How do You Properly Trim a Dog's Nails?

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: March 19, 2020
How do You Properly Trim a Dog's Nails?

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Keeping a dog's nails in good condition is for more than just aesthetics. It is a health issue as it can prevent the appearance of wounds on their paws and other problems resulting from claws which are too long. In the wild dogs would naturally trim their nails on rocks and other parts of their landscape to trim them. When they spend most of their time inside or are walking in soft dog parks, there may not be as much opportunity for them to do it themselves.

Fortunately, trimming your dog's claws at home is an easy process as long as you have the right tools and know how. This is why AnimalWised shows you how you properly trim your dog's nails so that you can save money on unnecessary vet or dog groomer visits. It will also prevent your dog from having to go through the often stressful process of going to a clinic.

Why should you trim your dog's nails?

If you have every looked at your dog's feet, you will see that they have paw pads which support their weight when walking. If their nails are too long they exceed the length of these paws and can make walking difficult, increasing pressure and even causing pain. Continued walking on paws with too long nails can cause their feet to twist, little by little crippling their legs as they walk improperly. This can serious affect a dog's quality of life, reducing their inability to exercise, increasing their risk of obesity and causing serious pain.

When a dog's claws are too long, it can also cause a wound to open up on their paws. If they have a dewclaw with a long nail then it can scrape their legs also as they walk and run, causing wounds further up. If your dog has wounds on its paws and then walks outside where you can't control cleanliness, they are opening themselves up to the risk of possible severe infection.

At what age should you start cutting a dog's nails?

Many people wonder when they should start cutting a puppy's nails. There are so many aspects of care when a dog is young, it can be easy to put seemingly cosmetic issues to the back of our mind. However, the answer is relatively simple. Do it when they need it. Your puppy won't grow their nails until it is ready to, so we can initiate this process whenever we see them get too long. There is no concrete age at which you should start cutting a dog's nails. Also, when we start trimming early, we will ensure they become used to this practice and hopefully they won't develop an aversion as they get older. We may need smaller clippers or scissors and we need to be extra careful with puppies, but if they are long enough to be cut, cut them.

How often do you cut a dog's nails?

After understanding the importance of trimming a dog's nails as well as knowing when to do it, we may get carried away and get overzealous. As every dog has their own rate of growth when it comes to their nails, there is no universal amount. Similarly, each dog will engage in different amounts of exercise and inhabit different environments which will affect their nail growth.

In general, small breeds and toy dogs will have a higher growth rate than medium to large sized dogs. If your furry friend is a Chihuahua or Yorkshire Terrier, for example, you may need to trim your dog's nails every two to three weeks. If your canine pal is a Boxer dog you may only need to it once a month or so. What you should know clearly is that a dog's nails never stop going, so ensure you review them regularly and attend to them when needed.

How do You Properly Trim a Dog's Nails? - Why should you trim your dog's nails?

What do I need to trim my dog's nails?

To properly cut a dog's nails at home, you need to ensure you have the right tools. This is particularly as you want to ensure they don't get hurt. It is worth not skimping on spending as cheap tools may result in a bad job and negatively affect your dog's health.

There are a variety of nail cutters for dogs with different shapes and sizes. The two most used are:

Standard nail clippers

This type of nail trimmer has a similar shape to the ones we humans use on their own nails, but have adapted blades for canines. Likewise, some models incorporate a small spring to facilitate smooth movement. To use the, you simply place the blades in the right position and apply pressure for a smooth cut.

To choose the right model for you, simply look at the size of the cutter blades and compare them with the size of your dog's claws. Although they can be used on all types of dog, standard nail clippers are best for small and toy dogs as you don't need to use much force to clip them properly.

Guillotine nail clippers

This type of nail scissors have a specially adapted spring and hole system to make properly trimming your dog's nails easy and intuitive. To use them you introduce the dog's nail into the hole and place the blade at the right point to make the appropriate cut. One of the main benefits of this type of clipper over the standard type is that you need to exert less pressure to make the same cut. This means if you have a larger breed of dog with nails which are much tougher, you can use this with less difficulty.

How do You Properly Trim a Dog's Nails? - What do I need to trim my dog's nails?

Step-by-step guide to cut a dog's nails

Now we know what equipment to use when cutting a dog's nails, we can explain how it's done. Before we do this, we need to clarify that a dog's nail is living tissue. While its exterior is hard, but inside there is a part of soft tissue known as the matrix. If this is clipped instead of the hard protein nail, it can result in pain and even infection. The best way to see the location of this sensitive part is to shine a light behind the nail and identify it at the pink part in the inside. Once you see where this is, ensure you avoid it and follow these steps:

  • Create a relaxed and reassuring atmosphere. This is one of the reasons you start this process early so that they don't get too agitated when you have to take care of them in this way. Before you even get to this point of trimming, you should touch their paws gently every day. While this may seem like a strange act, it will build up a tolerance to them being touched and make it easier when it comes time to cut.
  • Once your dog is relaxed, place them on their feet and take a look at the place they need cut. The ideal place to cut is so that it is long enough to almost be at ground level, but without touching it.
  • If it is your first time cutting your dog's nails, then you need to get them used to the clippers. Don't immediately cut through. Instead, place the clippers on the nail of the paw pads without actually cutting. Do this a few times so they get used to the action and then reward them with a treat.
  • To cut, simply place the clippers in the right position and exert the correct force smoothly for the cut. Not being confident will make your dog lose confidence. The place to cut needs to be away from the living tissue and either straight or pointing slightly downwards. Do not cut upwards. Look at the picture below for reference.
  • When you cut their nails on the first paw, congratulate them and offer a treat before moving on to the next one. If you give a treat for each nail, you'll be giving them too many treats.

How to cut a dog with black nails

If your dog's nails are transparent, it is relatively easy to see where the living tissue is to avoid it. However, if your dog has dark black nails, it can be quite difficult. To avoid cutting the living tissue in the matrix of the nail, there are two options:

  1. Cut the nail little by little: start by trimming the end of the dog's nail a little, then a little more. If the inside of the nail is white, then you can go a little more. However, if you see a black dot, then you must stop as the soft tissue is just behind it.
  2. Cut the nail at ground level: with the dog standing on the ground, take a look at the point where it touches the ground and then cut at this point. Be cautious and check to see if it touches the ground, clipping more until it is cut properly.
How do You Properly Trim a Dog's Nails? - Step-by-step guide to cut a dog's nails

What to do when you cut too much

It is possible that if we are not careful or the dog jerks away at the last second, we might cut too much from the dog's nail. If this happens, we may see that it has started to bleed. If this happens, the first thing to do is stay calm. The fastest and most effective treatment is to take a clean gauze, dampen it with hydrogen peroxide solution and clean the nail. This will both disinfect the wound and hopefully stop it from bleeding. If you have chlorhexidine digluconate at home, this is even better as it will clean the wound while minimizing irritation.

Ideally have disinfectant products by your side as you cut the nail so as to act as soon as possible if there is an accident. If we want to be even more cautious and prepared, we can go to the veterinarian first and buy some special antiseptic powder for dogs. It is better than hydrogen peroxide for dogs. This is also why we recommend you invest in a first aid kit for dogs so you can be ready for almost any first aid emergency.

If you find yourself unable to cut your dog's nails properly at home, you can take them to the vet or a dog groomer who will be able to do this properly. This may be the case either if you are not confident or if your dog has a preexisting condition where they have problems with their claws. They may also have experienced some trauma, are insecure or are a hyperactive dog which cannot easily sit still. Taking them to a professional might be easier, but it is better to do it at home if you can.

How do You Properly Trim a Dog's Nails? - What to do when you cut too much

If you want to read similar articles to How do You Properly Trim a Dog's Nails?, we recommend you visit our Nail care category.

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