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How to Care for Your Dog’s Nails

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

When to Trim a Dog’s Nails

Many dogs wear their nails down through regular activity on rough surfaces. However, some dogs need help from their owners several times a month to keep their nails well-maintained and prevent damage to carpeting, floors, people, other pets and even the dog itself. Show dogs have their nails trimmed more frequently. Dogs regularly used for hunting, tracking, sledding or other strenuous outdoor activities may be an exception. Rough, long nails can interfere with a dog’s footing and cause its toes to splay. Untrimmed nails can grow into the dog’s sensitive foot pads, causing painful sores that can become infected. Some dogs have dewclaws, which are remnants of fifth toes high on the inside of their feet. Dewclaws don’t touch the ground and, if not trimmed regularly, can curl and grow into the skin. Many breeders remove dewclaws within a few days after puppies are born. Dewclaws are required to be present in some breeds, including the Great Pyrenees and Briard, as part of their official breed standards.

How to Trim a Dog’s Nails

Routine nail care involves trimming, filing or grinding the nails, usually at least once or twice a month. Very active dogs may need fewer nail trims; sedentary dogs may need more. The first thing to do is gather the right tools for the job.

Available Tools

Most people trim their dog’s nails with clippers made especially for pets. Several types are widely available, including single-bladed “guillotine-style” clippers and hand-held plier-like clippers with two cutting edges. Because canine nails are rounded rather than flat, nail trimmers designed for people don’t work well, except on tiny breeds. Some breeders, show dog owners and owners of large or giant breeds use a Dremel tool with an electric sanding drum to grind down their dog’s nails. Dremels are available at well-stocked hardware stores. Nail grinders made specifically for pets are increasingly available at pet supply retailers.

Trimming Technique

Here’s one way to trim a dog’s nails:

  • Put the dog on a stable raised surface, on the floor or on your lap.
  • Work under bright light.
  • Lift one paw and gently squeeze a toe between your forefinger and thumb, to expose and extend the nail.
  • Look at the nail. It usually will have a sharp pointy tip, which is the part that you want to clip. A band of nerves and blood vessels runs part way down the inside of each nail; this is the “quick.” Don’t cut the quick if you can avoid it; it will hurt a bit and bleed. The quick is easy to see in dogs with light nails but nearly impossible to see in dogs with dark nails.
  • Clip the jagged part at the very tip of the nail, right before it starts to curve downward. This should avoid cutting the quick. Usually, only a small piece of the nail is cut.
  • If you nick the quick, don’t panic. Put pressure on it with a towel, paper towel, cotton ball or square of gauze. This should help the blood clot within a few minutes. Products made to speed up clotting are available from pet supply stores. Styptic powder, flour or corn starch can be used in a pinch.
  • If the dog is cantankerous, it may be best to trim the nails on one foot and call it a day.

Special Notes

It’s important to get dogs used to having their feet and nails handled early in puppyhood, using patience and lots of positive reinforcement. Older dogs that haven’t had regular nail care can be hard to handle and may need to be sedated for nail trims.

Basic Care Topics
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