Your Guide to At-Home Dog Nail Trimming

Trimming your dog’s nails offers as much benefit to you as does to your dog. Neglected nails can lead to discomfort or infection, not to mention the damage they can do to your floors and furniture. If your dog’s nails appear long or brittle, or if you hear a constant clicking sound when they walk, those are clear signs that it is time for a trim. It’s best to start this routine when your dog is young so they get used to dog nail clippers or grinders, as it should be performed as needed thereafter.

Importance of nail trimming

While humans may appreciate a routine mani/pedi, it’s common for dogs not to love the experience of having their nails cut. This may lead you to wonder how necessary it is to keep your pup’s nails nice and trim. However, keeping your dog’s nails at an appropriate length isn’t all about looks, it can actually affect their overall health and comfort. Nails that have grown too long may:

  • Split and break, which can be painful
  • Lead to an infection
  • Become caught in carpets or other surfaces
  • Make walking or running uncomfortable and difficult
  • Cause irreversible damage or deformities to the paws or legs

How often you should trim your dog's nails 

How often you cut your dog’s nails will likely differ slightly based on how fast they grow (which sometimes differs slightly between breeds) and how much normal wear they get from the surfaces they walk on. However, Dr. Whitney Miller, DVM, MBA, DACVPM and Head of Veterinary Medicine at Petco recommends cutting your dog’s nails at least once per month. If you notice their nails becoming too long or are clacking on your floor, it’s definitely time for a trim.

How to find the best at-home dog nail clippers and trimmers

When doing home nail care, you’ll want to invest in high-quality, appropriately sized clippers for your dog. Choose dog nail clippers with a sharp blade made especially for dogs so as not to crush the nail. If the blade is sharp, it’s less likely that a nail will be pulled or cracked. An emery board or pet nail grinder can smooth out any rough edges and give your dog’s nails a more rounded appearance. There are different types of clippers that work better with some dogs than others:

Scissor clippers work like scissors and can be used for any size dog as long as you purchase the appropriate size.

Guillotine clippers are best for small to medium dogs. With guillotine clippers, stick the end of your dog’s nail into the hole created by the blades and squeeze.

Dog nail grinders wear away at the nail slowly to remove length which can be a great option for both new and experienced pet parents and often helps a pet parent avoid nicking the quick of the nail.

How to cut your dog's nails at home

Once you’ve gathered everything you need—dog nail clippers or dog nail grinder, towel, styptic powder, and treats—sit with your dog in a comfortable spot on the floor, providing reassurance and petting. You can get your dog used to having their paws handled by gently playing with their paws and adding increasingly small amounts of pressure to their nails every day.

  1. Once you feel ready, firmly hold your dog’s paw and only start clipping if they are not pulling their leg away.
  2. Cut the nail at a 45-degree angle away from the paw and avoid the quick, which is the core of the nail that contains blood vessels and nerves.
  3. If your dog has white or light-colored nails with a visible pink quick, you can clip the nail avoiding the quick and add a small buffer, keeping in mind you can always cut more off. Cutting a nail too short will not only create a bad experience for the dog but can also result in bleeding. If you feel that their nails are still long or are starting with nails that are not overgrown, trim very thin bits off the tip of your pup’s nail, trimming until you see a hollow area or black dot in the center of the nail. You will see this whether your dog’s nail is pink or black. This is an indicator that you’re getting close to the quick and the nail is short enough.
  4. If your dog has dewclaws, be sure to trim them as well.
  5. Reward your dog with a treat after successful clipping to remind them that a nail trim is a positive experience.

Remember, if your dog is not ready for nail trims yet, you may need to start with giving them treats while the dog nail clipper is in the room and work your way to giving them treats when the clippers are near their paws and touching their nails. Once your dog is comfortable with beginner steps, try clipping one nail and come back to it again another time if needed. If your dog shows any signs of distress during the process, stop what you’re doing and try to end on a good note by successfully completing an easier task and try again at a later time. If your pet is highly anxious or scared during nail trims, start working on desensitizing your pet to this process at home but take them to a professional groomer or their vet to maintain an appropriate nail length until you can master this process at home.

How to cut black nails on a dog at home

Black dog nails can present a challenge when trimming since the quick is not visible. A good way to work around this is to observe the underside of your dog’s nail toward the tip. Where the underside of the nail looks full, that’s where the quick is present and you should not clip there.

Just past the part of the nail that looks full, there should be two outer walls shaped like a triangle where no quick is present, and you can safely clip that part of the nail that forms the tip. A hollow area or black dot will appear in the center of the nail when you’ve cut to the shortest point, regardless of what color your dog’s nails are. Use this as your guide to ensure that you’re not trimming too much. However, even if your dog is typically comfortable with nail trims, they will also pull away if you get too close to the quick which is an indicator that they are uncomfortable and it is time to stop.

Not ready to do it yourself?

If you, or your pet, feel anxious about nail trims, or if you simply don’t have the time to do it yourself, Petco Grooming Salons offer professional, accessible dog grooming services that include nail trims, nail buffing, paw care and even pet-safe nail polish. Let our stylists give them a paw-dicure in a relaxing environment that will keep their paws in tip-top shape for weeks.