How To Trim Dog Nails: A Step-By-Step Guide

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / January 24, 2018
How To Trim Dog Nails: A Step-By-Step Guide
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Dog Nail Trimming

dog nail trimming

Why and how to trim dog nails??

Veterinarians and professional groomers recommend doing it—but why? First and foremost, not trimming your dog’s nails can become a serious issue for your dog. Having long dog nails is like having a hang nail or extremely long nails that curl or bend. They can be annoying and painful, especially when you bend them the wrong way.

The same goes for dogs. When a dog’s nails scrape against hard surfaces, such as the sidewalk, black top, pavement, or even your kitchen floor, this puts a great deal of pressure on the dog’s toes. As a result, the nail bed can become extremely sore. In severe cases, long nails can cause arthritis in the toes, posture alignment issues, and nerve damage in the foot.

Dogs that are physically active on hard surfaces require less toenail maintenance as they gradually wear their nails down. However, dogs that spend the majority of their time in an apartment or elderly dogs that do not get as much physical activity will likely require more frequent nail care and maintenance.

The alternative is painful!

Furthermore, overgrown nails or neglected nails can end up curving and growing into your dog’s paw pad. Overgrown nails and claws can also easily tear or split. Not only is it painful, but tears in the nail can also cause infection. For example, dew claws (AKA the thumb nail) are more susceptible to this type of breakage. Severe cases of overgrown nails may need to be treated by a veterinarian.

These are just some examples of why trimming your dog’s nails is important. All in all, cutting your dog’s overgrown nails can reduce pain, discomfort, and increase mobility. If you have been neglecting your dog’s long nails due to fear, rest assured that trimming your dog’s nails is easier than what you might think. Read on for a complete and easy step-by-step guide on how to trim dog nails.

The Best Dog Nail Clippers

dog nail trimmer

The best place to start is to ensure that you are using the right set of dog nail clippers. For example, the most common type of nail clippers are the “scissor” style nail trimmers.

Here are some things to keep in mind before purchasing or using dog nail trimmers:

  • “Scissor” dog nail clippers are the best and easiest to use.
  • Small dog nail clippers are best for maintaining control over how long or short you cut your dog’s nails.
  • Large dog nail clippers should be reserved only for giant breeds.
  • Use a nail file after nail clipping to avoid leaving hang nails or jagged edges.
  • Keep your tools sharp and charged (if you use an electric or battery-operated nail grinder).
  • Replace nail grinder bits and tips and sharpen nail clippers regularly.
  • Consider using a Dremel as a dog nail grinder.

Now that you know the best dog nail clippers to use, here is a step-by-step guide on how to trim dog nails:

How to Trim Dog Nails: Step-By-Step Instructions

how to trim your dog's nails step by step

1. Be Prepared

The first step is preparation. This step involves introducing the dog nail clippers to your dog. Show the nail trimmers to your dog. Allow him or her to sniff them and get used to them before trimming nails.

It’s also important for the user to get comfortable using the clippers prior to trimming dog nails. Simply place the tool in your hand and control the movement to see how the clippers work. Take note of where and how the blade slides and moves. This will allow you to see how the tool works so that you get the proper placement and cut.

2. Use Treats

dog treats for trimming dog nails

Be sure to have your dog’s favorite treats nearby. Of course, you want to get the nail cutting process over as quickly—and safely—as possible. However, be sure to remember to give your dog a break. Reward him or her with a treat after trimming a few overgrown nails or finishing one paw. Use the treats to reward your dog for behaving!

3. Get a Grip (Literally)

Pick up one of your dog’s paws carefully. Be sure to have a firm grip on his or her paw. Avoid pressing too tightly as this is often painful for your dog. The more overgrown your dog’s nails are, the more painful they can be.

If your dog has long fur, then you may need to use your thumb to gently push on the pad. By getting the nail to extend, you will be able to see the nail clearly and trim it accurately.

Once your dog is calm, and you have a firm grip on his or her paws, it’s time to grab the nail clippers.

4. Cut This Way, Not That Way 

Yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to trim dog nails. Trimming dog nails isn’t like filing human nails. Humans trim nails from the top, down. However, trimming dog nails is the opposite. Dog nails should be cut from underneath and at a 45-degree angle. Never put the dog’s entire nail in a clipper or cut the entire nail!

Carefully place the opening of the nail clippers over the end of the white nail. It’s important to ONLY cut in the white nail area. The pink area of the nail—also known as the “quick”—is where blood vessels are live. Cutting the pink nail can be incredibly painful and can cause bleeding.

5. Make a Clean Cut

When ready, make a decisive, smooth, and clean cut by gently squeezing on the nail trimmer handle. Remember to hold the nail clipper steady when making a cut.

If after cutting the nail you notice the jagged end of the nail still attached, avoid trying to rip it or pull it off. You can use a nail file, but it will likely fall off on its own. This is especially true if your dog is active.

Get into the habit of trimming your dog’s nails every three to six weeks. However, the level of frequency should depend on his or her activity level.

Dog Nail Grinder

If you are too nervous about manually trimming dog nails, then a nail grinder is a great substitute. A nail grinder is a slower and safer tool for trimming long nails. Designed for adult dogs and puppies, nail grinder can’t accidentally cut the  “quick” of the nail. A disadvantage of using a nail grinder is that many dogs dislike the sound and the sensation. Because a nail grinder takes longer to trim and file nails, most dogs get impatient and will start to squirm!

However, some dog nail grinder tools are better than others. The Dremel is a quiet and safe dog nail grinder that can cut, trim, and file dog nails in a snap.

The Best Dog Nail Grinder

If you prefer to use a dog nail grinder instead of manually trimming dog nails, then here are some things to consider before purchasing and selecting a dog nail grinder.

Speed and Power

Of course you want to select a dog nail grinder that is quiet, gentle, and easy to use. However, you also want to choose a dog nail grinder with the right amount of speed and power to effectively trim dog nails.

Dog nail grinders that are too slow are often underpowered. As a result, they cannot effectively cut or trim dog nails. On the other hand, dog nail grinders that are too powerful may scare your puppy. They may also heat the nail up too quickly, which can be painful.

Noise Level

Many dog nail grinders are effective in trimming and filing dog nails. However, the noise level may differ. Loud dog nail grinders may frighten or scare your dog or puppy. Therefore, avoid choosing a dog nail grinder that has a loud, high-pitched, or annoying sound.

Manageability

You want to make sure you select a dog nail grinder that is easy on your dog—and your ears. It’s also important to select a tool that you can handle comfortably and easily.

Remember, dog nail grinding and filing is more time-consuming than manually trimming dog nails. So, it’s important to choose a dog nail grinder tool that sits comfortably in your hand.

Flexibility

Many dog nail grinders are equipped with a long cord that plugs into the wall. This is great, however, there are also cordless dog nail grinder options available. A cordless grinder will provide you with the right amount of flexibility to file around your dog’s nails. Avoid getting wrapped up in or caught on a cord by choosing a cordless grinder!

Easy to Use

Choose a dog nail grinder that is easy to use and handle when filing and trimming dog nails. It is also a good idea to choose one that is easy to assemble and change grinding bits and batteries.

How to Dremel Dog Nails

The Dremel 7300-PT is one of the best dog nail grinder tools available. It is designed for easy handling and maneuvering around a nervous dog’s nails. It is also cordless, quiet, and ensures a gentle yet effective touch that is tolerable for most dogs. The Dremel comes with two different speeds and some grinding bits. Once the grinding bits wear out, they will need to be replaced.

If you are convinced that the Dremel tool for trimming dog nails is the best option for you, then here are some tips on how to Dremel dog nails correctly.

  1. Play With Speeds. The Dremel tool comes with two speeds: low and high. The low speed is quiet yet still powerful enough to trim dog nails. Simply flip the switch to control the speeds or even bounce between speeds while in use. To change speeds, all you have to do is flip the switch in opposite direction. It is designed this way to prevent the user from accidentally switching speeds and potentially scaring or hurting the dog.
  2. Grinding Bits and Tips. Upon purchase, the Dremel tool comes with multiple grinding bits. However, these grinding bits are standard bits to get you started with using the Dremel. Therefore, they aren’t the best bits for long term use. The Dremel offers replaceable grinding bits that are stronger and designed to last longer.
  3. Recharge After Use. After using the Dremel tool to trim dog nails, don’t forget to recharge the batteries. Ensuring that your Dremel always has a full charge will prevent the tool from losing energy while in use. Keeping a full charge will provide the Dremel with sufficient power to cut through nails. Most dog owners are often surprised at how well the Dremel tool works, even at low speeds.

Dog Nail Trimming Benefits

Now that you understand more about how to trim dog nails the right way and why trimming dog nails is important, here are more dog nail trimming benefits that you should know. We now know that long toenails can be incredibly painful for your pup. Regular toenail maintenance is more for functionality, mobility, and safe than cosmetic. Any professional groomer or vet will also emphasize the importance of dog nail trimming and the benefits to prevent pain, discomfort, and damage.

Long or overgrown dog toenails can quickly deteriorate the health and comfort of your dog’s feet and paws. In severe cases, long and overgrown nails can cause feet to become deformed, decrease the dog’s mobility, and even cause damage to the nerves or tendons if left untreated for a long period of time.

If you want your dog to avoid a world of pain and discomfort, take the time to trim your pup’s nails!

Dog Nail Trimming Precautions

As mentioned above, the quick is the “living” part of the toe nail. This means that living blood vessels run to and from the toe nail. So, if this part is accidentally clipped, not only can be incredibly painful for the dog, but it can also cause bleeding or even an infection.

Depending on the color of your dog’s skin or fur, it can be difficult to make out the different parts of your dog’s nails. For example, if your dog has dark nails, then it can be difficult to determine where the quick is when compared with white nails. All in all, avoiding the quick is the most important thing to keep in mind when trimming dog nails.

The “dead” area of the nail is the part of the nail that needs to be trimmed. Upon close inspection, the “dead” area of the nail has a slight white color. Start by trimming the white part of the nails. Stop when you get close to the dark portion AKA the quick. If your dog has white nails, the cut surface will start to appear pink right before you reach the quick. If your dog has dark nails, the cut surface will turn black right before your reach the quick.

Another way to ensure that you are trimming dog’s nails correctly is by paying close attention to the shape of the nails. The underside of the dog’s nail should form a triangle area. It is safe to assume that there is no quick at the very tip of the nail, which means it is safe to cut.

If after the attempting these methods you are still unsure of where to trim your dog’s nails, you can carefully apply firm pressure to where you think you need to trim the nail. If your dog jumps or reacts to the pressure, then this is likely where the live quick is present. So, move the nail clippers down closer to the tip and repeat until you find the “sweet spot” to trim dog nails.

What to Do If You Cut Dog Nails Too Short

styptic pencil

If you accidentally trim the dog’s nails too short or cut the quick, don’t fret—but be ready to take immediate action. Here are some steps to take to treat your dog if you have cut his or her nails too short and they’re bleeding:

1. Use Styptic Powder

Styptic powder is the most common type of powder used by many professional groomers and vets to help stop bleeding from cutting nails, minor cuts, scratches, and nicks. The reason why styptic powder is such a common treatment method is because not only is it a quick way to stop bleeding, but it also works as an antiseptic, making it safe to use. It also contains Benzocaine, a minor anesthetic, to reduce pain. Apply Styptic powder to your dog’s paw and toenails with a little bit of pressure to help stop bleeding.

2. Styptic Pencil

In addition to using styptic powder, you can also use a styptic pencil to apply the right amount of styptic powder to a bleeding nail, cut, or scratch. Styptic pencils can be purchased online and in most pet stores and are relatively inexpensive.

Although styptic pencils work just as well as styptic powder, be forewarned. Styptic pencils also contain silver nitrate which can cause a painful, stinging sensation. This might not be the best solution if your dog is already nervous about having his or her paws touched.

3. Corn Starch

Corn starch powder is a natural home remedy that can help stop bleeding from cutting nails. Sprinkle some corn starch powder on a tissue and hold it against the end of the nail for a few minutes to allow the blood to clot. You can also add some water to the corn starch to make a paste, which may be easier to apply to your dog’s paw. Shaking some corn starch powder in the palm of your hand and placing your dog’s paw into the powder works as well.

4. Bar of Soap

If you don’t have any corn starch or styptic powder in your home, use a bar of soap! Gently but firmly apply the bar of soap to the dog’s toe nail or paw and hold it there for a few minutes to allow the blood to clot. If possible, try to use a fragrance free soap.

4. Use a Band Aid

It might seem silly, but if none of the other options work or you do not have any of the above supplies on hand, then simply use a band aid or a bandage to try to stop the bleeding. Ensure that the injured nail is properly covered so your dog doesn’t try to lick or bite it off when you aren’t looking. This could cause the wound to tear and cause more bleeding.

Try to tape the band aid or bandage in place around the toe nail. Make sure that it isn’t too tight to avoid cutting off the dog’s circulation. Although this method is a bit of a challenge, remember that it is only a temporary solution until you can get your dog to the vet. Regardless of whether or not you successfully get the bleeding to stop, call your vet as soon as possible for next steps. Your vet may want to exam the dog’s paw to determine the damage—if any.

Trimming Dog Nails is a Good Idea

good idea to trim dog nails

In summary, trimming dog nails is an incredibly important part of regular dog grooming as well as his or her overall health and safety. So, getting into the habit of trimming your dog’s nails on a regular basis—typically every three to six weeks, depending on your dog’s activity levels—is a good idea. Nail cutting can be easy with the right steps, the right tools, and just a little patience.

 Did you know that apple cider vinegar offers your pup major health benefits? Click here to find out why!

About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for Honestpaws.com.


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