Trimming our dog’s nails regularly is a very important part of overall health. It doesn’t need to be an unpleasant, stressful experience or require a trip to the vet or groomer! You should trim your dog’s nails as often as necessary to keep their nails from touching the ground when standing. For most dogs, this is around every 3-4 weeks.
Nail Trims Are Important
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 – Paws
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. You can desensitize your new dog of any age … it just may require a little more time to unlearn bad habits and reactions to contact with their paws. If we’re working with an older dog, be patient and keep massaging those paws until she feels comfortable with it! Shake is a great trick to teach so your dog associates rewards with giving you their paws.
The Second Step – Pick a Nail Trimmer
I prefer scissor-style nail clippers (pictured above) to guillotine clippers. I think the scissor styles are a faster cut and less likely to break the dog’s nail. Nail files are also options but take a little more time. I use the nail file to smooth over my dog’s nail after I have trimmed away the excess length. Some people even use a special dremmel tool to sand their dog’s nails, but again, this method requires some desensitization to the noise and vibration of the dremmel. You should choose the tool that makes you feel most comfortable with your dog. Shop all of our Nail Care tools here!
The Third Step – Grab a Partner & Rewards
Now, for the first few nail trims, you should have a partner to help you with your dog. This partner will help you control any squirming that could lead to bad cuts and distract your dog. You may want to trim only one nail at a time for the first few attempts, and then gradually increase to trimming one paw and then all of the paws in one sitting.
Using small training treats or kibble as a reward after each successful trim has worked well for me. Now, I trim one nail and my dog looks to me for a treat before giving me her paw. It can also be a good idea to give our dogs a give her a reward (rawhide, long walk, a game of fetch) for a job well done after the trim. That way, our dog associates a nail trim with something she loves! Just don’t let her win the argument if she does not want to have her nails trimmed!
If you are worried that your dog may bite you out of fear, then you may want to put a muzzle on her if necessary or take her to a professional and advise them that your dog does not like having her nails trimmed.
Don’t Cut Too Deep!
Be sure not to cut down too far on the nail, where you may hit the quick, a blood vessel running through your dog’s nail. Start with tiny segments of each nail to get both yourself and your dog comfortable with nail trims. It is better to have to repeatedly cut small sections off of a nail than to cut one big chunk and cut the quick. Cutting the quick will be painful, causing your doggy to yelp and jerk away, and the cut quick will bleed like crazy. Just in case, keep some quick clotting powder (styptic powder) around so you can stop any bleeding quickly. Simply dip the cut nail into the powder and wait or repeat.
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 your dog 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. For black nails, I recommend cutting small segments until you see a small circle start to appear in the center of the cut nail. That circle usually indicates you are near the quick. My dog has both clear and black nails; so I often use the clear nails as a judgement line for the black nails.
Through regular trims, your dog’s quicks will recede a little, making accidental cutting less likely.
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. Nail scissors are a common choice for cats, and they have quicks too! I always cut my cat’s nails before I take him to the vet to avoid any possible scratches.
You Can Cut Your Dog’s Nails
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!
Read Our Beginner’s Guide to At Home Grooming for more grooming tips.