Puppy Pedicure: How to Cut Your Puppy's Nails

Why Nail Care Matters, When to Trim and What Equipment You Need

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Puppy grooming includes clipping dog nails. Active dogs that run outside naturally wear the nails to a manageable length, and may not need frequent trimming. But those that spend much of their time inside require monthly or more frequent nail attention. The toenails of some breeds, like the Chihuahua, seem to grow quickly. Don’t wait until Junior-Pup gets big and turns nail trims into wrestling matches. Teach puppies while small that nail trims are a normal part of life and nothing to fear.

Why Nail Care Matters

Overgrown nails can become caught in bedding and carpets. They may curl as they grow, and embed into the tender flesh of the paw pad. Claws can split or tear as in the picture and need surgical repair that’s pricey and painful. Overgrown nails cause the foot to spread or splay, and can change your puppy’s gait. Dewclaws on the inside of the lower leg need particular attention since they never contact the ground. Keeping the toenails trimmed also helps reduce inappropriate digging that some terrier breeds of puppy adore.

When to Trim

Nails at their longest should just clear the ground when the puppy stands in place. If you hear him "clicking" over the linoleum like a tap-dancer, he needs a trim. Your groomer or veterinarian can trim your dog’s nails at routine visits, but it’s easy enough to do yourself.

Nail Care Equipment

Commercial nail trimmers are scissor-action or guillotine style. For tiny puppies, you can start with human nail clippers, but eventually will need clippers designed to cut the dog's toenails at the proper angle without splitting or crushing the nail. Dremel-type nail grinder products work well for some dogs. They grind off a small amount of the nail at a time and so may take longer to use.

Choose a style that you feel comfortable using. Dog nails may also need to be filed after trimming. Use an emery board or a nail file available from a pet supply store to smooth the edges, and keep them from getting caught in the carpet.

Paw Handling Tips

Many puppies hate having their paws touched. Handle your pup’s feet routinely during play and petting, and reward him with petting and treats when he puts up with it. That helps socialize him to being handled by you and future handling by the vet. Begin simply by touching each paw, one after the other. When the puppy allows this without pulling away, gently hold a paw for five seconds and releasing—again with the reward for tolerance.

Next, hold a paw and touch the nail clipper to a nail—but DON’T trip. Do this several times, and reward him for not struggling or pulling away. Stop before he gets fussy so you leave him with a good memory of the experience.

Clipping a dog's toenails
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How To Clip Toenails

Once he’s used to the idea of you holding a paw and touching the nail, trim just the tip of the nails. All the nails don't have to be done in the same session. Rather than fight the puppy and make him upset by getting them done, trim a single nail every evening for two weeks. It gets the job done without scaring the baby and damaging your relationship.

It's helpful to have two pairs of hands during nail trimming, one to steady the paw while you handle the clippers. A wiggling dog makes it more likely you'll catch the hair in the trimmer (painful!) or "quick" the nails, cut into the living vessels that feed the nail bed and cause them to bleed.

When the nails are white or clear, the pink quick is visible and makes it easy to avoid the danger zone. If your pup’s nails are dark or opaque, clip off only the hook-like tip that turns down. Tipping the nails will prompt the quick to draw back up, so you can trim a little each week until reaching the proper length.

If you do happen to quick a nail, stop. Use a styptic pencil or corn starch and direct pressure to stop the bleeding, or rake the claw through a bar of soap. Give the pup extra attention or treats to show that even if something uncomfortable happens, he’ll get compensated.

After the nail is trimmed, throw a puppy party! Tell him what a good dog he is, and play a favorite game to show how pleased you are. Reserve a special treat that the dog gets only after a successful nail trim, and soon you’ll have your pooch begging for a pedicure.