How to Cut Your Dog’s Nails Safely

Teresa Manucy, DVM
By Teresa Manucy, DVM on Jun. 30, 2020

Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed prevents them from dealing with unnecessary pain. 

Cutting or filing your dog’s nails regularly should be a routine part of dog grooming, but for many dogs, having their nails clipped can be extremely stressful.

Here’s a guide for dog nail trimming, including how to cut dog nails, how to file dog nails, the tools you’ll need to trim your dog’s nails, and tips for minimizing stress and preventing injury.

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Tools for Trimming Your Dog’s Nails at Home

Thankfully, you won’t need an entire toolbox dedicated to your dog’s pedicure—just these handy tools will do the trick:

  • Dog nail clippers

  • Treats

  • Styptic powder (or flour or cornstarch)

Types of Dog Nail Clippers

There are a variety of options you can use to trim your dog’s nails. While some people might prefer guillotine-style clippers, the spring-loaded scissor-style or plier-style nail clippers are favored by most veterinary professionals. These are especially helpful for dogs with thick, tough nails.

Some brands even have a guard so you don’t accidentally cut the nail too short.

Scissor-style or plier-style nail clippers can be used for both small and large dogs, but you may find it easier to use nail clippers specifically made for cats or small dogs if you have a miniature pooch.

For very small or very young dogs, you can use human nail clippers, but it’s generally easier to see what you are doing with trimmers made specifically for dogs.

Using Treats

Keep some treats nearby for positive reinforcement to help make nail trims less scary for your dog.

Styptic Powder

A good styptic powder is smart to have on hand for those instances where you accidentally cut a nail too short. Styptic powder will help stop the bleeding so that you can care for your dog’s toe.

How to Cut Dog Nails Safely

It may be helpful to gradually get your dog accustomed to the sight and sound of the nail clippers before you try to cut your dog’s nails.

Try bringing the nail clippers out, clicking them, and letting your dog smell them on different occasions (without actually cutting their nails) so they get used to them.

Give your dog tasty treats when the clippers come out.

Here’s how to cut dog nails safely:

  1. Find a quiet area where your dog is comfortable and free from distractions.

  2. If you have a small dog, hold your dog in your lap or place them on a steady surface. If you have a large dog, it’s helpful to have another person hold your dog while you cut their nails.

  3. Gently but firmly hold one of your dog’s paws between your thumb and forefinger.

  4. Push down slightly on the paw pad to extend the nail forward. Make sure there is no hair blocking your view of the entire nail.

  5. When your dog is holding still, clip straight across the tip of the nail. Do not clip behind the natural curve of the nail.

  6. Give lots of high-value treats before, during, and after to associate nail trims with big rewards.

How to File Your Dog’s Nails to Smooth Them After Clipping

Filing your dog’s nails is primarily done to remove any sharp tips or fragments left over after clipping your dog’s nails.

  1. Take a heavy-duty nail file, grasp your dog’s paw gently, and spread the toes apart.

  2. With your dominant hand, hold the file and gently round off any sharp edges for a smooth finish.

How Short Should You Cut Your Dog’s Nails?

It is important not to clip behind the natural curve of the nail because this is where the “quick” starts.

The quick is the center portion of the nail that contains blood vessels and nerves. If you accidentally cut this part of the nail, it will cause bleeding and some pain for your dog.

If you are concerned that you may be cutting too close to the quick, it is best to leave that nail a little longer.

If at any point you feel uncomfortable with the process, or think you are causing your dog pain, please stop and contact your local veterinarian for further instructions.

How to Cut Dog Nails That Are Black

Dogs with black nails can present more of a challenge. Since their nail is naturally pigmented, it can be difficult to see where the quick begins.

Once you begin cutting, you may see a chalk-like white ring that surrounds the beginning of the quick. If you feel uncomfortable clipping your dog’s black nails, schedule a nail trim appointment at your veterinarian’s office.

You can also ask one of the veterinary clinic employees to demonstrate how to cut black nails properly.

How Often Should You Trim Your Dog’s Nails?

The amount of time between nail trims depends on how quickly your dog’s nails grow and how quickly they are worn down.

The average dog should have his nails clipped every three to four weeks, but it should be done as often as needed to keep the nail from touching the ground when your dog is standing.

If your dog is a lapdog whose feet rarely touch the ground, you may need to trim their nails more often, whereas dogs that run on pavement or rough surfaces may not need theirs done that often or at all.

How to Stop a Dog’s Toenail From Bleeding

A bleeding toenail can be very distressing for you and your dog. Here’s how to stop the bleeding.

Styptic powder can be used to help stop the nail from bleeding by helping the blood to clot. If you don’t have styptic powder, flour or cornstarch can also be used to stop a dog’s nail from bleeding and can be applied the same way as styptic powder.

  1. Pour a small amount on the tip of your finger and press the powder into the nail tip.

  2. Pressure can be applied for a few seconds to allow the styptic powder to stick.

If the bleeding does not stop after several minutes, call your veterinarian for further recommendations.

Dog Nail Trimming Alternative

As an alternative to cutting their dog’s nails, some people choose to grind them down with a Dremel tool (also called a nail grinder) specifically created for pet nails. 

The Dremel uses a special sandpaper-type bit and a 30,000 RPM speed to grind the nails down quickly and safely. 

It’s best to use the nail grinder every 7-10 days for maintenance.

For dogs with long hair, trim the hair around the toes prior to filing, and move the Dremel around constantly to avoid friction that can cause an uncomfortable warming sensation.  

With the right tools, a little patience, and a whole lot of treats, you can save some time and save your pup the stress of traveling to the groomer or the vet clinic.


Featured Image:

Teresa Manucy, DVM


Teresa Manucy, DVM


Dr. Teresa Manucy is a 1997 graduate of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. She completed an internship in small...

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