How to Trim Dog Nails: A Complete Guide

25November2020

How to Trim Dog Nails: A Complete Guide

You’d do anything for your dog, and you want to be sure that you keep them as healthy and comfortable as possible. Trimming your dog’s nails keeps them comfy, active, and ready to play, but many owners are afraid to dive in and trim those cute little paws. Fear not: we’ve got you covered. here, we’ll go over everything you need to know about how to give your pooch the pedicure they deserve.

Trimming Your Dog’s Nails: Why It Matters

Before you decide to take on the task of trimming your dog’s nails, take a look, and see whether it’s time for a trim. Active dogs who spend much of their time running/walking on concrete or blacktop may not need regular nail trims. The concrete can wear their nails down, much like a nail file.

One way to know your dog needs a trim? Listen for the telltale click-clack sound. When a dog’s nails touch the ground when the dog is walking, each step the dog takes can put pressure on their nail bed. This can be painful for your dog. Pressure on the nail bed as your dog walks can force them to distribute their weight unusually. Over time, this can cause a misalignment of your dog’s joints.

Your dog can also experience painful tearing of the nails if their nails aren’t trimmed. If a long nail gets caught on a piece of furniture, the carpet, or even in a toy, it can cause an injury that may be serious enough to require veterinary care.

Trimming your dog’s dewclaws (the thumb-style claws above the paws on their front legs) is especially important. Left uncared for, these claws can grow back into their soft tissue. This can be painful and can put your dog at risk for infection.

Getting Your Pup Comfortable

If it’s your first time trimming your dog’s nails, it’s important to take some time to help your dog get comfortable. Depending on your dog’s temperament, this may mean spending several days helping your dog get used to you handling their paws, hearing the sound of the clippers, and having their nails trimmed.

On the first day, set the nail clippers or grinders on the ground near your pet. As soon as they go near the clippers, give them a treat or praise to begin the process of establishing positive reinforcement. The next day, handle your dog’s paw while also handling the clippers. Again, provide your dog with plenty of positive praise.

As your dog becomes comfortable with seeing the clippers and having their paws handled, trim the tip of one nail (continue reading for more information on exactly how to trim), then provide treats and praise. Set the clippers aside for the rest of the day. Using your dog’s responses as a guide, gradually increase the number of nails you trim at a time.

It can be tempting to rush through the process of clipping your dog’s nails. However, doing so can make your dog afraid of the clippers. This can cause them to have a negative association with seeing clippers and having their paws handled. Taking your time and moving at a pace appropriate for your dog’s personality can help make nail clipping get easier and easier.

What’s The Deal With The Quick?

Every dog owner’s worst nail trimming fear: clipping the quick.

Your dog’s nails contain a blood vessel known as the “quick,” as well as a nerve. If you cut a dog’s nail too short, it can cause pain (due to a clipped nerve) and bleeding.

It’s usually easy to see the quick in dogs with white nails, but it can be a little tougher for dogs with black nails. After trimming a tiny bit of the nail, take a look at the center of the flat, newly clipped area. If you can see any white or pink (regardless of the color of your dog’s nail), you’re close to the quick and don’t need to trim any further.

The Big Day: Time To Trim

Before You Start, Read This: You may cut your dog’s nail too close to the quick, causing pain and bleeding. Try not to panic: many dog owners make this mistake. Have styptic powder on hand and apply it to the cut area of the nail quickly to stop the bleeding. If you don’t have styptic powder, cornstarch or flour can work well. Usually, the bleeding will stop and the injury won’t require any medical attention.

nail clipper for dogs

Use a sharp, fresh pair of plier-style clippers with an adjustable guide that can help ensure that you don’t cut the nail too short. Even if you’re nervous, do your best to speak in reassuring, positive tones. Your dog will follow your lead.

Hold your dog’s paw gently and firmly. Using the guide, clip the curved tip of the nail at a 45-degree angle, a little bit at a time. Be sure to pause after each clip to check the color of the clipped surface. Clipping in small increments ensures that you’re not getting too close to the quick.

Veterinary cutting the nails of a dog

Continue making small clips until the cut surface begins to show a chalky white ring (for dogs with black nails) with a black or pink center. For dogs with white nails, keep an eye out for a faint black or pink spot in the center of the cut surface.

When you’re done trimming your dog’s nails, provide your pup with lots of love and treats. Let them know that they did a great job, and know that clipping their nails will get easier each time.

What About Grinding?

Grinding your dog’s nails instead of clipping can work well. The best tool for trimming nails? Whichever option causes your dog less stress. The same principles of trimming nails with a plier-style clipper apply to using a grinder. Take plenty of time getting your dog used to the grinder (especially the vibrations and noise). If your dog has long hair, you may need to trim the fur around their nails before grinding. Long hair can get tangled in the grinder, creating a painful experience for your dog.

When To Let Your Veterinarian Take Over

Sometimes, it can be better to work with your veterinarian to provide your pooch with the nail care that they need. First, know that this should be reserved for situations in which there’s a problem with your dog’s nail. Don’t depend on your veterinarian to trim your dog’s nails once a year. If this is the only time your dog gets their nails trimmed, it can teach them to be anxious and fearful both of going to the vet and of having their paws handled.

Signs that you should let a veterinary professional take over include:

  • your dog has an injury that affects their paws, and you’re worried that trimming their nails could cause further injury
  • your dog’s dewclaw has grown back into their soft tissue, and you’re unable to remove the clipped part of the nail
  • your dog has a jagged nail due to breaking (your veterinarian can work with you to find a solution to stop the jagged nail from snagging on household objects while the break heals)

If you’re in doubt about whether you can trim your dog’s nails, reach out to your vet, groomer, or dog trainer. They can give you tips, recommend specific trimmer options, and help you to work with your dog’s personality to create a positive experience.

Pro Tips

  • Start trimming your dog’s nails as early as possible. If you can get your dog used to having their nails handled and trimmed as a puppy, you’re setting them up for a lifetime of low-stress nail trims.
  • Trim your dog’s nails until they don’t tap against the floor – no more. There’s no need to go above and beyond the bare minimum to keep your dog walking and playing comfortably.
  • Remember, your dog feeling stress and showing anxiety around nail trims doesn’t mean they’re giving you a hard time. It means they’re having a hard time, and they’re looking to you for comfort. Know that it may take some time for your dog to get comfortable with the idea of nail trims, especially if they’re coming from an environment in which they weren’t groomed.
  • It may seem easier to have the groomer trim your dog’s nails, but doing it at home means you get to create a low-stress environment for your pet, and you get to control how short your dog’s nails are trimmed.
  • While every dog is different, trimming your dog’s nails once a month is usually a good way to keep up with nail growth.