to File with a Rotary Tool:

Start by removing the curved tip until the nail is blunt.  Next, file straight across until you are near the quick or at an appropriate length.  Finally, round off any sharp corners to prevent snagging and scratching.  Filing builds heat, so only trim for a few seconds on any nail.  You don’t need to do each one start to finish, and can work on each toe several times during any given session.


It is important for both you and your pet to be comfortable.  If you are uncomfortable, it will affect your breathing and your stress level, and frustration.   If your pet’s foot or leg is being held at an odd angle, it will make her uncomfortable, she will want to move away, and you will both become frustrated and stressed.  Some pets are more comfortable on a table or similar surface; others do better sitting next to you or in your lap.

Exhale frequently while trimming; this will help regulate your breathing and reduce your stress.

When possible, partner with someone.  One of you can help calm and relax your pet while the other trims the nails.  You and your pet will be more relaxed, and will make it easier for her to accept the process.  Treats can help, but I highly recommend TTouch Ear Slides and other pleasurable types of touch.


The principal here is simple: turn something potentially scary and painful into something fun and pleasurable.

This process “chunks it down” – instead of trying to cut or file nails right away, each part of the introduction to the tool, including its effects, is a separate step.  It’s very important to take things slowly, moving at your pet’s pace.  At any point, if your pet starts to become distressed, back up one or two steps until he is completely comfortable again.

Using either clippers or a rotary file, let your pet meet and become comfortable with the trimming tool before you use it:

  1. Let your pet meet the tool.  Allow him to sniff and explore it.  If necessary, use treats to make it more interesting.  Sometimes putting a little wet food or peanut butter on the tool will help him associate it with something good.
  2. Gently rub or massage your pet’s legs and feet with the tool.  If he doesn’t easily tolerate having his legs touched, start with rubbing his back and shoulders, gradually moving to the legs, then returning to the shoulders.
  3. Lightly tap his toes with the tool.
  4. Lightly tap his toe nails with the tool.
  5. At this point, if using clippers, follow the instructions in #6; if using a rotary file, follow the instructions in #7.
  6. When Using Clippers:
    1. Put the clipper around your pet’s nails, one at a time, and remove quickly without cutting any nails.  Repeat this for several days.
    2. When comfortable, cut one nail, and then massage the foot with the clippers.  You may be able to cut more than one nail, but be aware of your pet’s comfort level.  Repeat for a few days.
    3. Continue in this fashion, slowly building up the number of toes that can be cut and the length of time the clippers can be in contact with the toe, while decreasing how frequently you have to stop cutting and go back to massages and rubs with the tool.
  7. When using a Dremel® or other rotary file:
    1. Help your pet become comfortable with the rotary tool with the motor turned off.  Start with an introduction, then massage legs, and feet and progress to tapping toes, all with the motor off.
    2. After your pet becomes comfortable with the tool while the motor is off, you will need to repeat the process with the motor turned on.  She needs to be comfortable with the sound and vibration before filing any nails.  First remove all attachments from the tool, so that your pet can’t touch any filing surfaces with his nose.  Turn the motor on and repeat the steps:  introducing, massaging, and then tapping toes with the body of the tool.
    3. Add the file attachment.  Do some massage and toe-taps with the body of the tool.  File just one toe for only 1-3 seconds, then switch back to massaging with the body of the tool.
    4. Continue in this fashion, slowly building up the number of toes that can be filed and length of time the grinder can be in contact with a toe, while decreasing how frequently you have to stop filing and go back to massaging with the body of the tool.

Regardless of what type of tool you use, you will accomplish a lot more, and you and your pet will be happier, if you have patience, take deep, frequent breaths, are consistent, and back up to easier steps at the first sign of stress.  It’s is better to only file a few nails, or just one, in a single session, than to make your pet (or yourself) upset, or to break the trust you’ve built.


The best way to prevent damaged nails is to keep them trimmed or filed to a proper length.  They are less likely to get caught in things and tear.  Still, some pets have nails that are naturally prone to splitting, breaking and tearing, even when well-trimmed.  Here is some information on common nail problems and what to do if your pet’s toenail becomes damaged.

Splitting and Breaking

Healthy toenails can split or break under ordinary circumstances, however, nails that frequently split or break may indicate a health or dietary issue.  Brittle nails that are accompanied by nail deformities may be indicative of medical issues.  If your pet’s nails appear abnormal or split and break frequently, take her to the veterinarian.  Brittle nails, left untreated, can lead to tearing injuries.  Dietary changes may also improve nail health.  Consult a qualified nutritional counselor for advice.


The most common cause of a torn nail is it getting caught on something.   Some pets have brittle nails that are more prone to tearing.  Because of the way toenails are attached, dewclaws are the most prone to being torn away from the body.  In any case, if a nail is torn, it will likely be sensitive.  Here is what to do if your pet’s nail tears:

  1. Stop the bleeding with styptic powder, Kwik Stop, or plain flour.  Determine if the injury requires the attention of a veterinarian.
  2. Keep the nail clean. Watch carefully for signs of infection, including swelling, sensitivity, and redness.
  3. If needed, wrap your pet’s paw with clean gauze.  You may be able to secure this with self-sticking wound wrap, or cover the dressing with a snug (not tight) toy or infant’s sock.
  4. To help prevent excessive licking, apply diluted tea tree oil to the nail before wrapping.  In addition to having an off-putting scent, the oil also has antiseptic properties.

Nail biting

Pets with allergies may bite their nails.  Allergens can irritate the paws and nails, and licking or chewing helps them relive the itchiness.  Controlling your pet’s allergies is the best way to prevent this.  Often, a change in diet can help reduce allergy symptoms by supporting the immune system.  Consult a qualified nutrition counselor for advice.

Some pets develop a habit of biting their nails for other reasons, and you may need the advice of a pet wellness counselor or behaviorist.


If a nail is sufficiently injured and the wound is exposed, it may become infected.  Look at the area around the base of the nail for signs of infection which include redness, swelling, tenderness, and seeping.  If there is infection, you will need to take your pet to the vet, who will prescribe an antibiotic.  Removing the toenail is rarely enough, particularly for dogs.  The bone in a dog’s toe extends out to the quick, reaching the blood supply.

Your veterinarian will give you instructions on how to manage your pet when you return home, and may recommend an e-collar to prevent chewing and biting at bandages and the injured nail.  You may also be able to add some of the management techniques listed above.


In summary, there are a few steps to making toenail trimming easier.  Start with selecting the right tool, and then properly introduce and desensitize your pet to the tools you choose.  Understand the process of trimming, including identifying the quick and knowing where to cut.  Most importantly, be comfortable – take deep breaths, have patience, and back up at the first sign of stress.  With a little time and patience, you and your pet can turn nail trimming into a stress-free, pleasurable experience.

A Guide to Commercial Foods

What’s Eating Your Pet?  The Basics of Commercial Pet Foods

Penny A. Watkins-Zdrojewski
June 2012

Have you walked down the food aisles of your pet store lately and noticed the increased number of brands, and increased “natural” and grain-free foods?  As consumers become more knowledgeable about the benefits of a good diet, food manufacturers are developing products to meet the growing demand.

Taking the time to choose the right food will be highly rewarding.  You probably know that your animal companion’s health is directly linked to the food they consume.  Did you also know that improper food can also cause a host of behavior issues?  If you are already feeding a raw or home-prepared diet, you’ve already made some wise choices.  The information below may be helpful to you if you need to pick up commercial food or help a friend.

While sorting through the information and reading labels can be confusing, if not completely frustrating, there are a few, simple things you can learn about and look for when choosing what to feed your dog or cat.  Because rabbits and other small animals have different dietary needs, they will be addressed in a future article.   Guidelines for selecting treats are the same as for food.


The first ingredient should always be meat.  Most well-balanced foods will include 2 or more meat sources.


Grains are probably the most confusing, and, often, least healthy ingredients in commercial pet foods.  While a grain-free diet is generally best for most dogs and cats, some grains cause greater problems.

The worst grains you can feed are: Corn; Wheat; and Soy.  These grains are used in commercial food production because they are an inexpensive way to increase the bulk of food.  While this appears to be a better value, the negative effects on health and behavior make them a poor value.  For instance, wheat and soy are the most common causes of food allergies in pets.

Dogs and cats do not need the nutrients in complex carbohydrates, and other nutrients in grains are readily available in other dietary ingredients.   It is also difficult for dogs and cats to produce the quantity of amylase enzyme necessary to digest and assimilate grains, which puts a strain on the pancreas.

The list of health issues caused by grains is extensive.  Some of the most common are allergies, yeast infections, chronic immune problems, diabetes, pancreatitis, digestive tract disorders, and cancer.

Grains can also be major factor in behavior problems.  For example, corn breaks down into sugars that are difficult to metabolize.  This can lead to increased anxiety, hyperactivity and a host of other behavior issues.  Additionally, the stress of chronic illness can lead to behavior issues, the least of which is irritability.

In general, grain-free diet is best.  The best grains to feed your dog or cat are rice – preferably brown rice – oats, barley, and millet.


Neither cats nor dogs thrive on an all-meat diet.  Other ingredients are needed to round out the nutrition and provide necessary calories.  The best substitutes for grain bulk are sweet potatoes (or yams) and potatoes.  Other vegetables and some fruits may also be added to round out the recipe.  Simply check to ensure that there aren’t too many ingredients with high sugar content.


Always read the ingredients for any pet food.  Check for vitamins and minerals that your pet’s species and/or breed needs.  For example, cats need extra taurine in their diet, and the best way to get it is from their primary food source.


While the initial cost for high-quality, grain-free food is higher, the long-term benefits generally offset this cost.  Healthier pets generally have lower veterinary bills.   Improved behavior may avoid the need for costly treatment.  Better health and behavior will lead to less stress for both pets and their humans and will reduce the toll on human health


When changing to a new food, introduce it slowly to allow your pet’s system time to adjust.  Start by substituting ¼ of the new food for ¼ of the old food.  Increase in ¼ increments each week until you have completely switched to the new food.


Some conditions may begin to improve within 3-4 weeks.   Long-term and chronic problems, such as yeast reactions, can take 6-12 months for full results.


Did you know that the Tellington TTouch® Method can help with eating-related issues?  Belly Lifts and Mouth Work are just two of the many techniques that may improve lack of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, chronic gas and many other food and digestive issues.  Call or email Penny for more information or to make an appointment.


There have been numerous alerts and recalls on pet food and treats.  Contaminants and bacteria have affected dogs, cats and humans.  For more information, check the manufacturer’s website. The FDA maintains information on current and past recalls and withdrawals at:


Contact me for additional information and help.  You can request a phone consultation for assistance on these tips, or we can schedule an assessment and work session in your home.