Dog nail trimming

Nail trimming is a crucial, and frequently stressful, part of your pet’s care.  There are a few things you can try to make things a little easier on both yourself and your pet.


Make sure you have the right tools.  If the nail clippers aren’t big enough, you may have a hard time getting through your Great Dane’s giant nails.  If they’re too big, they’ll be difficult to maneuver around your kitten’s tiny paw.  There are two types of nail clippers – scissor and guillotine.  Figure out which one you are most comfortable handling.  Don’t be afraid to consult a professional about what tool is best for your pet.  Keep in mind that any nail clipper will become dull over time.  Sharpen or replace them as needed.  You may also want a nail file to remove sharp edges after trimming.

Time and Place

Pick a time when you and  your pet are calm and relaxed.  Find a quiet area away from noise and bustle.  If your pet is calm at the beginning, they’re more likely to remain calm throughout the process.

Practice Makes Perfect

Get your pet used to the idea of having their paws and toes handled.  Start by simply holding the paw, and work towards handling each toe. With a cat, you will need to practice exposing the toenail.  Use praise and rewards to let your pet know that they’re doing well.  Introduce the nail clippers, opening and closing them a few times before starting to trim.  You can even touch the toe with the closed clippers and then give your pet a treat.  Cut one nail and give a treat.  Teach them that cooperation gets them treats!  Work up to being able to do every nail before giving a treat.

The First Cut

When in doubt, take less off. You can always trim more; however, if you cut your pet’s quick, it can be upsetting to both of you. If that happens, try to stay calm. Making a big deal about it will only escalate the situation for your pet. Apply styptic powder or corn starch to the quick to help stop any bleeding. White nails are relatively easy – you can see the pink of the quick through the nail. Don’t go right to the end of the quick though; instead, stay a bit below it. Darker nails can be a challenge.

Sometimes you can see the quick from the bottom of the nail; otherwise, trim a little bit at a time, checking the tip of the nail after every cut. If you see a dark grey or black dot in the middle of the cut edge, stop. That’s where the quick is. On white nails, this will show up as a pink dot.

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Take Your Time

Ideally, trimming your pet’s nails should only take a few minutes.  Unfortunately, pets often have other ideas.  You may only get a couple of paws done in one session, or maybe only a couple of nails.  Don’t be afraid to call it quits and try again tomorrow.  If your dog squirms or struggles, it’s more likely that you will cut the quick or even the toe itself.  You may need someone else to hold and distract your pet while you trim.  Don’t let them go if they wiggle, but do stop trying to trim.  If they learn that wiggling gets them out of a pawdicure, they’ll just be more wiggly next time!  Wait until they calm down.  If you have cut a nail, let them go.  If you haven’t, try again.  If it’s still not working, try again later.  It’s possible that you will only be able to trim one nail a day.

Professional Help

For some pets, having their parent trim their nails seems to be traumatic, or at least they act that way.  Don’t be afraid to get help!  Groomers have experience dealing with all kinds of pets, some cooperative and some less so.  Your pet may behave better if they can’t see you.  Your veterinarian can also trim your pet’s nails.  You can try enlisting the help of a friend or family member who is comfortable trimming their own pet’s nails if you’d rather do it at home.


However it gets done, your pet’s nails should be trimmed every 2-8 weeks depending on how fast they grow and whether or not they’re wearing them down on walks or scratching posts.  Your cat’s nails shouldn’t be visible when fully retracted, and your dog’s nails shouldn’t touch the floor when standing still.  If your cat’s nails get too long, they will catch on fabric, and can even curl right back around to the paw.  Dog nails can also curl back, but it’s just as bad if they don’t – long nails can change the way the paw touches the ground causing discomfort, and in severe cases can even deform the paw.