How to Cut a Dog’s Nails

How to Cut a Dog’s Nails

by Scritch

Dogs are most comfortable and happy when their nails remain at an appropriate length. Some dogs may not ever need nail trims if they regularly dig, run on pavement, or participate in other activities that wear down their nails. But the rest of them will have to endure a nail trimming every so often. In this article, we’ll cover the process of how to cut a dog’s nails. If your dog is nervous or fearful about the situation, check out these tips on how to make dog nail trims easier. 

Why to keep the nails short

When a dog’s nails grow too long, the consequence for the dog is painful feet. While standing on a hard surface, the pressure of the ground against a long nail will push the nail back, causing pain on the toe joint or forcing the toe to twist to the side. Extra-long nails make walking painful, and your dog may try to adjust his stance to alleviate the discomfort. However, these adjustments to hold a posture that is not natural may cause strain on the joints and muscles. Long nails also face a greater risk of breaking, which is an injury (and vet bill) you can prevent by keeping the nails trimmed.

Trimming the nails

If you don’t have much experience trimming a dog’s nails, the first time can be scary (for both you and your dog!), especially if your pup’s claws are black. Transparent nails allow you to see the ‘quick’ which is the blood vessel inside of the nail. Because you can’t see the quick through black nails, you’ll have to start by being extra careful and trimming less of the nail than you think you should. With a little practice, you and your dog will become more comfortable with nail trims.


To begin, gather the necessary supplies and settle in a well-lit area.

  • Nail clipper (either scissor clippers or guillotine-style clippers)
  • Clotting agent in case of bleeding: either styptic powder or cornstarch
  • Treats
  • Nail file (optional)
  • Dremel tool (optional)

Grinding vs. clipping: Instead of clipping, some pet parents choose to use a dremel tool on a frequent basis to keep the nails short. Grinding the nails greatly reduces the chances of accidentally cutting the quick and causing bleeding. However, if your dog’s nails are quite long, they will first need to be clipped short before regularly using a nail dremel. Additionally, the friction of a dremel tool can create heat and be uncomfortable or painful for your dog, so it’s important to tap the nail on the rough surface for a second or two and then take a short break, rather than holding the nail against the grinder for prolonged periods of time.

Nail trimming steps

The blade on your nail clipper should be sharp in order to make a clean cut. A dull blade will not only make it more difficult to clip but can crush the nail and can leave a jagged edge. Nail clipper blades will need to be occasionally sharpened or replaced over the course of your dog’s life.

  1. Have your dog sit or lay down and take a paw in your non-dominant hand. 
  2. If the nail is covered by long fur, either move the fur out of the way or use scissors to trim it off because fur getting in the way will dull the clipper blade.
  3. Holding the clipper with your dominant hand, align it with the nail. Often with untrimmed nails, there will be a notch after the thick part of the nail where the extra nail growth is noticeably less thick. This is a good place to align your nail clipper. If there is no notch, aim to clip off the pointed, thin tip of the nail. With transparent nails, the pink quick will give you a good indicator of where to align the clipper. Give the quick a little extra space because clipping too close will cause bleeding.
  4. Quickly squeeze the handles together for a swift, clean cut of the nail. 
  5. Optional: file down the sharp outer edges of the nail. 

Stop the bleeding

Let’s face it: accidents happen, and you might unintentionally cut a nail too short. Sometimes it takes a moment before the nail starts to bleed, so check back on the nails you’ve already cut. If you spot blood, blot it with a tissue, then dab your finger in cornstarch or styptic powder (a little goes a long way!) and tap it onto the end of the nail. For heavier bleeding, you may need to hold a tissue to the end of the nail for a minute to slow the bleeding before putting clotting powder on the wound. In severe cases, take your pup to the vet for proper care. 

How often to trim the nails

Based on how fast your dog’s nails grow, you may need to cut them as frequently as every 1-2 weeks or only once every 1-2 months. It’s time for a trim when your dog’s nails are about to touch the ground, or if you can hear the tapping of his nails on the floor when he walks. 

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