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Master Nail Trimming: Part 1 of 2

Pet Health and Safety  •   Jasey Day  •   Mar 22, 2017

It’s important to have a dog with nails of a proper length; this reduces scratches on humans, furniture, and floors. In addition, having nails that are too long could negatively impact your dog’s ability to properly place his foot on the ground. According to, dogs cannot walk correctly when the nails are too long, which strains leg muscles and torques the spine. In addition, dogs with long nails may be more susceptible to torn nails, which could lead to an infection.

Many pet owners are hesitant to trim their own dogs’ nails because the dog resists the “paw-dicure” or because the owner is scared of cutting the “quick,” which is the blood supply and nerve in the nail. You can learn more about dog nail anatomy to avoid any mis-trims. You can train your dog to calmly accept nail trimming (learn about training in my next blog, “Master Nail Trimming: Part 2 of 2”).

Use the Right Tools

First, you need to get an appropriate tool for trimming. You may either use a scissors style or guillotine style trimmer or a rotary tool. For a rotary tool, you could use one that you already own and use the sandpaper attachment. Or you could purchase a rotary tool that is made for pet trimming. I use a Dremel-brand rotary tool. (Click on the hyperlinks in this paragraph to see examples of the nail trimming devices.)

Which tool is right for you? I like the rotary tool because it shaves off just a little bit at a time and because it does not leave any jagged nail edges. Some people prefer to use the nail trimmer because it is quiet and there is not the risk of getting any foot fur caught in the rotary tool if you have a dog with fuzzy feet. Noise sensitive dogs may also do better with a nail trimmer instead of the humming rotary tool.

Understand Your Dog's Nails

Second, get familiar with the anatomy of the nail. This article from Caring Hands Vet offers a great picture of the “cutting line” for a dog’s nail – especially if the dog’s nails are naturally hooked - and the location of the quick. Again, hitting the quick may cause bleeding and pain; thus, it’s important to know the “cutting line.” If you do cut the quick, apply styptic powder, cornstarch, or flour to the cut to clot the bleeding. Caring Hands Vet’s article also states that for white nails, the cut surface will turn pink just before reaching the quick (so stop there) and you may be able to see the quick from the side of the nail. For black nails, trim off the “hook” and pay attention to the color of middle of the nail; the cut surface will show a grey or white center at first, then black, and eventually pink immediately before you reach the quick - so stop there!

Stay tuned for the upcoming blog (“Master Nail Trimming: Part 2 of 2”) to learn how to train your dog to accept handling of and trimming of the nails. This upcoming blog will also include some additional training and trimming tips!

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