Believe it or not, doggy pedicures are actually a thing. When it comes to your furry friends however, it’s less of a fashion statement and more of a health and safety measure. In this post, we answer every question doting dog parents might have about their fur baby’s nails. Why cut them? How often? What tools will you need?
By the end you’ll understand the anatomy and step-by-step process for keeping your pup’s nails in tip-top shape.
Keeping dog nails trimmed is a kindness to both you and your dog. Trimmed nails improve your pet’s overall well-being and prevent costly visits to the vet later in life. Nails play a significant role in overall dog health, especially musculoskeletal wellness. If they grow too long, they unnaturally splay a dog’s paw leading to severe joint and back problems down the road. Since dogs also use their nails to clean and itch themselves—long nails can hurt or exacerbate skin issues.
What’s more, if you want to spare your furniture and flooring from an early demise due to unwanted tears and scratches, caring for your beloved pup’s nails is highly advisable.
Every dog is different, but a good rule to live by is at least once a month. Active dogs that spend time walking on pavement can go longer between trimmings, while indoor dogs spending most of their time on rugs or carpet should have their nails clipped every 2-3 weeks.
Cutting puppy nails early and often helps their bone structure develop naturally and prevents the nerve and blood vessel that grows inside the nail (called a quick or kwik) from developing too fast.
Understanding nail anatomy is the first step.
The tip of the nail is hollow and the part you will be trimming back. Further into the nail is the main body that contains a blood vein. In dogs with white-colored nails, you can hold your dog’s paw up to a light and get a sense of which part is hollow and where the quick starts. For dogs with darker nails, examine the underside of the nail to find the hollow bit. You want to cut the dog’s nails at a slight, overhanging angle close to the quick, as indicated in the diagram below.
The dog should be comfortable both physically and mentally. Hold the paw in a neutral position—unnaturally pulling the foot will make your dog squirm and tug away. Use lots of treats to put your dog’s mind at ease. They should (eventually) look forward to nail care.
To cut the nails, gently (but firmly) use your non-dominant hand to grab the paw and steady movement. Use your fingers to isolate and express one of the nails, but don’t squeeze the paw to do this; just use your fingers to manipulate a single toe. With your dominant hand, put the clippers in place and depress the tool. Your dog will mimic your demeanor so act swiftly and confidently to put your pup at ease. Dogs are incredibly smart, so if you are nervous, they will be nervous.
If you accidentally cut the vein and the nail begins to bleed, don’t panic. Grab some styptic powder, pinch between your fingers and apply pressure to the nail to stop the bleeding.
Each time you trim the dog’s nail, the quick will recede. If you’ve let your dog’s nails get too long, cut every week to push the vein further in until the nail is the desired length. Filing every other day works as well.
When it comes to trimming and filing nails, there are a number of options you can use depending on your comfort level and experience as well as the sensitivity of your pup.
Most groomers will use a nail dremel, also known as a nail grinder, as this allows them to have a bit more control and smooth and round out the nails. Smooth, rounded nails are better for the pups' health as they are less likely to get snagged on carpet or clothing and they are most certainly better for you as the jagged edges of trimmed nails are often what leave scratches. As an added bonus, routine nail grinding will certainly increase the lifespan of your furniture! Another added benefit of nail grinding as opposed to clipping is that it’s far easier and safer to service larger, thicker nails for some of our bigger pups. The main downside of a nail dremel is that sometimes the vibration of the tool can scare some dogs. To help acclimate your pup to routine nail care, take the non teeth brushing side of your electric toothbrush and vibrate on their nails. You can also take the TV remote and tap it on their nails while hanging on the couch. If you are not comfortable with a dremel, you can also use a file to round out rough edges. While working up your comfort level using the dremel.
Many groomers will also use clippers depending on the dog as these allow the groomer to see every part of the nail and have a built-in safety stop to prevent you from accidentally cutting off more than was intended. You can always trim more, but you can’t make a dog’s nail reappear! As such they are an excellent tool for working your way up the dog’s nail. They are very easy to grip and have a strong cutting ability.
Other options include guillotine-type scissor-shaped nail clippers. Guillotine-type clippers involve putting the nail through a small hole or opening to control the cutting action. They make it easy to cut at the proper angle, but having the nail go through a hole reduces visibility. This makes it easier to cut off more nail than intended.
Scissor-shaped nail clippers are comfortable in your hands and function like a pair of ordinary scissors. That said, they are much weaker than plier or guillotine types, so should only be used with small breeds.
It is important to take your time when cutting or filing your dog's nails as it is fairly common to accidentally nick the main blood vein in the nail (called a quick) causing pain and bleeding for your pup. To that end, if you are going to take on trimming your dog’s nails, it would be wise to have styptic powder on hand. Styptic powder is an antiseptic clotting agent that is used to stop bleeding in dogs and cats. You can purchase this at your local pet store or online.
A helpful trick for dogs with black nails and dark fur (or just any dog at all) is to put their paw in a white plastic bag and poke the nails through. The nails will contrast well through the plastic and make them much easier to trim.
While you’re trimming your dog’s nails, take the opportunity to inspect and clean their paws as well. Towel in between the toes and paw pads and check for anything out of the ordinary. In the winter, be mindful of road salt and deicing chemicals. If your dog grows long hair around the feet, check for matts—these can be especially painful for dogs. Finally, apply a paw pad balm or salve to keep your pup’s paw pads moisturized and soft.