Clipping Nails: A How-To Guide for Puppies (and Dogs)

By PetMD Editorial on Apr. 13, 2011

An important part of a puppy’s grooming is the regular trimming of his nails. Allowing your dog’s nails to grow too long can cause his toes to spread, which in turn puts stress on the ankle joints. If this happens, he may experience some difficulty in walking around. A dog with long nails is also more prone to scratching floors, furniture and even people.

Most owners are apprehensive about clipping their dog’s nails, but if you begin doing this soon after you bring your puppy home, you will find it is very easy to do and you will get the puppy used to being still for this part of the grooming process so that it is not something to dread.

Before You Begin

Start off by just clipping the very tips of his nails. This will allow your puppy the experience of having his nails clipped, and at the same time will help you to become more confident. If you still are nervous about clipping your pup’s nails, you can visit a professional groomer or ask your veterinarian to show you the proper technique.

It is best to clip your puppy’s nails once a week, and only when using professional nail clippers that are designed for the shape of a dog’s nails (they are markedly different from human or cat nails). You may even want to ask another person to help you out the first few times. The other person can hold the puppy still while you clip the nails. As your puppy becomes accustomed to this kind of grooming, there will no longer be any need to restrain him.

Getting Started

To clip your puppy’s nails, place his paw in your hand and hold each toe with your index finger and your thumb. Do not squeeze the toe, but hold it firmly. If the puppy tries to pull his paw away from you, or struggles to get free, give him the “No, stay!” command, and praise him immediately when he follows your command. Hold the nail clipper with the other hand. This position will give you more precision and prevent you from clipping the nails too short.

It is important to avoid cutting into the vein that runs halfway through the nail. This vein is called the “quick” and it is quite easy to spot in nails that are white or nearly transparent. Just as human nails have a white part of the nail above the fingertip, dogs have a section of white, nerve-free nail, and below it, an extension of the toe that is a light pink color. You do not want to cut into the pink part of the nail, as this is full of nerve endings and blood.

If your puppy’s nails are not clear -- they may be brown, grey or black in shade -- the quick may be more difficult to spot. You will just have to be extra careful that you do not cut through it. It is best that you clip off only the tips of the nails once a week if this is the case.

If you do accidentally cut the quick by mistake, be prepared for some bleeding. This is not something serious, but it can lead to an infection if it is not treated properly. Just apply a small amount of styptic powder or alum to stop the bleeding.

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