Trimming Your Pet's Nails

Happy female vet using nail clipper on a rabbit.
BraunS/E+/Getty Images

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 doing them correctly, get a professional (at the veterinarian office or groomers) show you how the first time.

What If My Pet's Nails Are Black and I Can't See the Quick?

Well, the short answer is that is is a matter of educated guesswork. It is usually possible to "guess" 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 other experienced owner to demonstrate a nail trim, and then regularly do them at home. It is best to do nail trims frequently, and just trim the tips off, and they should be fine. Make sure you have something handy to stop bleeding, though, just in case.

Tips

  • Use the right tool. For small animals, human nail clippers can be used, but are sometimes awkward to use on animals. 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. I find these are much easier for visibility when cutting tiny nails. Larger trimmers or guillotine type clippers can be used on larger animals.
  • Make sure the animal is restrained well, and get help if necessary. Wrapping squirmy pets in a towel and just taking one leg out at a time often works well.
  • Have something handy to stop bleeding, just in case (see below).
  • 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, and your pet will learn not to fight them as much. It is easier to do frequent trims where just the tip of the nail is trimmed off than try to cut overgrown nails back (the quick gets longer as the nail gets longer, but the good news is it will regress if regular trims are begun).

    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. Here are some things that will stop the bleeding:

    A commercial product such as Kwik-Stop (a powder) or any styptic powder. These sting but are 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.
    • 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.

    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.