How to Trim Your Dog’s Toenails

5 of 7 in Series: The Essentials of Dog Grooming

Unless your dog runs around on hard surfaces that help keep toenails short, you have to clip them about once a week — if you hear them clicking on a hard surface, it’s time for a trim.

Most dogs detest having their feet handled, so clipping may never be your favorite shared activity, but getting your dog used to this ritual at an early stage helps you both weather the process. Try giving your dog a yummy treat after the trimming session, along with a big hug, a boisterous “Good dog!” and a healthy scratch behind the ears.

Before attempting a trim yourself, ask your veterinarian or a groomer to show you how to trim your pup’s toenails them to the right length.

A dog’s toenail is made up of the nail itself and the quick, the pink (when it’s visible) part of your dog’s toenails that provides the blood supply to the nail. Avoid cutting into the quick because it bleeds quite a bit and it’s quite sensitive.

The quick is the dark part inside the nail -- the blood supply to avoid!
The quick is the dark part inside the nail -- the blood supply to avoid!

If you can’t do all your dog’s nails at once, never fear — you can clip them one paw at a time, with other activities or a resting period in between.

To trim your dog’s nails:

  1. Hold the foot steady, but hold it gently.

  2. Snip off a small bit of the end of each toenail.

    Using either the guillotine or scissors-type clippers, place a tiny bit of the nail in the nail clipper and snip.

    If the nail feels spongy while you’re trying to cut it, stop immediately — you’re cutting the quick!

  3. Stop any bleeding immediately.

    If you cut the quick (often called quicking), you’ll have an unhappy dog and a bloody mess. The quick bleeds a great deal, so if you cut it, you need either a nail cauterizer — a tool that stops the bleeding by applying heat — or styptic powder you can apply with a cotton swab. Have a damp washcloth at hand ready to clean up styptic powder and blood as necessary.

    Quicking hurts a lot, and most dogs remember the experience long afterward.

Don’t forget the dewclaws if your dog has them. They tend to grow long because they don’t normally touch the ground and if you fail to cut them, they will eventually grow back into your dog’s foot, which is quite painful.

If you use a nail grinder rather than clippers, use the same method — hold your dog’s foot, turn on the grinder, and grind a little off each nail.

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The Essentials of Dog Grooming

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