Dogs’ nails grow continuously and even though dogs often wear them down on pavement or other hard surfaces while walking or running, they may need a little extra help. Still other dogs may spend a majority of their time on softer surfaces, such as carpet or grass, or lead an inactive life, in which case they will definitely need a pedicure.
Nails are an important element in how dogs get around. According to PetPlace.com, nails provide traction, enabling dogs to walk and run without slipping. “A dog’s claws are fairly strong,” reports the site. “They help the dog run and maneuver, to dig and they do offer some protection. As would be expected, they help to provide stability to the feet.”
When a dog’s nails aren’t trimmed, it can cause considerable discomfort or outright pain. “Dogs don’t walk correctly when the nails are too long and this strains the leg muscles and torques the spines,” reports PetHealth101.com.
There are other problems with very long nails. Long nails can get caught on any number of things, causing the nail to tear or break, which in turn leads to pain and some bleeding. In more extreme cases, when nails go uncut, they can curl into the paw pads or, in the case of dew claws, the nails may grow into a dog’s leg. This can lead to infection, but either way ingrown nails are extremely painful. So keeping everything trimmed down helps keep your dog comfortable in numerous ways.
Before learning how to clip dog nails, it might help to understand a nail’s basic structure. The hard outer shell or casing of the nail, called keratin, houses the softer insides, or a “central bundle of blood vessels and nerves that are informally known as the ‘quick,’ … The central quick is living tissue, while the brittle keratin is not,” WebVet.com writes on its website.
When a dog’s nails are white or light-colored, or see-through basically, trimming them back is significantly easier than when they’re black. The ability to actually see the quick, which appears pink, is a huge benefit when clipping nails. But just because a dog has black nails doesn’t mean pet parents can’t do a great job of learning to clip those nails, too. It just takes some practice and a little technique.
A lot of dogs aren’t happy about people handling their feet, so if it’s possible get your dog accustomed to having his feet handled regularly. If you can start stroking his paws, touching his nails and holding his toes during puppyhood, even better. You can reward them if they respond without fussing. Also, if you’ve never cut a dog’s nails before, it can be helpful to get a lesson from your veterinarian or a groomer to help you feel more confident.
You’ll also need to pick a set of tools. There are two types of cutter: guillotine and scissor. Some people also like to keep other things such as a file or dremel handy, but that’s a personal choice. It’s a good idea to keep some styptic powder available, just in case a nail is accidentally nicked. Styptic powder can help stop minor bleeding and is usually a staple in a pet first-aid kit.
Dogs.about.com recommends starting slowly; after a clipping lesson, lightly trim a couple of nails per day—not all at once. By taking off just the nail tips it lessens the risk of cutting the quick.
Prior to a clipping session, speak to your dog in a soothing voice to relax him. Have him lay down on his side, preferably up on a table if it’s possible. Make sure he won’t slip around on the surface underneath him.
To gently restrain your dog, “stand on the side of the table opposite to the claws you are trimming,” reports VetMed.com. “Drape your arms and upper body over the dog. When trimming the front claws, keep your left forearm over the neck to keep the dog from lifting its head.”
Hold your dog’s paw in one hand and the trimmer in your dominant hand. If your dog tries to stand, VetMed.com recommends leaning your upper body over his shoulder to prevent him from getting up. If you can’t place your dog on a table, simply modify you and your dog’s position to something similar and equally comfortable for both of you. Also, before you get started make sure you have plenty of light so you can see your dog’s nails clearly.
When trimming a nail with a guillotine trimmer, place the nail through the clipper ring; when you squeeze the handle a blade moves up and slices the nail off. Hold each toe gently but securely to ensure the nail doesn’t move around within the blade circle.
With a guillotine trimmer, VetMed.com recommends that the cutting blades should not face the dog; the screws on the handle should face the dog. “If you turn the trimmer around with the screws toward you, the cutting blade is cutting closer to the quick than if your trimmer is held with the cutting blade toward you,” the site reports.
The site also notes that it’s important to hold the handles either toward the floor or the ceiling—not from side to side. “If the trimmer is placed parallel to the nail (cutting from side to side), the nail is crushed and may splinter.”
Scissors-style trimmers work similarly to, well, scissors. Whichever you choose, always work with a set of trimmers with sharp blades, as these make cleaner cuts.
If your dog has both light-colored and black nails, start with the light ones. Because you can see the quick, they can serve a guide for the darker nails. With either type of clippers, clip within approximately 2 millimeters of the quick, VetMed.com recommends. (If this proves too close for your comfort, you can leave a little more nail.)
If you look at a nail from the side, you’ll notice that the top is darkest (2 in the photo) and the curved part underneath the bottom is lighter (1). When you cut into the nail, you can also see this. “As you cut the nail deeper, you will see a homogeneous gray to pink oval (3) starting to appear at the top of the cut surface of the nail,” reports VetMed.com. “Stop cutting the nail at this point as additional cutting will cut into the quick.”
If your dog has dew claws, don’t forget to trim those, too. Because those nails never hit the ground they don’t wear down like the other nails do.
Finish off the edges with a file if you like—and if your dog tolerates it. If you find that your dog’s nails are exceptionally hard or tough, consider trimming his nails after a bath or swimming session to soften them up.
If you cut the quick, don’t panic—it will only upset your dog more. At the same time, do be aware that he is probably experiencing some pain so be gentle and handle the situation with care.
The wound will bleed some, so prepare for that if you’re the squeamish type.Dogs.about.com notes that there are three options to stop the bleeding. The first is to let the bleeding stop on its own, which lasts about five to seven minutes. The second is to hold tissue paper or a little flour or corn flour against the bleeding and the third is applying the styptic powder to the cut.
Refrain from allowing your dog to lick the nail, as it will only prolong the bleeding. If the bleeding lasts longer than a few minutes, call your veterinarian to get a medical professional’s advice.
So how do you know when it’s time to cut your dog’s nails? The answer is a little vague: It depends on the dog. It goes beyond merely how fast or slow a dog’s nails grow; it also depends on how active the dog is and where. A dog that jogs with its parents or walks frequently on the sidewalk will wear his nails down faster than a dog that walks on grass or sand—or rarely walks at all. Senior, arthritic and dogs with hip dysplasia (among other health concerns) may also have trouble getting around, which would also inhibit their movement and, consequently, affect how their nails wear down.
Another thing to note is that the nails on hind paws are frequently shorter than their front paw counterparts. “Most dogs propel themselves with their back legs, such as Greyhounds do, and wear the back nails down.”
The possible combinations of lifestyle and surfaces are practically infinite so get in the habit of checking your dog’s feet. In addition to checking the nails, it’s a great habit to get in for examining the paw pads too. If you hear your dog’s nail clicking on a hard surface, his nails are definitely too long.
And what if they are too long? As mentioned above, nails that haven’t been trimmed can cause a dog pain. If they’re too long, simply trimming them back to where you think they should be will result in cutting the nail quicks. As the nail grows, so too does the quick along with it.
In cases like these, cut just the tip of the nail off, which will make the quick recede a little bit. “As nails grow, the quick extends so that the quick becomes very long when the nail is very long,” reports PetHealth101.com. “Although this procedure is sometimes done under anesthetic, at home we just cut the nails slowly. The quick will regress a small amount each time the nail is shortened. Over several weeks, the nail can be shortened without pain or trauma.”
Once you figure out the right amount of time between clippings and get confident with your new skills, you can add nail trims to your regular grooming routine. Maintaining a healthy set of nails instead having to take care of a problem situation is easier for you and much more comfortable and healthy for the dogs themselves.
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.