How to Clip Dog Nails -- A Pain-Free and Easy Guide

June 8, 2017

You know you need to do it, but do you know how to make it quick and pain-free? Here's how to clip dog nails the right way every time.

Want to learn how to clip dog nails? You probably know that keeping dog nails trimmed is important to your pet's overall health. "Overly long nails can snag on surfaces, such as rugs and stairs, or cause the toes to become abnormally positioned," says veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney of California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness. But that's not all. "Ultimately, a dog's ability to normally stand and walk can be compromised and painful arthritis can develop," he says.

However, most dog owners hate the dreaded task because they're nervous about cutting the quick (the vein that runs into the nail) or hurting their dog's sensitive paws. Knowing how to clip dog nails the right way can turn the process into an easy, stress-free activity for you and your dog.

Here are the steps for how to clip dog nails:

  • Step 1 -- Get Advice
    Before you start out, it's a good idea to get advice from a professional. "As groomers, veterinary technicians and veterinarians are the most experienced in providing nail trims, you may want to rely upon their skills to permit the safest and most effective process," says Dr. Mahaney. Be sure to ask for tips and pointers that will help you reenact the process at home.
  • Step 2 --Gather Supplies
    To best clip your dog's nails at home, you'll need a good pair of dog nail clippers. Both guillotine and clipper styles get the job done. Just choose which feels more comfortable to you. You'll also need some styptic powder or cornstarch on hand in case you accidentally do cut the quick.


  • Step 3 -- Prepare Your Pooch
    Make sure your dog is in a calm, relaxed state. You might want to release some energy beforehand with a good game of fetch or a nice long walk. If you've never clipped your dog's nails, take it slow and easy the first time and only clip one or two nails at once. As your dog gets used to the process, you can clip more nails in one sitting.
  • Step 4 -- Hold Your Dog in Place
    To avoid injuries, it's important to firmly hold your dog in place. Have your pup lie down and put your arms and upper body over him while you clip his nails. If your dog is too anxious or nervous in this position, try laying your dog on his side instead.


  • Step 5 -- Cut Off Just the Nail Tip
    Using your clippers, cut off the tip of each nail at a slight angle, just before the point where it begins to curl. "A good rule is to hold the nail trimmers parallel to the foot pad and only clip the nail at that point," says veterinarian Dr. Medora Pashmakova, a clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

    Don't worry about not cutting enough of the nail -- it's better to cut less than too much. "For routine at-home nail trims (which I do about once a month), just evening out the nail with the pad is good enough and will prevent overgrowth," says Dr. Pashmakavoa.

    Take care to avoid cutting the quick. However, if it does happen, don't panic. "This is not tragic, and it stops bleeding after a while," says Dr. Pashmakova. You can apply a bit of styptic powder or cornstarch to help stop the bleeding faster.


  • Step 6 -- Reward Your Pet
    After a nail-clipping session, be sure to reward your pooch with a few tasty treats. You should always aim to associate nail trimming with positive things. An extra special treat and plenty of praise go a long way.

Once you know how to clip dog nails at home, it's important to keep up with the task regularly. Before long, you and your dog will learn to appreciate -- if not exactly love -- the process.

And learn How to Clean Dogs' Ears.

Rebecca Desfosse is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, family and pet care topics.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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