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How to Cut Your Dog’s Nails

Cutting your pup’s nails isn’t just about maintaining a paw-fect pedicure. Overgrown nails can cause discomfort, pain, and even lead to abnormal paw position. So if you want to learn how to cut your dog’s nails at home, you’ve come to the right place! From how often to cut your dog’s nails, to creating a low-stress experience for your pup, we’ve got you covered.

Precautions

Many dogs find at-home nail trims less stressful than regular trips to the veterinarian or a groomer. With practice (and lots of rewards!) it can even become a positive experience and help you save money on appointments.

But before deciding to cut your dog’s nails at home, there are a few things to consider. If your pup has arthritis or joint pain, holding their paw still for a nail trim could be painful. Likewise, if your dog has brittle or split nails it’s always best to seek veterinary advice first. This is also a must for dogs with medical conditions that affect their nails or skin.

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Many dogs naturally have black nails, which makes visualizing the quick more difficult. The quick is sensitive tissue inside the nail, containing blood vessels and nerves. It is painful when cut and can bleed a lot, which is why it’s important to try and avoid damage using the correct technique.

This article will discuss how to cut black nails, but it’s OK if you still feel unsure. You can always leave it to a veterinarian or a professional groomer or ask them for a demonstration.

Equipment

The right tools will allow you to cut your dog’s nails safely and with ease. Nail clippers designed for dogs are a must, and come in a few different styles, with scissor and guillotine styles the most popular. Nail clippers are also available in different sizes, to suit dogs of all breeds. So it’s important to find a pair you’re comfortable using.

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Nail file or Dremel

Some pet parents may prefer to file their dog’s nails using a traditional nail file or Dremel designed for pets. This is a gradual process and can provide some extra control if you’re concerned about cutting the quick, but it can be more time-consuming. A traditional nail file is also a good option if your pet is sensitive to the sound of the clippers or the Dremel.

When clipping your dog’s nails you should also consider how to keep them still. Do you need an extra pair of hands or can you safely restrain your dog on the floor or your lap? Try placing your arm around your dog’s body and holding them close to you. And if you aren’t sure how best to restrain your pup, ask your veterinary team.

Towel or gauze 

It’s also sensible to prepare for the worst-case scenario – you cut a nail too short and it starts to bleed. Having a towel or gauze to apply pressure is essential. You can also stock up on silver nitrate sticks or styptic pencils, which are what the professionals use to stop bleeding. You can find these at pet stores and online grooming retailers.

Treats

Finally, having your pup’s favorite treats on hand is a great way to reward your dog and help make cutting their nails a positive experience.

How often do you cut a dog’s nails?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to how often to cut your dog’s nails. Dogs that walk on hard surfaces, like pavement, will naturally wear their nails down compared to a senior pup that spends their time snoozing on the sofa. But by understanding what’s normal, you can check your pup’s nails and cut them as often as needed to keep them at the correct length.

Your dog also has dewclaws inside each of their front legs (and sometimes their hindlegs!). These claws don’t wear down when walking, so it’s important to watch them carefully as they often need more frequent trimming. Dewclaws should be kept short, especially in highly active dogs, as they can catch and tear when playing and running.

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How long should my dog’s nails be?

Regular trimming helps keep your pup’s nails at the correct length, but how long is that?

When your dog is standing on all fours, their nails shouldn’t touch the floor. If you have hardwood floors you might also hear your pup’s nails tapping along the floor!

Keep in mind that if your dog already has long (overgrown) nails, the quick will have grown longer too. This means you can’t go in and cut the nail to the desired length or it may bleed. Instead, cut a few millimeters off the tips regularly and the quick will begin to recede to a more normal length.

How to cut dog nails at home

The following step-by-step guide can help reduce the stress of nail clipping by desensitizing your pup to the process. Take as much time as your dog needs, before moving on to the next step. Try to make the experience as positive as possible. A silicone treat mat with a little doggy peanut butter or wet dog food can be a fantastic distraction aid.

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Step 1. Begin by gently handling your dog’s paws until they become used to it. Remember to reward with lots of praise and treats. Be guided by your dog and take as much time as they need to become comfortable with this process.

Step 2. Hold the paw firmly but gently, holding long fur out of the way of the nails with your thumb and fingers. If your dog finds this stressful or wriggles a lot, stop. Keep practicing with short sessions each day.

Step 3. Cut one nail. Push your thumb gently upwards underneath the pad to expose the claw. Cut the very tip of the nail (around 2mm) straight across with the nail clippers. Start by clipping only one nail and rewarding your pup to keep the experience positive. This is especially important if your pup is a little anxious.

Step 4. Cutting the nails. When your pup is comfortable with the previous steps, you can slowly build up. If your dog has white nails you will be able to see the quick (the pink structure running through the middle of the nail). You should always try to trim at least 2mm below the quick to avoid bleeding. When learning to trim nails, less is more. It’s much better to take small amounts off the tip regularly than risk cutting the nail too short.

Step 5. How to cut dog nails that are black. Some dogs will have all black nails and others a mix of white and black nails. Black nails can be more challenging to cut because the quick is difficult to see and avoid. The best tips for trimming black nails are:

  • Trim small amounts, with multiple cuts to reduce your chances of hitting the quick.
  • Each time you cut the nail, check the cut surface. When you start to see a grey-pink oval appear, stop, as you are getting close to the quick.
  • Before cutting you can gently apply pressure to the nail with the clippers. If your dog reacts, you’re probably too close to the quick.

If your dog is extremely anxious about having their nails trimmed, stop and speak to your veterinarian first. This is crucial for your pup’s wellbeing, as well as your safety if your dog was to bite out of fear.

What if you cut your dog’s nails too short?

Even the most experienced professional will occasionally cut a nail too short, so it’s always best to be prepared. When cut, the quick tends to bleed a lot. Though this can be alarming, there’s no need to panic! The bleeding will usually stop reasonably quickly with some simple first-aid.

First, safely restrain your dog if possible. Remember a bleeding nail is painful, so if your dog is trying to bite, stop, and take them to your nearest veterinarian. Once you have your dog restrained, apply pressure to the area with a towel or some gauze and hold it there. Avoid rubbing the cut surface or removing the towel to check as this will dislodge the clot.

If the bleeding doesn’t stop within 5-10 minutes, you can apply a styptic pencil or silver nitrate stick. If you don’t have one, try placing the tip of the nail in a bar of soap. If the nail is still bleeding, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. They may need to apply a bandage or cauterize the nail.

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When to ask your vet to cut your dog’s nails 

Sometimes a nail trim is best left to your veterinarian. Dogs that are particularly fearful may need to start a behavior modification plan. In some cases, they may need medications to help manage anxiety or even sedation to perform a nail trim safely. This can only be performed by a qualified vet.

If the nail has grown in an unusual shape or there is pain present, your vet also needs to take a look in case there’s something wrong. The following list contains some of the most common situations where nail trims are best left to a veterinary professional:

  • Overgrown or abnormally-shaped nails
  • Chewing or licking at one or more nails
  • Swelling, bleeding, or pus around the toe or nail bed
  • Arthritis or joint pain
  • Lameness or limping
  • Attempting to bite or guard the paw when touched
  • Anxiety or stress when handling the paws
  • You just don’t feel comfortable cutting your dog’s nails

Conclusion 

Cutting your dog’s nails should be an important part of their health and grooming routine but it’s important to do it right. If in doubt, it’s always best to speak to your veterinarian, and remember your veterinary team will be happy to provide a demonstration to make sure you feel confident in your technique.

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