If you’ve ever heard that annoying clickety-clack of your dog’s overgrown nails as he walks around the house, then maybe you’ve considered trying to cut your dog’s nails yourself. Learn how to cut dog nails safely at home and save yourself a few bucks every month. If you are new to this grooming process, then it may have you feeling a little nervous. How short should you cut? What if they have black nails? Got an extra-squirmy dog? Any of these reasons, and more, can have you feeling stressed about cutting your dog’s nails.
With the right tools and steps, you can learn to cut your dog’s nails safely at home, but before you start trimming, take a look at the benefits of keeping your dog’s nails trimmed and healthy.
5 Benefits of Trimming Your Dog’s Nails
If you’ve ever had an ingrown toenail or a hangnail, then you should be acutely aware of how uncomfortable or painful unhealthy nails can be. Your dog is no different, and regular maintenance of their nails can help keep them healthy, mobile, and pain-free.
Every dog is different, and their breed, diet and gait will affect the quality and health of their nails. Most dogs need some routine maintenance, while others require trims less often. It’s a good habit to check your dog’s nails regularly so that you can catch changes or damage early.
Wondering why nail care is so important? Here are a few benefits of keeping your pet’s nails trimmed and healthy:
1. No more clicking
The first sign that your dog's nails are too long is that annoying clickety-clack as they skip across your floor. If you are tired of hearing your dog tap dance around your house, then regular nail trims are the solution.
2. Protect Your House
In addition to the noise, long dog nails can do some serious damage to your house. Expensive hardwood can get quickly scratched up, couches torn, and carpets shredded. This can be a nuisance for anyone, but for renters, this can be costly to fix.
3. Don’t Get Clawed Again
Playtime with your dog is a great way to bond, but getting clawed by your dog’s talons can put a damper on the fun. Short nails mean no more claw marks running down your leg, which means that playtime, cuddles, and grooming is safer for everyone.
4. Safer scratching
Have you ever seen your dog stop, drop their bum to the ground and fling their back leg up to violently scratch that insatiable itch behind their ear? Or worse, when they use their dew claw to rub or scratch their face? Long nails can lead to your dog accidentally hurting himself.
5. Better gait
Dogs with extremely long nails may run into mobility problems. When their nails touch the ground, each step will push up on the nail causing pain and could result in your dog having long-term mobility problems. If the nails are bad enough, they may discourage your dog from walking as much.
Are Your Dogs Nails Too Long?
Though you may be trying to keep your dog’s nails trimmed because of how annoying they can be, in reality, regular dog nail trims are more about their health and safety than how nice they look.
If your dog’s nails get long, you’ll be able to hear it, but you may not realize that the longer they grow, the more painful or dangerous those talons can get. Overgrown dog nails can be a hazard to you and your house, but the most serious danger is to themselves.
Check out some of the most common dangers of overgrown dog nails:
- Nails can get caught on fabric, carpet, decks, fences, etc.
- Nails can crack, chip, or break painfully
- Dogs can scratch themselves and cause injury with long or sharp nails
- In extreme cases, the nail can grow so long that it curls back into the pad
- Overgrown nails can limit mobility and cause hip and joint pain
The good news is that regularly checking your dog’s paws will help you stay on top of his or her nail health and prevent the nails from ever getting this bad.
Best Dog Nail Clippers
When it comes to learning to confidently trim your dog's nails at home, having the right tools and equipment is key. If you are trying to work with a clunky or overly complicated product, you are going to be even more nervous going into this process.
The type of clippers you choose will depend on you and your dog. Someone with giant hands trying to use tiny clippers is silly, and it’s going to make it that much harder to make accurate and safe cuts.
The same goes for the size of your dog and his nails. Small and toy breed dogs tend to have very small and thin nails, so you won’t need a lot of power to trim them. Big dogs on the other hand usually have thick, dense nails, so you’ll need a set of clippers that can easily cut through those monsters without requiring too much force.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the 3 types of dog nail trimmers and how to use them:
Scissor Style Clippers
This style is definitely the most intuitive type of dog nail clipper. They come in various shapes and sizes to best suit you and your dog, and tend to make the cleanest cuts. The scissor-style is pretty versatile and easy to position at whatever angle you need to be able to see your dog’s nails. Check out Baxter & Bella Dog Nail Clippers, which are ergonomically curved to suit the natural curve in your dog's nail.
Quality matter when it comes to clippers, so remember that you get what you pay for. Cheaper clippers may not use as high-quality materials as others and can easily dull over time, giving you a less accurate and messy cut. Still to high-quality clippers, like Furminator Dog Nail Clippers for clean cuts no matter how thick your dog's nails are.
Some clippers, also have a guard to help hold the nail in place while you are cutting, but keep in mind that this does not indicate how much of your dog’s nail that you should cut. If your dog’s nails are overgrown, then chances are if you cut with the guard will end up clipping the quick.
You are likely going to be cutting off just the tips of the nails to start, and the guard can actually get in the way, so make sure you find a pair of nail clippers with a removable guard.
For small dog nails, or trims and touch-ups, we recommend having a small set of nail scissors, like Baxter & Bella Nail Scissors, to keep edges and corners dull and smooth.
Guillotine Style Clippers
Some pet owners prefer the guillotine style clippers because it completely surrounds the nails, and is curved on top to follow the curve of the nail. This can make it easier to get a good grip on the nail and line up the cut with more confidence.
Just like scissor-style clippers, guillotine clippers need to be high quality to give a nice clean cut. A dull or poor-quality blade will not cut as easily and could have a crushing effect on the nail as it cuts.
The edges of the nail may splinter or fray as the pressure from the dull blade cuts the nail. This can be uncomfortable for your dog, but mostly just leaves alarmingly sharp edges that will need to be trimmed to be safe for both them and you.
Baxter & Bella Guillotine Dog Nail Clippers are a nice lightweight option that is well suited for small to large breeds.
One last tip for guillotine clippers is that they are direction-specific, meaning that how you hold the clippers is important. Unlike scissor clippers that move from both sides, the guillotine clipper has one handle that moves, and another that is stationary.
To get accurate cuts, it’s important to hold the stationary handle against your palm. If you are holding the moving handle against your palm, you could end up cutting off more than you intended when the head of the clippers moves.
If the idea of cutting the nail feels stressful, then you may want to consider a nail grinder. Grinders, like the JW Pet Nail Grinder, allow you to slowly take off small layers of the nail more evenly. While they aren’t foolproof, it may be easier to avoid hitting the quick and will leave a smoother surface.
Grinders, like the Furminator Nail Grinder, can also be used to complement regular clippers, allowing you to smooth edges and file corners after the nails have been cut.
The downside, of course, is that grinders are noisy, so it will take some practice to get your dog used to the sound and vibration of the grinder. Especially timid dogs who typically react to sound may panic at the noise.
Another thing to consider is that the grinder will need the band replaced as it starts to lose its roughness. It’s basically a small cylinder of sandpaper, so it will need to be replaced as needed.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Human Nail Clippers on Your Dogs Nails
For small dogs (and cats), you may think that their nails are so small and thin that you could just use your own nail clippers to trim the pointed ends. Don’t.
Even if the small nail fits between the blades, human clippers are designed to clip flat surfaces and usually aren’t that sharp. This will lead to the nail splitting from the pressure and giving you an uneven cut.
Even if the cut looks fine, the damage to the nail could lead to the edges of the nail cracking or splitting as they walk. Stick to pet-specific products to ensure that your pet’s nails stay healthy.
How to Cut Your Dog's Nails in 5 Steps
If you’ve never clipped your dog’s nails before then it may seem daunting. Fortunately, it’s really not that hard if you have the right tools and tips for success.
It takes practice and patience, especially if your dog is more nervous than you are, but with the right tips, you can at least learn to do some basic nail maintenance at home. To get you started, here are some step-by-step instructions for clipping your dog’s nails.
1. Position Yourself and Your Dog
Finding the right position for you and your dog is important, and will depend on the size of your dog. Small dogs can fit on your lap, while bigger dogs do better sitting or laying on the ground.
2. Hold Your Dog’s Paw
Gently lift your dog’s paw. Ideally, you should start by asking for a paw and letting them lift their own paw. From here, you can proceed based on the size of your dog.
For small dogs, you can place your palm, between your thumb and forefinger, behind your dog’s elbow, with your fingers gently resting down the length of their arm. This will prevent them from pulling their arm back without having to apply pressure or squeeze their paw.
Bigger dogs have longer legs, so you are better off gently holding their paw from the front or side so that you can turn or angle their paw for the right cut.
3. Separate the Individual Toe
Use your fingers to separate one toe at a time. This will secure the nail and push it past any fur that might get in the way of the cut. Squirmy dogs may be hesitant at this part, so take your time and treat your pooch to ease his nerves.
4. Follow the Natural Curve of the Nail
Dog nails curve with their paw pad as they grow, so think about how the nail touches the ground when your dog walks. You should cut at the same angle as the curve to prevent discomfort when your dog walks.
5. Make Small Cuts
No matter how long or short the nails are, make small cuts, starting at the tip, and working your back. You can make multiple cuts if needed, and each cut can help you get comfortable with identifying the quick and stopping before you get too close.
When we say small cuts, we mean small. Start by cutting just a millimetre at a time. You can cut in the center, and then make separate small cuts at the sides and tops to ensure that you are cutting around the quick and not through it.
Are you more of a visual learner? Us too! Here is a helpful instructional video to give you a visual aid to cutting your dog’s nails.
How Short To Cut Dog Nails
Short nails are ideal, but there is a limit to how far you can safely cut your dog’s claws. Inside the nail is a small vein, called the quick, that grows with the nail. If that vein is clipped, it will bleed and be painful.
Imagine how uncomfortable it is to clip your nails too short. If you cut your dog’s quick, though it’s not a serious injury, it will likely make her scared of the process next time you try it.
The vein grows with the nail, but can also slowly recede with it too. Small but frequent cuts can allow the quick to slowly recede towards the nail bed, and you will be able to cut the nails back shorter and shorter over time.
Helping the quick recede takes a lot of time though, so don’t expect immediate progress. A very overgrown quick will take months and months of consistent nail trimmings to move back far enough to make a difference.
How to Stop a Dog's Nail From Bleeding
Accidents happen, and even though you never intend to cut your dog’s quick, you need to be prepared for the fact that you might.
The trick with this small vein in your dog’s toenail is that it doesn’t clot very well on its own. Unlike other minor skin abrasions, it could bleed more than you’d think it would. Fortunately, it’s easy to treat a clipped quick and stop the bleeding.
Don’t Freak Out
Your dog will react if you catch the quick because it will feel like a sharp pinch, but just like when a child falls and scrapes their knee, your panic will cause them to panic more too. Stay calm and reassure your dog both verbally and physically that they are not in trouble.
Use your thumb flat against the end of the nail and apply gentle pressure to slow the bleeding. Your dog may be extra squirmy at this point, but try to hold pressure to slow the bleeding.
Sometimes the quick is just nicked and the blood will be just a drop, while deeper cuts will cause your dog to drip blood consistently. It's not going to spatter or spray, but if you let your dog go, he may leave a trail wherever he walks.
Use a Blood-Clotting Agent
Because the quick won’t clot on its own, you can use a clotting agent, also called styptic powder, to clot the bleed quickly. These products also have the bonus of being an antiseptic, so that any bacteria that is present will be killed and the wound will heal quickly.
The powder can be packed onto the nail tip and pressed down with your finger. Hold your finger on the cut for at least 30 seconds to ensure that the blood has clotted.
Take a Breather
That was likely a stressful experience for both you and your dog, so it’s time to take a break before you cut the rest of your dog’s nails. Give your dog some treats and some love to reassure them, and wait until you are both relaxed before trying again.
7 Dog Nail Cutting Tips
No matter how many videos and tutorials you see, keeping yourself and your dog calm can still be a challenge. Before you start cutting, take a look at a few ways that you can help make the nail cutting experience a little easier.
1. Safety First
Before you get started, make sure you have the right tools to keep you and your pet safe. If your dog is reactive and fearful of the process, a basket muzzle can be a very useful tool to prevent your dog from nipping you out of fear or from getting its nose, tongue, or whiskers in the way of your cuts.
2. Wait for the Right Time
Timing is everything. Whether your dog is comfortable with nails trimmings or not, it’s always best to try trimming your dog’s nails when they are feeling relaxed. The more energetic they are, the harder it will be to get them to sit still for their mani-pedi.
Stick to times when your dog would normally be sitting calmly with a toy, or maybe cuddling with you on the couch.
It’s important that you are relaxed too. Your dog will sense if you are nervous, so make sure you are not trying to rush this process. You'll want to leave time after the nail trim to spend some time playing with or cuddling with your dog to reassure them.
3. Practice Touching Paws
Most dogs that are nervous about their nail trim are usually just not used to having their paws touched and fussed with. The more you acclimate them to having their feet touched, the more trusting they will be when it’s time to pull out the nail clippers.
Next time you are sitting calmly with your dog, take the opportunity to gently massage their feet. Start with short strokes down their leg and top of their paw, and then work up to lifting their leg and massaging their paw pads, touching their nails, and moving their foot into different positions.
If your dog is hesitant, you can reassure him by offering small but high-value rewards, like ValuePack Beef Liver Lovers. This will help ease tension and your dog will begin to associate the reward with the action.
Forcefully grabbing the paw can be alarming, so start by practicing tricks like shake or high five. You want your dog to be comfortable giving you their paw.
4. Inspect the Nails
Take this opportunity to take a good look at the nails. Take note of any possible issues, like cracks, flakes, or overgrowth. If your dog shows any signs of pain or discomfort while you are checking their paws, it might indicate there is a bigger issue that you should address with your vet.
Get into this habit on a regular basis by including it in your normal grooming routines. This will ensure issues don’t go unnoticed.
5. Introduce the Clippers
Even the most relaxed dogs can get nervous when you bring out the nail trimming gear. It’s important to properly introduce the tools you are using to your pet to help relieve any nervousness or fear.
Have plenty of treats handy for this, because you want them to associate the clippers with a tasty snack that your dog loves. The best way to do this is using a method of constant rewards.
Grab a good amount of very small, but tasty treats. Start offering your dog these treats, one at a time, from one hand, while holding the clippers in the other. Make sure your dog can see the clippers. Move your treat hand closer to the clippers, still constantly treating.
Your goal is to get your dog to sniff or even touch the clippers. With practice, you should be able to hold your dog’s paw and the clippers together.
If you need both hands, a great option to constantly reward hands-free is a lick mat, like the Sodapup Lick Mat. Smear some dog-safe peanut butter on the mat and your dog can lick away the treat while you have both hands free to practice holding your dog’s paw and slowly approaching them with the clippers.
6. Take Breaks
The process can be intimidating for both you and your pet, so if either of you are getting worked up, then stop clipping and take a break. Even if you’ve only done a few nails, a break will allow you both to calm down and start fresh when you are ready.
For your first few times, you may have to settle for just doing one paw at a time. This may be all your dog can handle, so don't try to push them too far.
7. Don’t Forget the Dew Claws
Not every dog has dewclaws, but for those that do, they are often the longest and sharpest of all of their nails. This is because dewclaws don’t naturally grind or file down when your dog walks.
For very active dogs that do a lot of running or playing, the nails that touch the ground may stay trim all on their own, but the dewclaws will continue to grow because they never touch the ground.
Trimming the dewclaws can be a bit more challenging than the other nails because they are angled differently and on a part of your dog’s leg that is less able to twist or bend so that you can get a good look at the nail.
This may mean that you’ll need to adjust yourself or your dog to a position that allows you to see the curve in the nail better. Take some time to practice and always start with small cuts to avoid hitting the quick.
How to Cut Black Dog Nails
Cutting white dog nails is hard enough, but what about dogs with dark or black nails where you can’t see that pink quick inside. Are you just guessing? Seems crazy, right?
Well, the truth is, you are kind of guessing, but you’ll get better at it the more you do it. Your dog is unique, so learning where your dog’s quick is takes practice. There are two tricks that you can use to help avoid the quick in dogs with black nails.
Check the Underside of the Nail
Look at the bottom of the nail. The underside of the nail is a lot more telling than the top. In most cases, you will see a concave tip, and the closer you get to the nail bed, you will see the nail fill in. This is where the quick is hiding.
Start by cutting the hollow part of the nail. This might be a good place to stop for your first several nail trims. It might be just the tip, but it will help you practice and get your dog used to the process.
Check the Tip
After each small cut, look at the tip of the nail head-on. If you see a whitish center in the middle of the nail, then you know you aren’t nearing the quick and can make another small cut.
When that center starts to darken, you are getting closer to the quick and should stop cutting.
For dogs that have some white nails and some black, you can use this to gauge. Trim the white nails first. You can see the quick, and this will give you an idea of how much of the nail you were safely able to trim.
Keep in mind that each of your dog's nails may touch the ground and naturally file down differently, so you can get a rough idea of where the quick is by looking at the lighter coloured nails, but the amount you cut off will depend on how long the nail was to begin with.
These tricks aren’t foolproof, but they can help you get comfortable with trimming black dog nails. When you see signs that you are getting close to the quick, we recommend stopping there.
Even if the nails could be trimmed a little more, you are better off stopping before you risk cutting the quick. You want the first few nail trims to be as gentle and relaxed as possible.
If you accidentally clip the quick on your first try you may leave your dog less than enthusiastic about trying again. So take baby steps at first to avoid this unfortunate circumstance.
How to Cut an Uncooperative Dogs Nails
No matter how good your technique, some dogs are just not willing to sit still for a nail trim. A squirmy or panicky dog makes a nail trim challenging and potentially dangerous, so we put together a few tips to help you manage your uncooperative pooch.
When it comes to handling a scary or stressful situation, sometimes a good distraction is all your dog needs. Distracting your dog with a chew toy, a long-lasting dog chew, or a lick mat can keep your dog occupied while you get the job done.
Extra Set of Hands
In many cases of uncooperative dogs, it might seem like you need more than two hands to trim their nails. Having a partner to help hold and comfort your dog can make all the difference.
To keep your dog from trying to wiggle free, the burrito method might be just what you need. Ideal for small dogs, this method involves swaddling your pooch in a towel or blanket to keep them comfortable and still. Make sure your dog is wrapped snugly, but not too tight.
Then you can uncover one paw at a time, leaving the rest of their feet safely tucked away. This is ideal if you don’t have any help holding or comforting your dog.
When handling a dog that is extremely nervous, you need to be prepared for any possible reactions, like growling, biting, or erratic movements. Training tools like a muzzle can be handy when you are dealing with a fearful pooch.
If you have tried all the tricks and tools and your dog is just too upset to safely trim their nails, then contact your local vet or groomer. Sometimes the skills of a trained professional are needed to get the job done.
In between trimmings, you can practice getting your dog comfortable with you touching their paws, introducing the trimmers, or even just filing the tips and edges of the nails manually. Hopefully, with time, your dog will learn to trust you enough to start trimming them yourself.
Dog Nail Health Tips
If you are noticing your dog’s nails are rough, cracked, or flaky, then there may be some underlying factors in your dog’s nail health. Your dog’s overall body health contributes to how healthy or unhealthy their nails are.
Here are a few tips for keeping your dog’s nail healthy:
Keep Your Dog Hydrated
Most dogs don’t get enough water, especially those eating a dry diet. Increasing the amount of moisture in your dog’s meals can help them stay properly hydrated. This improves digestion and nutrient absorption, which helps your dog’s nails, skin, and coat stay healthier. Raw dog food diets are a great option if you want to increase your dog’s moisture intake.
Protect Your Dog’s Paws
If your dog is active, then he probably spends a lot of time outside. Though dogs are tough adventurers, dealing with the elements and environment can have an effect on your dog’s nails. If your dog spends a lot of time running on rough terrain or is exposed to harsh weather, then consider investing in a set of dog boots.
Diet is Everything
Food fuels life, so your dog’s diet will dictate the health of his whole body. If your dog’s nails are unhealthy, then you should take a close look at your dog’s diet to see if they are getting all the nutrients they need.
Dogs naturally file down their nails a bit when they walk on rough surfaces like pavement. If you have a lazy couch potato at home, then your dog’s nails are less likely to be smoothed and filed as he walks.
Are you brave enough to cut your dog's nails at home? Let us know what tips and tricks you’ve used that have helped you get better at trimming your dog’s nails in the comments below!