Clipping Your Dog's Nails

  • 01 of 06

    How to Trim Your Dog's Nails

    dog nail trim, dog nails clipped by owner in garden
    Gary Ombler / Getty Images

    Nail trims are an important part of your dog's basic grooming needs. For many dog owners, the idea of trimming their dogs' nails is followed by a feeling of trepidation. Many dogs also dislike nail trims. It doesn't have to be this way. Any dog owner can learn how to properly trim dog nails, and most dogs can be trained to tolerate it.

    Are you ready to get started? Put your apprehensions aside for a few minutes and learn how to properly trim your dog's nails with these step-by-step instructions. In addition to this tutorial, it may be helpful to have a vet tech, vet or groomer show you in-person how to properly trim your dog's nails. Soon, you might just be able to trim your dog's nails like a pro!

    You probably have some questions that need to be answered before we begin. Here are some common ones:

    Why Should I Trim My Dog's Nails?

    Dog nails are constantly growing, just like human nails. Some dogs wear down their nails naturally from walking on pavement, gravel or concrete. However, the majority of today's dogs live indoors and don't spend enough time on these surfaces to keep the nails short. This is especially the case with small dogs (like Chihuahuas and Miniature Dachshunds, two breeds that seem to especially dislike having their paws touched). If left to grow, some dogs' nails will curl under and actually start growing into the foot pads. This leads to painful sores and infections. Even if they do not curl under, long nails can make it difficult for dogs to walk, especially on slick surfaces. Finally, long nails can easily get caught on something and become partially torn off or split. This is very painful for your dog, and treating a torn nail may require sedation at your vet's office.

    How Often Do I Need to Trim My Dog's Nails?

    The answer here depends on your dog. The rate of nail growth versus the amount of natural wear can vary from dog to dog. To determine when it's time for a nail trim, a good rule of thumb is to trim your dog's nails if they touch the floor when he is standing. In general, most dogs will need a nail trim every month or two. The front nails tend to grow faster that the rear nails, so you may only need to trim the rear nails every other time you do the front (or just trim a smaller amount of the rear nails each time).

    How Soon Should I Begin Trimming My New Dog or Puppy's Nails?

    Right away! You should begin handling your dog's paws from the moment you bring him home. He should get used to the sensation and associate it with a positive experience (treats, toys, attention). Hold your dog's paws and play with his toes several times a day. Keep your demeanor upbeat. Praise him and ​reward him with treats when he tolerates the handling. Once you get comfortable with nail trims, begin trimming a tiny amount of the nail every week or two. Take care not to cut too short, or your dog will have a negative experience. Frequent, positive nail trims will teach your dog or puppy that there is nothing to fear. This will make nail trims much easier down the road.

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  • 02 of 06

    Selecting Equipment to Trim Your Dog's Nails

    How to Cut Your Dog's Nails - Dog Nail Trimmer Types
    Four varieties of dog nail trimmers. Cody Mannino

    Before you begin your dog's nail trim, be sure you have the right equipment. First and foremost, you must choose your nail trimmers. There are a few styles of nail trimmers available. The right choice depends on the size of your dog's nails and your own preference. These are the main types of nail trimmers available on the market today:

    Pliers style: These trimmers are often the preferred choice among professionals. Pliers style trimmers work in a similar manner to the scissors style trimmers, but with more force. They are spring-loaded and the mechanism resembles garden pruners. The small/medium size is great for small and medium size nails. The large size typically works well on all nail sizes except the very small ones (they can leave the ends of small nails frayed). These are easy to use and tend to stay sharp for a long time. The blades, however, are not replaceable and can eventually dull (though it usually takes years).  Buy on Amazon

    Guillotine style: This style of nail trimmer has an internal blade and a hole to line up the nail. When the handle is squeezed, the blade comes up to trim the nail, kind of like an upside-down guillotine. Many beginners find this type of trimmer very easy to use. However, it is very important to hold this trimmer in the correct manner so that it works properly. The handle should be down below the dog's paw, with the nail hole at the top. The screws on the trimmer should be facing towards your dog. The nail should then be lined up inside the hole at the right spot to make the cut. The internal blade on guillotine trimmers can be replaced when it becomes dull. Guillotine trimmers work best for small to medium size nails. They are not ideal for very large or very small nails.  ​Buy on Amazon

    Scissors style: These trimmers work just like a pair of scissors. Rather than a flat cutting surface, they have a curved blade to cut the round nail. Simply line up the blade with the nail at the appropriate spot and make the cut. These trimmers are only useful for smaller nails, as they are typically not strong enough for the larger nails. These are typically the least expensive type of trimmer. However, blades may dull over time and the hinge may become loose.  Buy on Amazon

    Other Nail-Trimming Equipment

    These items are not pictured above but they may come in handy during a nail trim:

    Styptic Powder: If you cut the nail too short, it will bleed. Even when you do your best to avoid this, it can happen from time to time. The bleeding will eventually stop if pressure is applied, but it can be hard to hold your dog's paw still for several minutes. Styptic powder can stop the bleeding very quickly and it fairly easy to apply. A common brand name is "Kwik Stop" Buy on Amazon

    Tip: if you don't have styptic powder, try packing a bit of corn starch or flour on the bleeding nail tip. It will also be helpful to have cotton balls, tissues or paper towels handy for nail cleanup.

    Metal Hand File or Power Rotary Tool: If your dog will tolerate it, you can use one of these tools to smooth the rough edges after the nail is trimmed. Many professionals prefer to skip the nail trim altogether and use a power rotary tool exclusively (like a Dremel or the Peticure). Because of the sound and vibrations associated with the power tools, you must gradually introduce the tool, allowing your dog get used to it before using it on the nails. This can take days to weeks depending on your dog. Buy on Amazon

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  • 03 of 06

    Anatomy of the Dog Nail

    How to Cut Your Dog's Nails - Dog Nail Trim Diagram
    Close-up of dog nail with anatomy labeled. Cody Mannino

    A dog's nail consists of a hard outer shell and a soft cuticle in the center consisting of nerve and blood vessel. The cuticle is typically referred to as the "quick" of the nail. If the quick is cut, the nail will bleed and the dog will feel pain.

    On light-colored nails, it is easy to see the quick (as pictured above). Many dogs have black or darker-colored nails, making it impossible to see the quick. The nail anatomy is still the same. Use this diagram to familiarize yourself with the anatomy of your dog's nails. The optimum place to make the cut is 2-3 millimeters from the nail quick.

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  • 04 of 06

    Trimming Your Dog's Nails

    How to Trim Dog Nails - Cutting Dog Nail
    Trimming your dog's nails. Cody Mannino

    Before you actually begin cutting the nails, you should get everything set up. Find a place where you and your dog are comfortable. Some people prefer to sit on the floor with their dogs. Others like to have their dogs on the couch or bed. You may find it easier to place your dog on a table. Some people even do nail trims with their dogs on their laps. Once you find the best location, be sure your equipment is within reach.

    Positioning Dogs for Nail Trims

    It is generally easiest to trim a dog's nails while he is lying down. The front nails may be done when he is sitting if the dog is compliant. You can stand beside your dog or in front of him, depending on the level of restraint needed. You may find it easier to stand or sit beside your dog and wrap an arm around him to keep him still. Many people find that nail trims work best when you have another person to help hold your dog still.

    Cutting the Dog's Nails

    Once you are in a good position, you can begin cutting the nails. Grasp your dog's paw firmly, but without squeezing. Hold the trimmers with your dominant hand and grasp the paw with your other hand. For optimum control, place your thumb on the bottom of the foot pad and your fingers on the top of the foot near the nail bed. Line up your trimmers by placing the edge of the blade upon the nail at the imaginary "cut line." Squeeze the trimmers in one swift, deliberate motion. Avoid cutting if the dog is moving (which may be easier said than done).

    Trimming Dark Nails

    When trimming black or dark-colored nails, only cut back a small amount (about 2 mm) at a time. The tapered narrow tip of the nail (if present) will usually not contain any quick. The widest part of the nail should be cut with caution. Look at the cross section of the nail between each cut. The center will turn a fleshy white to gray color when you are getting close to the quick. Stop when you see the white/gray fleshy center. If you are in doubt, stop sooner. You may opt to trim dark nails more frequently, only taking a small amount each time. This will also help longer nail quicks shrink back.

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  • 05 of 06

    Troubleshooting During Dog Nail Trims

    Dog Nail Trims - Picture of a Freshly Trimmed Dog Nail
    Cross-section of a freshly trimmed nail. Cody Mannino

    If you are lucky, your dog's nails will be trimmed like the above photo. But in the real world, things do not always go as planned. If you experience trouble, it will most likely be related to one of the following two issues:

    You Have Cut Into the Quick

    If your dog yelps in pain and the nail begins to bleed, you have cut into the nail quick. This means the blood vessel and nerve within the nail have been severed. Don't panic, this is not an emergency. Grab your styptic powder. If this is not available, use some corn starch or flour from your pantry (it is not as effective but it still helps). Use a cotton ball, tissue or paper towel to wipe away as much blood as possible. Get a pinch of the powder and quickly pack it onto the nail tip. Give your dog a break and reward him before moving on to the other nails. Though cutting into the quick does cause a sharp pain, the pain is not long-lasting and should not affect your dog's ability to walk. Use caution with the remaining nails, only cutting off small amounts at a time. Because the nail quicks grow with the nails, very long nails might also have very long quicks. Over time, you can encourage the quicks to shrink back by trimming a small amount of the nail tips every two weeks for a few months.

    If your dog yelps in pain, but no blood is seen, it is possible that you are very close to the quick. Do not trim this nail back any further. However, some dogs dislike nail trims so much that they will yelp with each cut, even if the quick has not been cut. This is often because they have had their quicks cut before and are anticipation the pain.


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  • 06 of 06

    Your Dog Just Won't Hold Still

    Lumina / Stocksy United

    It's hard to hit a moving target, and you don't want to accidentally cut your dog's nail quick. Some dogs will simply not stay still for nail trims, even with extra people helping. You can try working with your dog to gradually desensitize him to the nail trims. Reward him if he tolerates minimal paw handling, then gradually work your way up to nail trims.

    When You Should Call the Professionals

    If your dog is trying to bite you or is fighting so hard he could injure you or himself, then the nail trim is a job best left to the professionals. Fortunately, most vet offices and groomers charge a minimal fee for basic nail trims. You may be surprised how much better your dog behaves for a couple of strangers! Unfortunately, a small percentage of dogs will struggle too much even for the professionals. In the worst cases, sedation may be needed to trim nails. This is all the more reason to work with your dog or puppy to get him used to handling and nail trims BEFORE it gets that bad.