How to Trim a Dog’s Nails: A Step-by-Step Guide

Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed is an essential part of their overall health. Long nails can cause discomfort, pain, and even lead to infections. Learning how to trim your dog’s nails safely and effectively can save you money and trips to the vet.

Why Regular Nail Trimming is Important

Trimming your dog’s nails is an important part of their overall health and wellbeing. Keep your dog’s nails trimmed every 4-6 weeks to avoid overgrowth. Overgrown nails can cause discomfort and difficulty walking. If they’re running on pavement frequently they may need less and those who are mainly indoor may need more. But if you can hear the nails clacking against the floor then it’s definitely time for a cut.

Common side effects of too long nails are: the nails are pushed up and into the toe bed and can make the toes become pressed out and twisted up to one side causing pain with walking and weight bearing movements. The nails can grow inside the pads of the law causing pain and even infection. They can get caught in flooring such as carpet and rugs. And long nails reduce traction during mobility.And more long term effects include: the quick can grow out long which will make it nearly impossible to cut the nails short again. They can develop arthritis in the feet. They can develop an abnormal gait pattern and deformed feet, which can cause injury to the tendons in the legs by applying excess force to the foot and leg when the dog bares weight.

Understanding Dog’s Nails

Trimming your dog’s nails is an important part of their grooming routine. Your dog’s nails are made of keratin, just like human nails. However, unlike human nails, dog’s nails have a blood vessel called the quick that runs through them. Cutting the quick can cause pain and bleeding, which is why it’s important to be careful when trimming your dog’s nails.

Dogs have four nails on each paw and a fifth nail called the dewclaw on their front paws. Some dogs have dewclaws on their back paws as well. Dewclaws can be trimmed just like other nails, but they may require extra attention since they are not in contact with the ground as much as the other nails.

Types of Clippers

Before you actually start trimming the nails, you will need to decide which types of clippers you will want to use. There are several different types of dog clippers to choose from, with varying levels of pros and cons to each. There are:

  • guillotine-style
    • have a hole in the center in which you place the nail through. Pro is will usually stay sharper longer than other clippers. Con is they can be a bit cumbersome.
  • scissor-style
    • look like a pair of smaller scissors. Good for puppies and smaller dog breeds. Also good to use for clipping the dewclaw.
  • pliers- style
    • look somewhat like the scissor-style, but they are designed with a spring that helps to give added strength to cut through thick, long nails
  • grinders
    • are very helpful with filing down the nail without reaching the quick. They are known to pull and yank the fur, so try your best to make sure the hair is trimmed and out of the way.

What You’ll Need

Before trimming your dog’s nails, you will need a few tools:

  • nail clippers and/or grinder
  • paper towel or cloth
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • cotton ball or cotton pad
  • styptic powder
  • treats

Preparing to Trim

Before trimming your dog’s nails, make sure to check their paws for any injuries or infections. If you notice any injuries, it’s best to wait until they have healed before attempting to trim their nails.

Create a calm environment which will help keep your dog stress-free during the process. Choose a quiet place without a lot of noise or distractions. Restrain your dog as gently as you can and speak them in a calm, reassuring tone. Nail trimming can be an intimidating and scary process for your pupper. Remember to be gentle and go slow. It is recommended to start very slowly and clip one nail a day, until your pooch becomes acclimated and tolerates sitting through the entire nail clipping process.

Appropriate Positioning to Trim

There are several different styles of positioning you can place your pupper. You should choose the one that you and your doggo are most comfortable in. These include:

  • You sit beside you dog. With one hand you can reach around their leg in order to hold the paw, while clipping the nail with the other.
  • You can sit behind your dog and bring their paw backwards, so you would be looking at the bottom of their foot.
  • You can have your arm resting over the top of them. Your can keep your forearm of your non-dominant arm over the neck to try to prevent them from lifting their head and squirming when clipping the front paws.
  • If they are trying to wiggle and stand up, you can lean over their shoulders to create a barrier.
  • You can lay them on their side of they are not cooperating sitting positions

How to Trim a Dog’s Nails

  1. Have your dog positioned and expose the nail. If they’ve got hairy feet, you’ll need to push the hair up and out of the way; or trim the hair if you prefer.
  2. Then place your index finger on the pad of the toe and your thumb on the top of the toe, right above the nail. Push your index finger up and back on the pad while simultaneously having your thumb push forward. This movement extends the nail away from the foot.
  3. You’ll want to cut the nails as short as possible, without reaching the quick and causing pain and bleeding. The quick is the section of the nail that is live and in which contains the blood vessels and nerves. It will bleed and be quite painful if it’s cut. Regular nail maintenance will cause the quick to recede further away from the end, allowing shorter nails. Short nails and quicks will be better for you doggo in the long-run.
  4. You will want to cut short, but not down to the quick. So try and cut small cuts at a time as opposed to trying to clip the entire nail off with one go. Lighter nails are going to be easier to cut as opposed to darker nails. The blood vessels will be easier to see on lighter-colored nails. It’s recommended to not cut past 2 mm when close to the quick.
  5. When clipping, try to clip at a 45-degree angle as opposed to straight across. This will help ensure that the nail will run parallel with the floor.
  6. If clipping with another set of clippers, you can always decide to use a grinder as more of a finishing tool to polish off the final result. Hold the grinder at the top and use medium pressure. They are known to pull and yank the fur, so you must be diligent to make sure the hair is trimmed and out of the way. The higher you hold the grinder, the more control you will have. So try and hold as close to the top as you can. Only grind a small section at a time, using medium pressure. Start at the bottom and move your way inward, being mindful not to go to far down. When finished, you’ll want all edges to be smooth.
  7. If the edge of the nail looks flaky and dry then you should be fine with cutting a little more until the center starts to look more soft.
  8. The dewclaw usually on the inner side of their paw on their front legs and will be up closer to the body than the rest of the nails and will not touch the ground like the rest of their nails. It will actually grow into their toe pad, which will cause pain if they are not cut. There are a handful of breeds that also have dewclaws on the back legs as well, so just be mindful and check when you’re clipping for the first time. A scissors-style set of clippers works well with this nail, where you can bend it up and out from the body when clipping.
  9. If the nail bleeds, apply pressure with a clean cloth or paper towel. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, use styptic powder or cornstarch.
  10. Praise your dog and give them a treat after trimming their nails.

Tips to Avoid Cutting the Quick

  • With white nails, avoid cutting into the pink area. When you’re getting close to the quick, you’ll need to stop once you see a pink dot right in the middle of the white section. This is the end of the quick you’re trying to avoid.  The part you want to cut is usually skinnier than the rest of the nail.
  • With black nails, cut slowly to only allow a little cutting at a time. When you’re getting close to the quick, the bail will begin to look white. Stop once you see a black dot right in the middle of the white section. This is the end of the quick you’re trying to avoid.
  • If you do accidentally cut the quick, it will be painful and start bleeding. But accidents can happen at times. You’re only human. So keep styptic powder nearby, as this will not only stop the bleeding but also help alleviate the pain. You can also use cornstarch, flour, baby powder, or baking powder. Just grab a Kleenex or paper towel and press firmly against the nail until it stops bleeding. You can remove blood from the fur with a dab of hydrogen peroxide on a cotton ball or cotton pad.

Remember, trimming your dog’s nails can be an intimidating process, but with the right preparation and techniques, it can be a stress-free experience for both you and your furry friend.

And please, if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, seek the help of a professional groomer or veterinarian.

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