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At-home nail cutting guide

The essentials

  • You can cut your dog’s nails at home — But you can also take them to a veterinarian or professional groomer. If your pet doesn’t mind vet visits, time trims with regular exams — it might be free. Otherwise, vets may charge a nominal fee, usually less than $10.
  • Nail clipping is uncomfortable for dogs — It takes most dogs some time to get used to them, so it helps to be gentle and patient.
  • It gets easier  — Stay positive and exercise caution when trimming your dog’s nails. Before long, the process will be a lot easier for both of you. We’ll explain exactly how to cut your dog’s nails, step-by-step.

Trimmed nails are one of the clearest indicators of good health and hygiene in dogs. While you can get a vet or professional groomer to cut your dog’s nails, it’s a procedure that can be done safely at home if you don’t want to deal with the extra hassle or cost

Because nail trimming can be stressful for dogs, it’s best to get them used to it early. Some dogs prefer to sit on their owner’s lap or a table while you clip their nails, but other pups may not be as cooperative. Be gentle, stay patient, and offer plenty of praise and treats throughout the process. 

Avoid using restraints while cutting your dog’s nails, as these will only make your dog more anxious. If your dog still seems resistant to nail clipping even after you tried to make them more comfortable, you could also consider sedating them.

👉 When is it time to cut your dog’s nails? Listen for loud, clacking footsteps and watch for excessive nail-biting. If your pup scratches you when they jump up, it might also be time for a nail trim. 

What you’ll need when cutting your dog’s nails

Use safe, pet-friendly tools when trimming your dog’s nails. Here’s what you’ll need: 

  • Dog-friendly nail clippers, scissors, or grinder
  • Treats
  • Styptic powder or clotting powder

Tips for getting your dog comfortable

It takes most dogs some time to get comfortable with clipping and grooming, so maintain a friendly attitude and show them lots of patience while they’re still learning. You can also try a few different things to help ease them into it:

  • Handle your pup’s feet often — If your dog is still a puppy, it helps to frequently touch and hold their paws a few days before trimming their nails. This makes their feet less sensitive when handled. 
  • Let them sniff the clippers — This helps dogs get comfortable with nail clipping equipment and makes the whole process less scary. 
  • Gently touch the clippers to each paw — This gives them a better idea of what the process will be like. 
  • Offer praise and treats — Positive reinforcements create a positive association with nail cutting time. 
  • Start with one nail — After a few days of easing your dog into things, you can trim just the tip of one nail to get started. Even if your dog seems comfortable, stop at one. And of course, make sure to offer treats and praise afterward.

How to cut your dog’s nails

There are many different trimmers, scissors, and grinders available for dog nail grooming. Use whichever one you and your dog are most comfortable with, and keep some styptic or clotting powder on hand in case of any nicks or cuts.

👉If it’s your first time cutting your dog’s nails, start by removing small amounts until you get comfortable with where the quick of the nail is.

  1. Pick up their paw — Firmly (but gently) place your thumb on the toe pad and position your forefinger on top of the toe on the skin above the nail. Make sure no fur is in the way before you start trimming. 
  2. Extend the nail — Push your thumb slightly up and back on the pad, and push your forefinger forward to extend the nail. 
  3. Clip the tips. Only clip the nail tips, cutting straight across each one. Don’t forget to clip the dewclaws, too — these nails are on the inner side of the paw.
  4. Repeat for each nail
How to tri your dogs toe nails infographic

Source: Dogs Naturally

Avoid trimming past the curve of each nail. This will put the nail’s quick (the pink part of the nail that contains blood vessels) at risk of being cut. Cuts here cause bleeding and a lot of pain. If your dog has dark nails, you can find the quick by looking for a chalky white ring.

What happens if you avoid cutting your dog’s nails?

Nail trimming isn’t just about looks. Unhealthy nails can cause dogs a lot of pain, and in rare cases even lead to irreversible damage. Untrimmed dog nails also tend to have longer quicks, which means there’s a bigger chance for pain and discomfort when their nails do eventually get cut. 

Regular nail trimming will cause the quicks to recede and lead to easier maintenance and an all-around better experience for you and your dog. It will also help avoid complications like:

  • Broken nails. Dog nails normally wear down naturally on hard surfaces like sidewalks, but many still need trimming to avoid overgrowth. Longer nails are more likely to snag and break — just be careful not to cut them too short. 
  • Nail infections. Infections are common in dogs because their paws are in constant contact with everyday surfaces and germs. Even tiny cuts can become infected if left unattended. 
  • Nail biting. Dogs bite their nails for all kinds of reasons, from irritation caused by allergens to full-blown infections. Regular grooming is the best way to keep their nails healthy, clean, and feeling good.

Frequently asked questions

What do I need to cut my dog’s nails at home?

Cutting your dog’s nails at home is easier than you might think. For starters, you need a good pair of clippers, styptic or clotting powder, and plenty of treats. You also want to make sure your pet is comfortable while trimming their nails. You can do this by having them sit on your lap or a sturdy chair and giving them praise between each nail. 

I’m a beginner — can I still cut my dog’s nails at home? 

Even if you don’t have a ton of experience trimming your dog’s nails, you should still be able to work up to it at home. Once your dog seems comfortable with their paws being handled and has familiarized themselves with the clippers, it’s time to trim. Firmly place your thumb on the toe pad and position your forefinger on the skin above the nail. Then push your thumb up and back on the pad while pushing your forefinger forward to extend the nail. Clip just the tip and cut straight across to avoid hitting the sensitive quick (the pink part of the nail that contains blood vessels). Repeat this process for each nail. 

In what direction do you cut a dog’s nails?  

Dog nails should be cut from underneath at a 45-degree angle.

How often do I need to cut my dog’s nails? 

A dog’s nails usually need a trim every four to six weeks, depending on your dog’s activity level.

Does cutting a dog’s nails hurt them?  

While nail trimming is very uncomfortable for dogs, it only hurts them if the quicks of their nails are cut. Keep at-home trimmings to the tips only to avoid this.