Plenty of pet owners are a little intimidated by the thought of trimming their dog's nails — and a lot of dogs aren't too thrilled by the prospect either.
Beyond the logistics of clipping roughly 20 nails on a squirming dog, there are still a ton of questions.
Questions Veterinarians Get Asked About Trimming Dog Nails
- How often should you clip?
- What nail trimming tools do you need?
- How do you help your dog feel better about getting their nails trimmed?
- Why should you avoid letting your dog's nails get too long?
We'll tackle these common issues, plus a few more, so read on!
How Often Should You Clip Your Dog's Nails?
What Affects Dog Nail Growth and Nail Trimming Frequency
- The type of surface your dog spends most of their time on: Are they indoor mostly and only touching carpet? Outdoors on grass or dirt? Or do they go for frequent walks on asphalt or concrete?
- How much time their feet actually spend on the ground: Do they spend most of their day in your arms or on the couch? Or do they get around under their own power?
- What they eat: Your dog's nutrition, particularly the balance of certain minerals and vitamins can have an impact on the health and growth rate of your dog's nails.
- Certain health conditions: Dogs can get nail bed infections, auto-immune disorders, and tumors that can affect the health and growth rate of their nails.
The Rule of Thumb
A good rule of thumb (pun definitely intended!) is that you should trim your dog's nails, or have them trimmed, as often as it takes to prevent their nails from touching the ground when they're standing (just like in the inset photo). And while this frequency will be different for each dog, the more often you do it the more accustomed to and amenable to it they will be. Especially if you start young, go slowly, and take care to avoid the nerves and blood supply to the nails. So if it's possible and practical to trim your dog's nails weekly or at least every other week, you'll likely see better results, have a much less stressed dog, and experience less stress yourself in the process.
Aim to take enough off of each nail to keep it short, yet not so much that you cut the quick (blood supply) or the nerve endings that extend just beyond the leading edge of the quick. Of course, this is easier to do in dogs with clear nails than it is in those whose nails are dark. With either colored-nails though, it's important to go slowly and give your dog lots of praise and positive rewards (treats) throughout the process.
What Nail Trimming Tools Do You Need?
Here are two great nail clipper options for when you trim your dog's nails. Scissor-style trimmers, like these ones from Shiny Pet, work well for small dogs (and cats). The Epica nail trimmers show on the right (below) come in two sizes and work well for all sizes of dogs.
Consider a Dremel/Nail Grinder
For some dogs, you might find that it's easier to grind their nails rather than clip them, or to clip them and then finish with a grinder to smooth off the edges so they don't snag and rip. Grinding can sometimes be easier on dogs (and their people) since you can take it more slowly, which reduces the chance of cutting the nerve or blood vessel. It's a great alternative to clipping a dog's nails who hates it. Using a grinder also means it's easier to trim closer to a long quick, which helps the quick recede over time. This is important for dogs with long nails that are uncomfortable for them — you can only cut back their nails so far depending on where the quick is and might need to push that quick back with frequent grinding or trimming.
When shopping for a nail grinder for pets, find one that has variable speeds (so you have more control over how much nail you're taking off) and ideally one that's relatively quiet. The most commonly used is the Dremel nail grinder, which uses a rechargeable battery so you can stay cord-free.
If you decide to go the grinding route, be sure to trim the fur on your dog's paws before using the grinder so the fur doesn't get caught up in the moving pieces, which could cause significant pain and injury to your dog. (For those of you humans with long hair, make sure to pull it back when grinding your dog's nails — long hair can get caught and wrapped up in a Dremel very easily!) If you have an especially furry dog, you can also cut small slits in a cheap baby/toddler sock and slip them over your dog's paws, exposing just the nails so they're easier to grind and cut.
Training Your Dog to Accept Getting Their Nails Trimmed
For some great, step-by-step advice on using clicker training to get a dog to accept — and even like — nail trims, check out this helpful video. If your dog ever gets too stressed and resists the procedure, don't dig in your heels and persist but rather take a break, reassure and play with them, and try again later. Perhaps going slower and doing just one nail, or one paw, at each session.
Why You Don't Want to Let Your Dog's Nails Get Too Long
- Long nails can actually be painful for your dog when they strike the pavement or floor with each step.
- Long nails can make it difficult for your dog to have a good grip as they walk along slick floors like hardwood, linoleum, and tile. (Check out other ways below to give your dog more traction.)
- Long nails are more likely to get hung up on things and torn off. (Ouch!)
- Untrimmed nails can curl and grow into your dog's skin or paw pads, resulting in an infection and pain. This is true of all nails, but especially the dewclaws.
- And then there's the damage that long nails can do to your floors, furniture, and your skin.
What to Do if You Cut Your Dog's Nail Too Short
Should you ever cut your dog’s nails too short — which many people, including professionals, have done — you'll want to have something on hand to stop the bleeding. You might hear this referred to as "quicking" your dog's nails. This happens when you cut the blood vessel (called the quick) and happens more frequently with dogs that squirm a lot during nail trims and dogs with black nails. The quick can bleed quite a lot when cut, so always keep something on hand to stop the bleeding just in case.
You can use styptic powder like Kwik-Stop or, even better, ClotIt (a blood-clotting accelerant that you should also have in your dog's First-Aid Kit). In a pinch though, you can also use cornstarch pressed onto the nail and hold for a few minutes to stop nail bleeding. Of course, with patience, care, and a well-acclimated dog, you’re less likely to need either.
Stop Your Dog From Squirming While You Trim Their Nails
If you have a squirmy pup and need help keeping them still long enough to trim and grind their nails, here's a cool trick: put some peanut butter on a plate to occupy your dog while you take care of their nails, or use a Lick Mat smothered in yummy smashed banana to keep them busy. Check out the video below to see this trick in action, which comes from OhMyDogBlog. (If you decide to try this peanut butter trick, be sure not to use peanut butter that contains xylitol.)
How to clip your dog's nails (aka "Peanut Butter Plate") from Maggie Marton on Vimeo.
Spread a bit of your dog's wet food, peanut butter, pureed pumpkin, or low-fat greek yogurt on this mat to provide a soothing enrichment activity.
How to Give Your Dog More Traction
Regardless of the length of your dog's nails, some dogs just have a harder time getting traction on certain surfaces, like tile, linoleum, and hardwood. This is especially true for a dog with arthritis.
For dogs with traction problems that can't be solved by just nail trimming alone, consider some doggie socks. Note that the main concern with socks is that, depending on the brand/style, the size of your dog, and their activity level, the socks may twist, fall down, or come off. I've also found that the Dr. Busby's ToeGrips are a great alternative way to help your dog get a grip on slippery floors.
Make sure to order the correct size and also take the time to get your dog accustomed to wearing them, so they're less likely to try and pull them off (another possibility). All that said, socks can significantly help dogs with mobility problems on otherwise slippery floors. They might not work with all dogs, but they're worth a shot before installing wall-to-wall carpeting.