How to Trim Your Pet's Nails

Happy female vet using nail clipper on a rabbit.
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It can be a hassle to trim an animal's nails, but letting them grow too long can cause pain for your pet. It is best to do nail trims frequently, and just trim the tips off. When cutting a pet's nails, it's important to know the location of the quick and where the cut should be made. If you are concerned about trimming the nails correctly, get a professional at the veterinarian's office or at the groomer to show you how to do it the first time.

Finding the Quick

It's not hard to spot the quick when the nail is light in color, but it's educated guesswork when the nail is black. It is usually possible to estimate where it is safe to cut based on the shape of the nail, especially with practice.

The tip of the nail is usually quite narrow and may almost appear hollow when viewed from the bottom. If your pet has any lighter colored nails, those can be used as a guide to judge how to cut the others. Otherwise, it is often wise to get a professional or another experienced pet owner to demonstrate a nail trim, and then regularly do them at home.

Trimming the Nails

Painlessly trimming a pet's nails can be done in three simple steps.

  1. Grasp the animal's paw gently but with a firm hold.
  2. Trim the tips of the nail, cutting at a 45-degree angle, taking off a little bit of nail at a time.
  3. Stop when you see white inside the nail with just a bit of black in the center.

Tips for Painless Trimming

  • Use the right tool. Human nail clippers can be used on small animals but are sometimes feel awkward. The best bet for small animals are nail scissors made for animals, which are available in different sizes, and look like stubby scissors with a notch in the blade. Larger trimmers or guillotine-type clippers can be used on larger animals.
  • Make sure the animal is restrained well, getting help if necessary. Wrapping squirmy pets in a towel and just taking one leg out at a time often works well.
  • The more often you do nail trims, the better. Frequent nail trims let both you and your pet get used to doing them, and what seems awkward to you in the beginning will become routine. It is easier to do frequent trims where just the tip of the nail is trimmed off than try to cut overgrown nails back.

When Accidents Happen

No matter how careful you are, you will likely accidentally hit a nail quick and cause some bleeding at some point. Don't panic—apply a styptic powder, which stings but is highly effective. Take a pinch of powder and press onto the tip of the affected nail after wiping away the blood.

Cornstarch or flour can also be used in a similar manner, or you can press the affected nail into a bar of mild soap. For minor problems, simply applying pressure to the tip of the nail may be effective to stem the bleeding. No matter which method you use, make sure the bleeding has stopped before placing the animal back in its cage or leaving the animal unattended.

While nail trims sometimes seem very daunting, especially on a nervous and jumpy pet, doing nail trims is really not difficult and will become much easier if they are done regularly as part of your pets' maintenance.