How To Trim Dog Nails?

By helloBARK!
Updated on 23 June 2023

Do you find cutting your dogs nails to be a traumatic experience?

I’ve got two dogs and my male Klee Kai hates the nail trimming process with a passion.

There’s lots of crying, howling and whining, plenty of wiggling and the overall experience is unpleasant for all parties.

However, we’ve spoken to four experts to get some advice and tips on how to trim your dog’s nails.

So with the introduction over, let’s find out what’s the best way to trim your dog’s nails.

It doesn’t need to be difficult

Josh Snead, CEO Of Rainwalk Pet Insurance

Trimming dog nails isn’t as difficult as one might think. In fact, it’s a lot easier than trimming a cat’s nails because cats get a little protective of their nails. Dogs, however, will let you trim their nails as long as you’re careful. They might be curious, but they’re completely docile during the process. If you buy dog nail trimmers from the store, that’s perfect, but it can also be accomplished with just a nail file. It’s best to take a piece from the left side, then the right, and finally the middle. People that try to take one big chunk tend to cut too far down.

Owner cuts dog's nail (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Owner cuts dog’s nail (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Have the proper equipment

Ellen Russell, DVM And Founder Of The Malamute Mom

If you’re not familiar with how to trim your dog’s nails, the process can seem a bit daunting. However, it is not as complicated as it may appear.

Before beginning, make sure you have the proper equipment, including appropriately sized nail clippers for dogs and styptic powder to stop any bleeding in case you cut the nail too short. Human nail clippers are not appropriate for dogs. Larger dogs require bigger nail clippers, whereas small dog or cat nail clippers can be used for littler breeds. A commonly used and effective styptic powder is Kwik stop. To begin, gently hold your dog’s paw and apply pressure to the nail, exposing the quick (the pink area in the middle and the inside of the nail). The quick contains a blood vessel and a nerve, so if you hit it with the clippers, it will bleed and cause your dog pain. If you can’t see the quick, looking at the underside of your dog’s nails may help.

Black nails are much harder to trim because the quick is not easily visible. Place the clipper at a 45-degree angle and clip off the tip of the nail. Be sure to only take small amounts off and to avoid the quick. After trimming each nail, check for any bleeding and use styptic powder to stop it if necessary. You can also use an emery board or file to smooth out any rough edges if your dog allows it.

Remember to stay as calm and gentle as possible throughout the nail clipping process, so your dog doesn’t become anxious or scared. Reward them with a treat or special toy afterward to show them that they did a good job and provide positive reinforcement. Many dogs do not like having their feet touched and become extremely stressed with nail trims. Never use force, such as laying on your dog to hold them still to trim their nails. This will only create heightened anxiety and fear around nail trims in the future.

If your dog is stressed by nail trims, discuss options with your veterinarian. If you feel like you can’t do this yourself, your veterinarian or a professional groomer can trim your dog’s nails for you. It is much better and safer to have someone experienced to handle the task than to cause your pup stress or discomfort.

Nail grinder (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Nail grinder (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Consider a nail grinder

Leena Chitnis, Founder And CEO of Timberdog

I personally don’t like nail clippers for dogs. While they may be faster to use, it is easy to take off too much of the nail, causing excruciating pain for dogs, especially if they have black nails. Having black nails means the quick will be black as well, and next to impossible to spot, making it easy to cut into. This will set up an immediate negative response and fear association with nail clippers, and I don’t blame dogs who fear getting their nails cut.

I know from experience. I used nail clippers on my dog when she was a puppy, not knowing what damage they could do. Even after reading articles and arming myself with knowledge, I mistakenly cut a nail too short, and unintentionally caused my puppy pain. Never again. I spoke to friends at the dog park and they recommended I use a dremel type nail grinder – i.e., a tool that has rapidly spinning sandpaper to file your dog’s nails down.

Though using such tools takes longer and is messier (with all the nail dust flying in the air), it’s worth it to not cause fear or pain in my dog, and I’m much better able to assess how much length to leave on her nails, as there are safety guards on the tool, as well. The other added benefit is that you can nicely round out the nails, much as one would using a file on human nails.

Though my dog is still not fond of any type of nail trim (the con of using dremels is that they can be loud with their high-pitched whine), I have created a Pavlovian association by pairing nail time with the highest-value treat I’ve got: cheese. I only break out the cheese for anything she’s afraid of (while peanut butter is used to reward less intense situations). I do this by allowing her to smell and inspect the dremel, and immediately giving her a piece of cheese after. Then, after each foot has been trimmed, I give her a small piece of cheese. Finally, after the last set of nails have been filed down, I clap and cheer (she loves this), and give her a large piece of cheese. Doing this has cemented that nail time — though not fun — will be handsomely rewarded.

Trim every 4-6 weeks

Jim Wright At Stryde Vet

Regularly cutting a dog’s nails is crucial for their health and well-being. Although it may seem intimidating, it can be done quickly and easily with the right tools and techniques. It’s important to have dog nail clippers or a Dremel tool and cornstarch or styptic powder on hand in case the quick is accidentally cut – the sensitive area that contains blood vessels and nerves. Trimming your dog’s nails frequently is necessary to prevent discomfort and injury from overgrown nails. The frequency of trimming will depend on your dog’s activity level and nail growth, but typically once every 4-6 weeks is a good rule of thumb. With a little practice, regular nail care can benefit both you and your furry friend.

Pomeranian gets nails trimmed (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Pomeranian gets nails trimmed (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Let’s Recap

Evelyn Townsend, Dog Food Writer At Dogs Info

• Get the right tools: Invest in a good quality pair of dog nail clippers. You can choose from a variety of types including guillotine, scissors, and grinder. Pick the one that works best for you and your dog.

• Choose the right time: Pick a time when your dog is calm and relaxed. Avoid trimming their nails when they are anxious or excited.

• Get your dog comfortable: Let your dog get used to the clippers by letting them sniff and investigate them. You can also gently touch their paws to get them comfortable with handling.

• Find the quick: The quick is the pink part of the nail that contains nerves and blood vessels. Cutting it can cause pain and bleeding. Make sure you can identify the quick before you start trimming.

• Trim the nails: Hold your dog’s paw firmly and cut the nail below the quick at a 45-degree angle. Use the clippers with confidence, but avoid cutting too much at once to prevent hitting the quick. If you accidentally cut the quick, use styptic powder to stop the bleeding.

• Reward your dog: Give your dog a treat and praise after trimming their nails to help them associate nail trimming with positive experiences.

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