Virginia Simpson and Chance

How to Trim Your Dog's Nails

by Elizabeth Gigis, DVM, West Chester Veterinary Center

Nail trimming is a very common request at the veterinary clinic or groomer’s office.  Learning to trim your dog’s nails will save you a little money, time, and a stressful visit for your pet.  As long as your dog is cooperative, nail trimming can be simple and easy.  Pet owners should start training dogs early for nail trimming.  When your puppy is learning potty training and leash walking, he should also be learning to sit and get used to having his nails trimmed. This will help immensely when he is grown. Have the puppy sit on a leash, giving positive reinforcement such as treats or praise. Then slowly introduce him to the trimmers. Make sure you also handle his paws often. 

Adult dogs can sometimes be introduced to nail trimming. Make sure to go slowly, include treats, and take breaks if needed. Some dogs have had a bad nail trimming experience or are just very afraid of the trimmers. They may fight to get away, become fear aggressive, or even bite. For these dogs, it is best to have a vet or groomer trim the nails. They have the proper tools to ensure safety of everyone involved.

The toe nail grows from the nail bed, just like in a human. The center of the nail has a quick, which holds a nerve and blood vessels. This is why some dogs are sensitive to nail trimming. If you get too close to the quick with the nail trimmers, the dog feels pain because the nerve is there. If you do happen to accidently get the quick, the nail will bleed a few drops of blood. This can be treated by applying a product called Quick Stop, or a little flour. Press on the end of the nail and hold for a few minutes. 

There are several different types of nail trimmers. A guillotine trimmer, or Roscoe, has a blade inside a loop. You will place the end of your dog’s nail in the loop, and then squeeze to cut. This type can apply pressure to the nail, possibly causing some discomfort, if not sharp.  I find these most useful for cats and medium sized dogs.

The next type are scissor-like trimmers. They come in different sizes.  A sturdy large pair of these is most helpful with large dogs. It can be hard to get a very large dog (ie. St. Bernard’s) nails into a Roscoe cutter, and often these are just not large and sharp enough for the very big dogs. 

A third item you can use to trim nails is a Dremmel tool. This allows you to go slowly, possibly avoiding the quick, and thus causing less pain. The Dremmel also grinds the nail down, so that you don’t have sharp fragments at the end of the nail after cutting. The downside to the Dremmel is, of course, the sound. Some dogs may take a while to get used to a Dremmel because of this.  Also, it takes quite a bit longer. Make sure not to get your dog’s hair caught in the Dremmel tool.

When you start to trim your dog’s nails, have him sit and pick up one paw. Isolate one of his toes with your fingers and look sideways at the nail to see where the nail starts to curve over. Trim slightly in front of that point. Check for any bleeding, and then trim a second time just a few millimeters shorter.  With a few treats as a reward, most nail trimming experiences can become a positive experience. Make sure to trim every few weeks, because nails grow out as the dog ages.  

Elizabeth Gigis, DVM
West Chester Veterinary Center
7330 Liberty Way, West Chester, OH 45069