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How to Cut your Dog’s Nails

Written by Anna Hollisey


close up of dog paws and claws

Nobody wants to do it. But cutting your dogs’ nails is an important part of their grooming routine. You can keep them trim and healthy using a range of tools, from scissor clippers to grinders. In this article we’ll explain why it’s important, how to choose the right tool, and how to persuade your dog to relax for their manicure. 

Do I Need to Cut My Dog’s Nails?

Some dogs wear down their nails or claws – either because they’re working dogs or because they spend plenty of time walking on hard surfaces.  But if your dog’s nails become too long, they can become uncomfortable and even cause an injury to the foot.  

  • Option 1: You can ask your vet or groomer to trim your dog’s nails. However, it should be done regularly, which could become expensive… especially at vet rates.
  • Option 2: Time to give it a go yourself?  Many people are afraid of cutting nails because of the risk of cutting into the ‘quick’ – that’s the part which bleeds. Did you know that the quick recedes when you keep the nail trimmed?  We’ll explain how to start cutting your dog’s nails below.  

Nail Trimmer or Grinder?

Trimming your dog’s claws isn’t like cutting human nails. Those things are round and can be very chunky!  You’ll need a specialist dog nail trimmer or grinder. Here are some tips for choosing the best tool for your dog:

  • There are two kinds of nail trimmers – the ones which chop down like guillotines (which are fast for small claws), and the ones which scissor (generally better suited to larger dogs). 
  • A grinder has a rotating, abrasive wheel which grinds down the claw. It doesn’t require as much strength to use as a clipper.
  • If your dog is sensitive to sound, look for a tool which is quiet (note that low-vibration grinders are available). 
  • An older dog, with hardened nails, may need a different tool than a puppy. Ask at your pet store for advice or seek out a tool which has different attachments.

Where is the Quick on My Dog’s Nails?

Before bringing out the nail clippers, familiarize yourself with your dog’s paws and claws. Prepare your dog by gently squeezing each toe, which will push the claw outwards.

The ‘quick’ – the living part of the nail – contains nerves and blood vessels, so you need to avoid it while cutting. It tends to be pink, and usually visible on light-colored claws. If your dog’s claws are dark, you can see the quick by looking underneath – there may be a ridge where the cuticle begins. Shining a torch-light onto the claw can help too.

 If you accidentally cut the quick when you’re trimming nails, styptic powder can be applied to stem the blood flow. Afterwards, try to keep the claw clean, since it will be more prone to infections. 

Training Your Dog for Handling

We’ve talked about this before on the blog.  Training our dogs to be groomed, lifted or handled is a great idea, and it’s not difficult!

In principle, you’ll be gently touching your dog’s teeth or paws, or showing them a brush – while feeding them treats and giving them praise. Start small and build up to a happy place where your dog lets you brush his chest or squeeze his paws. Let your dog learn to trust you and the tools.

In the case of nail trimming, it’s a good idea to switch on the grinder and even hold it near your pup’s paw so that they have no negative associations with it. You can let your pup sniff it and see what the vibrations are like. Keep rewarding them. Eventually, you can move on to cutting the very edge of one claw. Even if you clip one claw per day, a happy pup is worth the gradual pace!

Nail Problems to Watch Out For

While you’re cutting your dog’s nails, look out for signs of discomfort or infection. Nail disorders are usually simple to treat. Consult your vet if your dog has:

  • Inflammation around the claw
  • Swollen tissues around the nails
  • Unusual nail plates
  • Strange nail color.

If it affects just one nail, it’s likely to be a simple problem such as trauma or infection – but if several nails are showing the same symptoms, there could be a more serious cause. Some underlying conditions – such as immune disorders, Neoplasia and cancer – can cause nail symptoms. 

So even though it’s just a claw, it’s important to take your dog to the vet, who will scrape some skin and check the sample for bacteria. Treatments vary from antibiotic medication to removal of the affected nails. Bacterial or fungal infections are treated with topical drugs. 

Cut Your Dog’s Nails in 5 Easy Steps

Before you start, get in a calm frame of mind. Your dog picks up on tiny emotional cues and will instantly know if you’re tense. We’re not saying get a glass of wine but choose a time when you’re both relaxed – maybe right after a long walk. Ready?

  1. Hopefully, you’ve done some acclimatization work with your pup, and they’re not afraid of the sight of the nail clipper. Ask someone to help, if possible, by holding the dog steady. That person should probably be in charge of dispensing treats, too!
  2. Lift one of your dog’s paws and press a toe between finger and thumb so the claw sticks out a bit more. If there’s a lot of fur, you might want to trim it or just push it aside.
  3. Trim a small amount off the claw – using a clipper, cut straight across the end. (If your dog has very large or thick claws you will make several small cuts to obtain the right length.) If using a grinder, apply it to the claw carefully, holding it near the top for optimum control. If this is your dog’s first time, stop now! Time for a treat!
  4. If your dog is relaxed, continue until the claw is trimmed (stopping before the curve and before the quick).
  5. Loads of treats and praise (for you and your dog). Well done… you nailed it.