How to Safely Trim Your Pet's Nails

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
How to Safely Trim Your Pet's Nails

Since it’s likely that your pets don’t live in the wild, their nails probably won’t wear down naturally. Therefore, as owners, we must trim them to avoid problems with walking and moving around, as well as to maintain good health and hygiene. This task can be done when visiting the vet for a regular checkup or when taking your dog for grooming. However, you can also do it at home. Keep reading for tips and tricks to ease your stress and your pet’s fears of having their nails trimmed.

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Most dogs and cats don’t like having their paws touched excessively, let alone have their nails trimmed. Fortunately, if they’re conditioned starting at a young age, or slowly trained as adults, it can become a simple procedure that can be done in just a few minutes.

How to Train Your Pet to be Comfortable During a Nail Trim

Nail trimming can be an anxiety-laden experience for many dogs and cats. Not only will they feel nervous, but in the process of "defending themselves" from this "terrible thing that's been done to them," they could bite or scratch you. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

The first thing you’ll want to do is to start handling your puppy's or kitten's paws and trimming their nails while they’re young. You can also touch and hold their paws gently and carefully right from the first day you adopt them so that they don’t become sensitive to touch.

When trimming your pet’s nails at home, you can let them lick something delicious off a spoon or plate while you handle their nails. This will make the process more fun and rewarding for them.

You can have your dog and cat get comfortable in a short period, but if it takes longer for you, be patient and keep a positive attitude. Offer praise and treats to encourage a positive atmosphere and help your pet relax. Be sure to use the proper tools, such as dog-friendly nail clippers or Dremel tools.

You can follow this schedule to let your pet get used to the nail clippers and the entire process:

  • Day 1: Allow your puppy or kitten to sniff the nail clippers and give them a treat and praise.
  • Day 2: Touch the animal's paws with the nail clipper and give a treat.
  • Day 3: On this day, you can touch the paws with the nail clipper or turn on the nail grinder. Squeeze the clipper (without cutting a nail) so that your pet gets comfortable with the sounds. Give a treat and praise.
  • Day 4: Repeat the step from day 3.
  • Day 5: Trim a tiny tip from one of the nails on a front paw. Only do one nail and offer praise if your pet lets you cut the tip. Repeat each day until you can see that he doesn’t mind what you’re doing.

You can keep practicing even if you’re pretending to trim the nails so that your pet feels comfortable with everything going on and doesn’t mind getting her nails trimmed.

What tools do I need to trim my pet’s nails?

There are many different types of nail trimming tools on the market: nail trimmers, scissors, guillotines, and grinders. The one you choose will depend on what you prefer. They all work fine for trimming your pet’s nails.

However, if you have a cat, it would be best to use nail trimmers designed specifically for cats. These are much smaller than those intended for dogs. This way, you’ll avoid having an accident and cutting more than you need.

Also, it’s a good idea to have styptic powder or clotting powder on hand to stop any bleeding if you cut a nail too short.

Steps for Trimming Your Dog’s Nails

Below you’ll find the basic steps to follow for cutting your dog’s nails. Still, you can also ask your vet or vet tech to provide you with a lesson on this topic.

  1. First, if you have a small dog, you can restrain him by placing him on a table. Stand on the side of the table opposite to the nails you want to trim. Larger dogs can be taught to sit or lay on the floor.
  2. Pick up a paw firmly but gently and extend the nail by placing your thumb on the pad of a toe and your forefinger on the top of the toe on the skin above the nail. Make sure that the fur is not in the way.
  3. Clip the tip of the nail straight across. Repeat with every nail, including the dewclaws ("thumbs").
  4. Be very careful not to cut the quick, which is the nail's pink area. This contains blood vessels and nerves. Not only would it cause your dog pain, but it will start to bleed.
  5. If your dog has dark nails and you can’t see the quick, watch for a chalky white ring. Do not cut further than that.

If your dog moves too much and gentle restraining methods don’t work, you can try laying him on his side. This procedure is much easier if you have a helper. One person can restrain the dog and offer treats while the other one cuts the nails.

Tips for Using a Dremel Tool on Your Dog’s Nails

If you prefer to grind your dog's nails, follow steps 1 and 2, and then grind a small part of the dog's nail at a time. Grind across the bottom of the nail and in from the tip of the nail. Smooth the rough edges.

Steps for Trimming Your Cat’s Nails

Restraining a cat is not as easy as it is with a dog because they can get nervous and scratch or bite. Fortunately, holding your cat does not have to be complicated.

The method we recommend is to wrap them with a towel, leaving out only their head and the paw you want to trim.

Then, you can follow the steps from 2 to 5, making sure to press the cat's toes gently, one by one, to make the nail stick out.

What happens if you don’t cut your pet's nails?

The reason for cutting a cat's nails is to prevent them from scratching you or your furniture. However, if they’re outdoor cats, it’s best to leave their nails alone so that they can defend themselves accordingly.

As for dogs, nail trimming is much more than a cosmetic procedure. Unhealthy nails can hurt, and if they’re long, the quick will also be long, causing bleeding and discomfort when cut. Regular trimming will cause the quick to recede, and overall maintenance will be much easier.

Besides, long nails can cause deformed paws and injure tendons. Therefore, regular trimming will be good for your dog's health and comfort.

Read more:

First Aid for Broken Nails

What causes abnormal nail growth in dogs?

Abnormal Nail Color in Dogs

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your pet’s nails or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.

Published: 6/25/2021
Last updated: 8/5/2021

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