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How to Cut Your Dog’s Nails at Home

In this article we tackle the dreaded home nail trim, and why its so important for your pooch to have their regular trims.

Do Dogs Need Their Nails Cut?

It is important to keep your pooch’s nails trimmed. If they get too long they can split, causing infections. They can also cause pain and pressure on the toes and paws, which can lead to excess strain on their legs. How often you clip your dog’s nails will depend on not only their lifestyle but also their breed & age.

Getting into the habit of nail trimming early in life is not only a good habit for any dog owner, but can also prevent arthritis and mobility issues in the long term.

Does Walking on a Pavement Help File My Dog’s Nails?

The majority of dogs will naturally wear down their nails by walking and playing on hard surfaces, and nails can stay at a healthy length if they are exercised daily on a rougher surface such as concrete or pavement. Older dogs tend to prefer a softer ground and, of course, they may not have as much exercise as they did before. The same can be said for dogs that tend to exercise in fields and woodland, where the ground is a lot softer.

So How do you Know if a Dog’s Nails are too Long?

Normally, you will hear them tapping on hard surfaces, but you can also tell if your dog’s nails are too long by using visual guides, such as the one below.

Which Nail Clippers Should I use to Cut My Dog’s Nails?

Personally, I would always recommend using the scissor/plier type clippers as guillotine style clippers can crush the toe of your pet, which can lead to a lot of pain.

Plier / Scissors-style clippers are more appropriate for larger dogs and dogs with thicker nails. They may be easier and more comfortable to use for an owner because you can cut from several different angles.

When Can I start Clipping my Puppy’s Nails?

Start clipping puppies’ nails within the first week of bringing your puppy home, usually from around six weeks old, then clip them every week, even if it’s only a tiny amount. This would get them used to nail clipping.

There will not be much to clip at the beginning, but that’s OK. The reason that you want to start so young is to get your dog accustomed to the procedure of nail clipping.

How Do I Trim my Puppy’s Nails?

There are many different methods for trimming puppy nails. The important thing is that you choose one that you are comfortable with and that works well for your dog and gets them into the habit of trimming their nails weekly.

Be sure to make sure that you find their dew claw (the puppy thumb). Some dogs have these on all paws, some on just the front paws, and some not at all. If your dog has dew claws and they aren’t trimmed regularly it is possible for them to grow into their skin and cause problems

You can cut puppy nails after just a few days. And you should, those little claws can be REALLY sharp and regular trimming gets them used to the procedure. Make sure that you pick them up and cuddle and love them as you clip their nails. For tiny little puppies a small animal clipper often works best.

The Key to Cutting Puppy Nails

The big key with cutting puppy nails (and this will move into adulthood as well) is to only take off a little bit at a time. Once your puppy’s nails become a little thicker (or around 12 weeks of age), you’ll want to move to either a nail grinder or dog nail scissors.

How to Make Puppy Nails Less Sharp

Anyone that has or had a puppy knows how sharp they can be, but luckily, you can just blunt the ends by using a nail file. Take an emery board or metal or glass nail file and gently move the file back and forth over your puppy’s nails until the end is blunted and smooth.

How Do I Use Dog Nail Clippers?

Well, despite popular belief, clippers are not meant to remove “a single chunk” of nail at one time. Clippers are designed to shear small slices of nail off. Think of it like creating little pieces of nail confetti with every slice. Blindly “chopping” into dog’s nail is dangerous and often results in unnecessarily catching the quick. You should slowly slice away at the nail until you can see the quick.

Throughout the process, hold your dog paw’s firmly but gently. Your dog should be confident & calm.

How do I Trim My Dog’s Dewclaws?

Trimming dewclaws is a lot easier than clipping the other nails. First run your finger under the nail – a dewclaw needs trimming when it catches or hooks your finger. Trim it back only until your finger slides off it easily. If you cut too far you will cause pain and bleeding.

How to Trim the Black Nails on your Dog

 Those pesky black nails are so hard to cut. They’re a pain because we cannot see the quick from the outside. Without knowing where the quick is, it could be a very painful experience for your dog. Since we cannot see inside the nail, like we can with white ones, we need to look very carefully at the part of the nail that remains after clipping the tip off. Take your clippers and cut the very tip of the nail and look at what is left there. If you see a lot of white, then you are safe to cut more, as shown.

You only need to trim till you see the white inside of the nail with a small dot of black in the centre, if you can’t see it you can cut a bit closer.

While clipping the nail you will see a black dot in the centre, underneath the surface of the white. The black is the pulp. The pulp is right before the quick. Take another small clip of the nail. It should reveal more of the black centre and less white surrounding it.

If you see a lot of black and very little white surrounding it, then stop. You have gone deep into the pulp and are right about to cut into the quick.

Oh No! I’ve Caught the Quick!

Every owner’s worst nightmare is when you catch the quick. It happens to all of us at some point, but your dog will live – I promise!

Nail bleeding occurs when you clip too short and catch the blood vessel in their nail which is called the quick. So if you do happen to catch a quick (trust me it’s really easy to do!), to stop the nail from bleeding, it’s a good idea to have a styptic pencil or styptic powder on hand to aid in clotting the blood.

What to Do When Your Dog’s Quick is Exposed?

  • Put pressure on the nail with a clean cloth or dressing.
  • Use a styptic pencil to stop the bleeding.
  • If the bleeding doesn’t significantly slow down or stop in an hour, then take your puppy/dog to the vet.

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for routine nail maintenance. It takes months for a quick to become overgrown and it takes just as much time for it to receded. Counter-conditioning your dog can be just as taxing. My advice would be to start slowly and cut just one nail a day. Small improvements are still improvements after all.

My Top Tips for Cutting Your Dog’s Nails at Home:

  • Reward them with treats after every nail clip, so they associate it with a positive experience.
  • If your dog does not like their nails being done, or you haven’t done them before, try to handle your dog’s paws often and just rub the clippers onto dog’s paws on a regular basis without actually using them.
  • Try not to be nervous or afraid, otherwise they will feel your fear and try to escape from nail cutting.
  • The best time to cut dog’s nails is after the bath as they are more relaxed under warm water.
  • Don’t cut all nails at once, extend this procedure for few days if needed.
  • Don’t forget to cut the dew claws. Some dogs will also have back ones!

(A dewclaw is the extra toe that is found on the inside of a dog’s front leg. It’s a completely normal digit with three bones, two joints and a nail. Dewclaws correspond in position to the thumb in humans except without quite the same mobility or uses.)

Important to Remember When Cutting Your Dog’s Nails

Please don’t pin your dog down or hold them so tightly they can’t move. This will only instil fear into them. If they are too hard to handle, ask a professional to do them and make sure it’s done on a regular basis. If you fail to trim claws correctly, the dog will always be afraid of this procedure.

What Do I Do if My Dog’s Nails are Really Overgrown?

If you don’t trim your pooch’s nails and they get to the point where they are so long they start to go into the pad, I recommend not touching them as this needs to be carried out by a vet. They will more than likely then be placed on a course of antibiotics afterwards, which is why consistent nail trimming is important.

Read More about Dog Grooming at Home: What Dog Brush Should I Use?