How Do I Cut My Dog’s Nails?

Everything you need to know 💅

dog nail trimming

Are you covered in accidental scratches from your dog? Does he slip and slide on hardwood floors because his nails are so long? Well, then it might be time to get them clipped.

You can always take your pup to the vet or groomer to get his nails professionally cut, but if you want to do it yourself, it’s super important to know how to do it safely.

The Dodo spoke with Kirsten Butler, a certified veterinary technician and practice manager at the The Center For Animal Wellness in Denver, Colorado, to guide you through trimming your dog’s nails step by step.

Why you should trim your dog’s nails

Clipping your dog’s nails is a normal part of grooming. “Just as our nails continue to grow and need [to be] trimmed, so do theirs,” Butler told The Dodo.

If your dog’s nails get too long, they can actually cause major problems, such as difficulty walking, lack of traction, deformed feet and injured tendons and joints.

“Untrimmed nails could lead to split or torn nails that may require a course of antibiotics and/or a bandage,” Butler explained. “In the worst cases, nails can curl around and embed themselves in the paw pads, which is very painful.”

How often should I trim my dog’s nails?

How frequently your dog needs his nails cut depends on his lifestyle.

“Active dogs who run or go for regular walks often don’t need their nails trimmed as often because they will wear them down with regular contact on pavement,” Butler said.

And even if your dog’s super active but only plays in the grass, his nails might not get worn down as much, which means he’ll need regular nail trimming. On the other hand, a dog who goes on daily walks on the sidewalk might not need to have his nails cut that often.

A good rule of thumb, though, is to trim your dog’s nails any time you can hear them clicking on the floor.

What do I need to cut my dog’s nails?

Before you get started, you’ll need to have the right supplies handy. Here’s what you need to cut your dog’s nails:

How to trim dog nails

Here are the steps you can take to cut your dog’s nails:

  • Choose a quiet place without a lot of noise or distractions to keep your pup calm.
  • Make sure to give your dog treats before and during nail trimming so he thinks of it as a fun activity.
  • Make sure your dog’s in a comfortable position. “[Nail trimming is] most easily performed if the dog is standing, picking up one paw at a time to trim, or lying on their side,” Butler said.
  • Hold your dog’s paw in your hand and push any fur out of the way so the nail’s visible.
  • Identify where the nail quick is (aka the sensitive part of the nail — more on that below).
  • Cut straight across the tip of the nail, and don’t cut past the curve of the nail.
  • You may need to file your dog’s nails to even them out or to smooth any edges.

How to grind dog nails

Using a nail grinder can give you more control when cutting your dog’s nails, since it slowly grinds down the nails rather than making a fast snip. Grinders can also be better for cutting dog nails that are black, where you can’t easily see the nail quick.

Here’s how to use a dog nail grinder:

  • Choose a quiet place without a lot of noise or distractions to keep your pup calm.
  • Give your dog treats before and during nail trimming.
  • Make sure your dog’s in a comfortable position.
  • Trim the hair around your dog’s nails with dog hair trimmers or clippers so it doesn’t get caught in the grinder.
  • Hold your dog’s paw in your hand and push any fur out of the way so the nail’s visible.
  • Identify where the nail quick is.
  • Put the grinder on low speed and use it for a few seconds on each nail, grinding only a little bit at a time. Start on the bottom of the nail, then go from the tip of the nail down.

What is the dog nail quick?

When you’re clipping your dog’s nails on your own, it’s super important to avoid cutting the quick — aka the nail’s blood supply, which is basically a small vein that runs vertically through the nail.

To avoid accidentally cutting the quick, look for the pinkish-white area in the middle of your dog’s nail.

“The ‘quick’ can be easily seen on dogs with white toenails,” Butler said. “Where you see pink through the dog’s nail is where that blood supply starts, and [that’s] the area to avoid when trimming.”

She warns that it’s harder to tell where the quick is on darker nails. The nail will look darker when you get close to the quick, so when the center of the nail starts to look dark (vs. white), you can stop trimming.

“In this case, it is best to trim little by little until you start to see a color change in the center of the nail, as it will appear much darker in the center the closer you get to the ‘quick,’” Butler said.

According to Butler, if you do clip the quick, you can use styptic powder to stop the bleeding. It’s essential to have in your pet’s first aid kit, and you should always have some nearby before you start.

But if you don’t have styptic powder handy, luckily there are other at-home remedies you can use.

“You can also use flour or [cornstarch] to help clot the blood ... while applying firm pressure with your fingers,” Butler explained.

How to make your dog comfortable with nail trimming

For the most part, dogs don’t love having their nails trimmed. But there are ways you can make the experience more comfortable for your pup.

Give him treats

You can bribe your dog to sit still with some treats.

“Try a whopping spoonful of peanut butter or cream cheese to occupy your dog while you trim [his] nails,” Butler said.

You can put peanut butter on a LickiMat, which you can get from Amazon for $14.95.

Start young

To make sure your dog’s super comfortable with having his nails cut, start doing it when he’s a puppy so he gets familiar with it.

Touch his paws often

Butler also recommends touching your dog’s feet as often as possible so he can get used to the feeling of people poking, prodding and lifting them. Be super gentle and start slowly, especially if your pup’s uncomfortable with his paws being touched.

Introduce nail clippers without cutting his nails

You should also introduce the nail clippers or grinder to your dog before you even start cutting his nails so he doesn’t get scared when you try to trim them for the first time.

You can introduce the nail clippers to your dog by keeping them in a visible area of your home and letting your dog sniff them. You can also touch the tool to your dog’s feet without using it to clip his nails.

If you’re using a grinder, turn it on around him without actually trimming his nails so he gets used to the sound, too. You can move closer to him while it’s on until he feels totally OK with it.

Make sure you use lots of treats when introducing your pup to clippers so he knows he can expect good things when the tool comes out.

Trimming your dog’s nails at home can definitely be a more convenient and cost-friendly option, but it’s crucial to use the proper technique so you don’t injure your pup. So follow these tips, and make sure you trim your pup’s nails regularly to keep his manicure fresh.