How to Cut Your Dog's Nails Safely

Learn how to safely cut your dog's nails at home, and how to stop any bleeding that might occur.
© Getty / alexsokolov

By Caroline Biggs, Martha Stewart

As a pet owner, you already know the importance of ensuring your animal's health and wellness. If your four-legged companions include dogs, then you also know that keeping their nails in check is part of being a great pet parent. "Generally, your pet's nails should be trimmed every one to two weeks," says Ashlee Redmond, DVM, Banfield Pet Hospital. "However, they might not need trimming this frequently if their nails are worn on concrete or other hard surfaces while walking."

There are a few reasons why you need to trim your dog's nails every couple of weeks. "Long nails will affect the shape and conformation of the toes and feet, which can, in turn, affect a dog's legs and posture, much like bad feet in humans can affect our backs and posture," explains Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer of the American Kennel Club (AKC). "Though it may not be fun or easy, correct length nails will affect the shape and health of your dog's feet as well as [help minimize] scratches on your floor." Nervous about trimming your dog's nails at home? Canine experts share everything you need to know about giving your four-legged friend a manicure all on your own.



When is it time to cut your dog's nails?

To check for proper nail length, Dr. Chad Dodd, a veterinarian for YuMOVE, says you first need to know the basics of your dog's nail anatomy. "The toenail is composed of two major parts—the quick, a pink-colored section which is the blood supply and nerve that nourishes the nail, and the nail itself," he explains. "In dogs with light-colored nails, you should see a line marking the spot near the tip where the nail has grown past the quick. Dark-colored nails are a little more challenging, but with most dogs, you want to keep the nail growth limited to no more than two to three millimeters beyond the quick."



Always have the right tools handy.

The right equipment can make trimming your canine companion's nails a breeze. "The classic 'guillotine' style nail trimmers ($7.69, petco.com) do the quickest job, though they are also the types that can cause accidental bleeding," he says. "If you want to do your dog's nails on your own but hate using clippers, or if they have recently been trimmed but just need a touch-up, consider a grinder or Dremel tool ($12.97, chewy.com), which are often battery operated and simply grind the nails down gradually rather than clipping them—making it much easier to avoid any accidents."



Pick a comfortable space.

If you or your dog gets anxious about nail trims, Dr. Klein recommends placing them on a table to make them feel safer. "Most dogs are easiest to groom on a table that allows them secure footing, such as one with a rubber non-skid bathmat," he says. "Ideally, someone can help you hold them but if not, you can order a grooming arm to attach to the table. Just make sure the table is adjusted to the proper height for you to do a thorough job."



Be sure to cut nails correctly.

How you interact with your dog during nail trims is every bit as important as how you do the job itself. "Gently pick up a paw and calmly talk to your dog in a soothing manner," says Dr. Klein. "In the first attempts, practice just the act of picking up the paw and letting [them] see and hear the trimmers without actually doing anything. Then start slowly and gradually using instructions that were shown to you by your veterinarian, groomer, or any instructional videos online as resources; remembering that nails should be trimmed tips at a time and in a vertical direction."



How do you stop a bleeding nail?

If you make the mistake of trimming a nail too deeply and causing it to bleed, Dr. Dodd says a little clotting powder should do the trick. "The best way to stop the bleeding is to apply styptic powder to the cut surface, which helps clot the bleeding much faster than pressure alone," he says. "If you don't have styptic powder on hand, corn starch or flour will work as well, just not as efficiently."

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