How Trim Your Pet's Nails

31 July 2019

How Trim Your Pet's Nails

Keeping your pet’s nails well-trimmed will help keep them healthy and is a very important part of your grooming process. Dogs whose nails are not trimmed properly can curl and grow back into the dog’s foot, causing a lot of pain. However, many pets will be afraid or uncomfortable when you are attempting to trim their nails, which can make for a very stressful experience both for you and your pet. Below, we have gathered all of the information you will need in order to trim your pet’s nails safely and efficiently.


Why do we need to cut our pets’ nails?


Pets who spend a lot of time outside wear down their nails by running around on hard surfaces. Unfortunately, many pets spend most of their time indoors, and do not have the opportunity to run on hard surfaces, so their nails are less likely to be worn down. When your pet’s nails grow too long, they start to touch the ground. When they touch the ground, it forces the nails in an unnatural position, putting pressure on the nail beds. This causes a lot of pain for your pet and can actually force the joints in their legs to realign, eventually causing their feet to look flat or splayed.

If serious enough, these issues could significantly impact your dog’s weight distribution and alignment. This means that they could be more susceptible to injuries, and may have trouble walking or running. It is especially important to take care of your older dog’s nails for this reason, because they can be far more susceptible to injury. Unfortunately, nails that are not taken care of start a cycle of causing pain for your dog, which in turn makes them afraid to have their nails touched, which means that they grow even longer and cause even more pain.

Maintenance is really key here. It is so important to regularly take care of your pet’s nails, so keep up a consistent maintenance of the nails. You need to commit to frequent trimming in order to restore and maintain their foot health and comfort. Ideally, it should happen once a week, if not more frequently. It is very helpful to pick the same day of the week to cut your pet’s nails. Most pets do very well with a schedule and a routine, and so trimming the nails consistently will mean that eventually they will learn that this is something that happens often and is not an event to be afraid of.


Trimming dog nails


Before you trim your dog’s nails, you should have a good sense of the anatomy of a dog’s foot. Dog’s nails have multiple layers. The outer layer is a thick shell, which is the part we normally see when we look at a dog’s foot. Underneath the protective layer is a soft inner layer, commonly known as the quick. This soft inner layer has lots of blood vessels and nerves. It begins at the base of the toe at the foot, and generally ends somewhere around the curve of the nail.

To start, you will need to purchase a pair of dog nail clippers. There are a number of different styles of dog nail clippers on the market, including a guillotine-style, pliers-style, and scissors-style. The type of nail clipper you choose will depend on a number of factors, including the size and age of your dog, their breed and their general disposition. You will also want to have lots of treats nearby so you can reward your dog for good behavior during the nail trimming process. In case you accidentally trim the nail too short and there is bleeding, have some baking soda or flour on hand as a clotting powder.

If you have never used dog clippers before, you will want to maintain a consistent, firm grip on the clipper handles as you use them. You will want to introduce the clippers to your dog slowly the first time you use them. To do this, start by sitting next to your dog when they are calm, and showing them the clippers. Allow them to sniff the clippers and look at them while you hold them. Remain calm as you introduce the clippers, and start to operate the clippers away from their body. The clippers may make some noise as you use them, so you will want your dog to start to get used to the noise as a non-scary sound.

Keep an eye on your dog as you go through this process to see whether they are stressed or if they are still remaining calm. If your dog is still calm, start gently touching the clippers to their feet one by one, so that they become comfortable with the feel of the clipper. When they are comfortable with that, you should be all set to start clipping. It is important to note here that if you get your dog when they are a puppy, be sure to constantly touch their feet and play with their paws so that they can be more comfortable with the human touch on their feet.

If this is your first time clipping your dog’s nails, ask your vet to give you a quick tutorial on how to do it properly. It is also important to keep in mind that not all dogs will need their nails trimmed, as some may naturally wear them down by playing on hard surfaces. Depending on their breed, your dog’s nails might need to be clipped as soon as once a week or as infrequently as once per month. It is best to trim your dog’s nails frequently, because it is much easier to trim a small amount than a large amount at once.  

The most important thing is to be aware of where the quick is on your dog’s nails, so that you can avoid cutting them. Start by clipping small amounts of the nail at a time, so that you will not risk cutting the quick and causing your dog to bleed. After clipping your dog’s nails consistently, you will start to learn how much you can trim. Ideally, you should trim your dog’s nails so that when they step down their nails do not touch the floor.


Trimming cat nails


The best way to trim your cat’s nails is to have them sit on your lap when they are relaxed and sleepy. Make sure there are no other pets or humans around, and they are out of sight from a window where they could spot birds or other animals outside. Next, gently take your cat’s paw in your hand and gently massage for a few seconds. If she pulls away, follow her paw and maintain gentle contact. After she has returned to a calm state, press on the pad of her paw to extend the nail.

Just as with dogs, you will want to introduce the clippers to your cat slowly the first time you use them. To do this, start by having your cat sit on your lap when they are calm, and show them the clippers. Allow them to sniff the clippers and look at them while you hold them. Remain calm as you introduce the clippers, and start to operate the clippers away from their body.

To help your cat get to know the sound of the clippers, take a piece of uncooked spaghetti and put it between the clippers. Take her paw in your hand, extend the nail and then clip the spaghetti while still holding the paw. Release the paw and give her a treat. Repeat this until she does not react to the sound of the clippers.

Similar to dogs, cats have a part of their nail that should not be clipped, called the quick. The pink part of your cat’s nail is the quick, and should not be cut. You should only trim the white part of the claw. Err on the side of caution, and start by trimming a little at a time so that you do not cut the quick. You should try to trim your cat’s nails every two weeks or so. Most importantly, do not declaw your cat.


What tools should I use?


With so many tools available on the market, how do you know which ones to choose? The American Kennel Club offers a number of suggestions.


Scissor clippers


These types of clippers are best for larger dogs, because they have larger and thicker nails. Some great examples of scissor clippers include the Gripsoft Deluxe Nail Clipper, Safari Professional Stainless Steel Trimmer, Boshel Dog Nail Clippers and Epica Best Professional Clipper. These heavy duty clippers have non-slip grips and have a cutting guard to help prevent cutting your dog’s quick.


Guillotine Clippers


Guillotine clippers work like a guillotine in that you stick the end of your dog’s nails in the hole and then squeeze. As you squeeze, it lowers a blade that can cut off the nail. These types of clippers are best for small or medium sized dogs. These clippers feature stainless steel blades and non-slip ergonomic handles. They also have a safety stop that helps avoid cutting the quick.


Grinder clippers


Instead of cutting the nails, these clippers grind down your dog’s nails. These clippers are particularly helpful for dogs with thick nails or dogs who are afraid of the sound and feeling of clippers. If you have a particularly sensitive dog, you may need to go through the training process in order to get them used to the vibrating feeling of the grinder. Grinders are a great option if you are nervous about cutting your dog’s nails too short. They also have protective caps that can contain the filings and files your dog’s nails consistently each time.




We can all agree that it is not necessarily a fun experience – for you or your pet – to cut their nails. It can be stressful, especially with young pets, and scary for owners who might be afraid to hurt their pets. This is particularly true for first-time pet owners, who are not only learning how to cut their pets’ nails, but also how to train them and feed them properly and make sure they get enough exercise. It can be a lot to handle, and with the added risk of causing your pet pain, it is easy to understand why some pet owners may be averse to doing it. If you are truly afraid or unwilling to cut your pet’s nails, that is fine, as long as you then make regular appointments at your vet or groomer for nail cutting and maintenance. You should not do it if you feel you are unable to or would not do it correctly, but it is your responsibility to make sure your pet’s paws are well taken care of.

For those who are afraid but willing to try, there are a couple of tricks you can do before you actually try cutting the nails. Start by taking a piece of uncooked pasta, or a cracker, and use the clippers of your choice. Get used to the sound and sensation of cutting something with the clippers, and that will help ease some of your fears about the tools. Keep this up until you are confident enough to do it on your pet.

It is also ideal to start the nail trimming process when your pet is very calm, and is surrounded by a calm environment. This could be in the morning, when they are still groggy and before anyone else in the house has woken up. Or, it could be at night, after everyone else has gone to sleep or has otherwise settled down, and your pet is tired from a long day of having fun. Remain calm yourself, and do not make a big deal of the trimming process. If you do not make it a big deal, your pet will follow your cues and will also not make it a big deal.  

Category: Grooming

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