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:
- How often should you clip?
- What tools should you pick up?
- How do you clip your dog's nails without hurting them or making them bleed?
In this article, we'll tackle these common issues one at a time, everything from the frequency of nail trimming to making the process easier for you and your dog.
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 dogs 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 then 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.
Here are two great nail trimmer options. For small dogs (and cats), I prefer the green-handled clippers on the left, while the trimmers on the right are good for pets of any size.
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. 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. 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, and you if your dog bites or if the grinder ends up catching your finger in the chaos! 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.
Cutting the 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 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 held 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. 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.)
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 or the toe-grips linked below. 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. So 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, these 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.
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.