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A guide to cutting dog’s nails

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Most dogs need their nails trimming on a regular basis – here’s everything you need to know.

Dogs’ nails need regular care, just like ours. Unless your dog spends a lot of time outside on hard or rough terrain (which naturally keeps a dog’s nails trim), it’s likely that you’ll have to cut them regularly. Here we explore the whys, whats and hows of dog nail cutting, so that when you come to do it, you nail it!
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Why do I need to cut my dog’s nails?

Just like us, a dog’s nails grow throughout his life. Now that most domesticated dogs spend more of their time inside, their nails don’t naturally wear down as quickly as they grow. If you don’t trim your dog’s nails, they may snap and break and cause him pain.

When do I need to cut my dog’s nails?

Generally, a dog’s nails should be trimmed when they touch the ground. If you hear your dog click-clacking with every pawstep, then it’s probably time to give them a trim! How quickly a dog’s nails reach this length will depend mainly on their environment and lifestyle – the nails of a city dog who walks on a lot of pavements will likely stay naturally shorter than a dog with a leisurely indoor lifestyle or one who spends more time running on softer ground.

It is a good idea to get your dog into the habit of having his nails trimmed from an early age – he will be far more comfortable with the routine this way.

Clip or file?
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Clip or file?

There are a range of gadgets available to trim your dog’s nails, but they largely fall into three groups:

Clippers: The most commonly used tool for dog nail trimming, these are powerful scissor-style nail clippers. They come in a wide range of styles, so you can find the one that works best for you and your dog.

Guillotine cutters: As the name suggests, these feature a single blade which slices off the end of the dog’s nail. They are easier to handle than clippers, but not as ‘heavy duty’ – generally they are better for smaller dogs, with thinner nails.

Files: There are various files and dog nail grinders available, usually with a small rotating wheel that grinds or files down your dog’s nail tips.

What other equipment do I need?

There are a couple of other things you need.

Styptic powder: Have this on standby to apply to your dog’s nails if they start bleeding (which means you’ve cut the ‘quick’ – more on that in a moment).

Treats: Have a few on hand to help your dog through the process, particularly if you do accidentally hurt him.

Generally speaking, nail trimming is probably not going to be your dog’s favourite activity, so just be ready with lots of treats and reassurance to reward him for his cooperation.

How do I trim my dog’s nails?

Once you’ve got all your equipment in place, it’s time to trim your dog’s nails. Choose a good time to do it – when he is relaxed, perhaps after a meal or after exercise – and follow these simple steps.

1. Hold one of his front paws in your hand

Start with the front paws. Hold his paw firmly but gently, and identify where you want to make the cut.

2. Cut the nail – avoiding the ‘quick’

Trim off the end of the nail. Always cut from top to bottom and try to cut perpendicular to the nail, avoiding cutting at an angle.

Within each dog nail is the ‘quick’, which contains nerves and blood vessels. You should avoid cutting this as it will bleed and cause your dog some discomfort. If your dog has white nails, you should be able to see the quick as a faint pink line. Cut no closer than 2mm from the quick.

If your dog has black nails, unfortunately the quick won’t be visible. However, as you cut your dog’s nails, look out for a dark spot in the centre of the newly clipped edge – this is where the quick starts.

It is always better to cut off too little if you are unsure – you can always cut off a bit more later if needed. If your dog has black claws and / or you are really unsure about doing it, take him to a professional groomer or vet to do it for you.

What if I accidentally cut the quick?

Don’t panic! Accidents happen. Apply styptic powder to the affected nail until it stops bleeding, and give your dog a treat and lots of reassurance. If you are worried and don’t want to resume nail trimming, take him to a professional groomer or vet for them to do it for you.

3. Lie him on his side to do the back paws

This will make it easier to access and hold his back paws.

4. Once you are done, give him treats and cuddles!

This is something you will have to do on a regular basis, so make it as positive a situation as you can for your dog. When you are finished, give him lots of treats and reassurance.

I don’t want to do it / I don’t like doing it!

Don’t worry! There are lots of professional grooming services and vets who can trim your dog’s nails for a small fee.

Worried about your dog’s nails?

If you have any concerns, for example if you think your dog’s nails are causing him pain or discomfort, get in touch with your local vet.

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