golden retriever puppy getting nail trim

How to Nail Your Pet’s Nail Trims at Home

Trimming our dog’s nails regularly is a very important part of overall health. It doesn’t have to be an unpleasant, stressful experience, or cost a lot of our money and our time at the vet’s office!

Nail Trims Are Important

First of all, nail trimming is important because long nails can lead to:

  • Broken and painful nails (which can cause infection)
  • Irregular gait
  • Loss of traction
  • Unnecessary stress on hips and joints

So, we can take our dogs to the vet for a medical bill, gas money, and loss of our time and energy, OR we can learn to trim our dog’s nails at home and use the time together as a bonding experience with our pets!

I know you dog parents worry that you may hurt your doggy by trimming his nails at home, or your dog may be stressed out or aggressive during a nail trim. You will have to judge your dog’s temperament, but there are some tricks to making a home nail trim much easier.

The First Step

The first step to a successful nail trim really starts when we bring our new puppy home. We should start to desensitize our puppy to having his feet touched right away. Play with his paws every day for a few minutes. Massage them and push his nails out of his paw to their full extension. Don’t let your puppy tell you “No!” when you do this-we are the ones in control! Pretty soon he won’t mind that we mess with his feet, and he will probably enjoy it and even sleep through it. This can be done with a new dog of any age, of course…it just may take a little more time to unlearn bad habits and reactions to having feet touched if we’re working with an older dog. Be patient and keep massaging those paws until he feels comfortable with it!

Pick a Tool

I prefer scissor-style nail clippers to guillotine clippers. I think they are a faster cut and less likely to break the dog’s nail. You should choose the tool that makes you feel most comfortable.

Grab a Partner

Now, for the first few nail trims, you should have a partner to help you. This partner will help you control any squirming that could lead to bad cuts. You may want to trim only one paw at a time for the first few attempts, and then gradually increase to trimming all of the paws in one sitting. If you are worried that your dog may bite you out of fear, then you may want to put a muzzle on him (I know, I know…but only for a few minutes!) or take him to a professional.

Not Too Deep!

Be sure not to cut down too far on the nail, where you may hit the quick. This will be painful, cause your doggy to yelp and jerk away, and will bleed like crazy. Just in case, keep some quick clotting powder around so you can stop any bleeding quickly.

You will probably end up cutting into the quick at least a few times as you are learning to trim your dog’s nails, but don’t give up. I promise, your dog will be okay, and you will feel worse than he does.

If your dog has clear nails, you should be able to see the blood vessel inside the toe/nail. Don’t trim down far enough to knick it! If your dog has dark nails, you can try backlighting the nail with a flashlight to make the quick appear.

Through regular trims, your dog’s quicks will recede a little, giving you less of a chance to cut them. Some people even use a special dremmel tool to sand their dog’s nails-but again, this method will probably require some desensitization to the noise and vibration of the dremmel.


Cats lose their nails regularly. This is natural and beneficial. Under each claw they shed is a sharper, newer claw. But this does not mean that we can’t trim our cat’s nails as well! These same methods can be used on a cat! Once again, you will need to judge your own cat’s temperament to avoid harm.

Rewards and Treats, Also Known As Distractions

It can also be a good idea to give our dogs a distraction (treat) while we trim his nails, or give him a reward (rawhide, long walk, a game of fetch) for a job well done. That way, our dog associates a nail trim with something he loves! Just don’t let him win the argument if he does not want to have his nails trimmed!

If you remain calm and firm and don’t get upset if your dog seems upset, then things will go more smoothly. You can set the example for your dog and the tone of the whole nail trimming experience!

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