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We’ve talked a lot on the blog about keeping your dog’s toenails trimmed. In fact, just about every Breed of the Week post mentioned that all dogs need their nails trimmed to keep them well-groomed and healthy. We’ve also mentioned that it’s important to be careful when you trim a dog’s nails, so you don’t cut the quick. But how exactly do you do that?
If you have never cut a dog’s nails before, or you aren’t sure how to handle black nails that hide the quick, this article is for you. I put together a total guide on how to trim a dog’s nails that should be easy for any beginner to follow.
The Tools You Need
First, before you do anything, be sure to gather up all the tools you need to trim a dog’s nails. If you have this all in once place that you can quickly reach, it will be much easier to get through this chore before your dog decides they’ve had enough. Here are the things you need to trim your dog’s nails:
A good pair of nail trimmers (We’ll discuss the best type of nail trimmer for your skill level and your dog’s needs in the next section).
You may also want to use a dog nail grinder, also called a Dremel. This can be very handy if you are nervous about cutting the nails with a trimmer. (We’ll cover the pros and cons of this tool in the next section as well.)
Styptic powder, which helps stop bleeding if you do nick your dog on accident. The quick, also called a kwik, is the blood vessel inside a dog’s nails. If this gets nicked, there will be bleeding. With light-colored or clear nails, you can see the quick as a dark line in the center of the nail.
A towel in case you do need to stop any bleeding from getting on your floor.
Some good doggie treats! I recommend finding something extra special that you only give your dog when grooming, so they are very motivated to sit still. Now may be a good time to give them some peanut butter, some pieces of plain cooked chicken, or their favorite jerky treats.
Now that you’ve got all your tools assembled, let’s talk about the different types of nail trimmers on the market.
The big difference is in the way the blade mechanism works. The first style involves placing the dog’s nail through a hole, and a blade is then pushed down over the nail tip to chop it off. Scissors nail clippers work just like scissors, and plier-style clippers work similarly to scissors, but they have a spring between the handles to provide more strength and stability.
Choose the nail trimmer that is of the best quality in the category that you are most comfortable using. If your dog has thick, tough nails, you may find the pliers-style works best. For black nails that hide the quick, a guillotine-style trimmer with a safety guard to protect all but the very tip could be helpful. If you are more comfortable with your dog’s nail trimming, or have a dog with tiny nails and need more precision, scissors should do the trick.
It is important to note that many vets and dog owners don’t care for the guillotine style trimmers, because of the way the mechanism actually trims the nail. Rather than cutting through the nail, the mechanism has a tendency of crushing the nail till the tip breaks off. This can be painful for a dog.
Another option is the grinder or Dremel. This is a small electric grinder that is used to grind the nail down from the tip, rather than cutting the nail off. If you aren’t comfortable with the idea of cutting the nail, or are afraid you’ll cut the quick, then this may be a good option for you. Additionally, you may want to use one of these tools after using a trimmer, to smooth down any rough points after the trim.
Now that you know what type of trimmer you want to use, here’s how to get those nails perfectly trimmed.
Start by getting prepared. We’ve already gathered up all the tools, but do a quick check of those tools. Make sure your nail trimmers are sharp every time you use them – dull clippers will crush the nail rather than cut it. Also be sure that you remind yourself how they work if it’s been a while since you’ve used them. Let your dog sniff the trimmers if they aren’t used to, or never have quite warmed up to, being groomed.
Now get your dog in position. It’s often best to have them lying down. For some dogs, you may need to coax them into position with a treat – but if you can, save the treats for after you finish each paw. This reinforces good behavior during the trimming process. Keep the treats where you can get them, but where your dog can’t – such as in a shirt pocket or in the closed bag nearby. If your dog needs a break after each paw, give them a treat and pet them while they finish it up. Then get back to the next paw.
Now it’s time to get a grip on your dog’s paw. Be sure to hold each paw firmly while you trim. Don’t press too tightly, because this may make your dog feel tense, but have a good grip so you can hold the nail still as you cut it. Use your thumb to gently push on the pad. This extends the nail out from the fur and allows you to trim accurately. Keep this pressure steady while you trim, so the nail stays in place.
Now you need to get the nail lined up for cutting. First, always trim the dog’s nail from underneath, not from the top. Your hand holding the handles of the trimmer should be under the dog’s paw, with the trimmer pointed upwards. When you place the dog’s nail into the trimmer, angle the trimmer at a 45 degree angle away from the dog, so that you are cutting a diagonal line.
Never place the entire nail into the clipper. If your dog has white or clear nails, look for where the quick is, and cut slightly above this area. You’ll see the quick as the pink part of the nail, or as a dark line running through the center of the nail. If your dog’s nails are black, you’ll need to be very careful and trim just a small portion of the nail at a time. Once you start to see a dark center in the nail when you look at the trimmed part, you should stop trimming. You may need to have a vet show you how to trim dark nails the first time.
Now to cut! When you have the nail lined up correctly, make a smooth and fast cut. You don’t want to take it slow, because that will crush the nail – but be precise about it. Just make a decisive cut that will be clean and smooth, and gentle for your dog. Try not to tense up or make any noise when you do this. The calmer you are, the calmer your dog will be.
Once you’ve done this, you can use a regular nail file, or a Dremel, to clean up any ragged edges.
How Often Should I Trim My Dog’s Nails?
How often you should do all of this depends greatly on your dog, their activity level, and your comfort. For example, some breeds don’t need a ton of nail trimming because they are diggers who keep their nails filed through their own activities. However, other dogs, especially smaller dogs that can get needle-like nails, need their nails trimmed a little more often to protect the people and furnishings around them.
All in all, a good rule of thumb is to trim your dog’s nails about once a month. If you hear their nails clacking loudly on the floor, it’s time to trim them.
Why Trim a Dog’s Nails
There are a few important reasons that a dog’s nails should be trimmed. If you are looking at this guide and thinking “Man, that’s a lot of work!”, then consider going to a groomer or the vet to have your dog’s nails trimmed. Here’s why:
Long nails on a dog can turn into hang nails, bent nails, curled nails, or even ingrown nails. This is very painful for a dog, and can cause them to lose mobility.
The nail bed (the area where the nail connects to the skin) can actually get very sore and irritated if a dog with long nails is constantly dragging their nails over sidewalks, wooden floors, kitchen tiles, and so on. This can lead to early arthritis in the paw, nerve damage, or even issues with spinal alignment.
Nails that are left to overgrow are prone to splitting and breaking, which can be very painful for the dog. This can also lead to infection if it isn’t given medical attention in time – and in some cases, this medical treatment is more expensive than simply having a groomer give them a good trim every six weeks or so.
A Few Extra Tips for Dog Nail Trimming
Once you’ve mastered the five main steps for trimming your dog’s nails, here are a few other tips to make the process a little easier:
You may find that nails are slightly softer and easier to trim after bathing your dog.
If you want your dog’s nails to grow slower, there is a way to train them to do so. Once you are very comfortable with trimming your dog’s nails, and know where the quick is, try trimming just a little higher (and I do mean a LITTLE higher…a very tiny amount) each time. Slowly, the quick (again, the blood vessel in the nail) will recede, which means the nail won’t have nourishment to grow much further. Over time, the nail will naturally become shorter.
If you do make the nail bleed when trimming, don’t panic. While it is painful, it isn’t life or death. Unless you’ve really cut very deep on the nail, there’s no reason to see a vet. Use styptic powder to stop the bleeding, and try to continue with the rest of the grooming session. If the bleeding continues, then consult your vet.
If you really aren’t comfortable cutting black nails, but want to learn, consider trying this trick. Place the trimmers where you think it should be, and very gently apply pressure, without the intent to cut. If your dog reacts to that slight bit of pressure, move the trimmers lower down.
The earlier you can get a dog used to having their nails trimmed, the better. Once they learn to sit patiently while you perform this task, it doesn’t take long at all. I can get Janice and Leroy’s nails trimmed in less than 15 minutes these days – although Leroy often takes care of it himself with all his digging.
Trimming your dog’s nails is a vital part of a grooming routine. Dogs need to have their nails trimmed to keep them healthy. Before they became domesticated, running and digging in the great outdoors did the trick. These days, our house-bound canine companions need a little extra help with this task.
Be sure you take your time to find a pair of nail trimmers that work best for you, and you’ll be able to master this dog owner task in no time.