How to Clip your Dog Toenails

How to Clip your Dog Toenails

Clipping your dog’s toenails is a very important (and often overlooked) aspect of your pet’s health care. While many veterinarians will clip toenails when they do check-ups or vaccinations, it is far better to learn how to maintain your dog’s toenails at home.

Not only will this prevent your pet from scratching you, but it reduces the risk of torn nails and, if the nails are left unattended, they can actually curl into the footpads, causing extreme pain for your canine companion.

Most dogs do not enjoy having their toenails clipped and many will fight this. Ideally, you want to start clipping your dog’s toenails when he is still a puppy, teaching him to lie still, but this is not always possible.

If your dog is a squirmer, be patient and take your time; rushing things or getting angry with your dog will only make him more frightened or cause him to get injured. Remember that he doesn’t realize you are trying to help him, or that this will make his feet feel better. If your dog fights having his toenails clipped, it is usually best to have someone assist you in restraining him. The safest method of restraint, commonly used in veterinary clinics, is to place your dog up on a table (it’s recommended that you place a blanket or rug on the table to prevent your dog from slipping and becoming more frightened). Have your dog lay down on the table and, standing on the opposite side of the nails you intend to clip, gently drape yourself over your dog’s body.

In this position, should your dog attempt to rise, you may apply a small amount of your weight to the dog’s shoulders, in order to keep him laying down. Keeping your arm across the top of your dog’s neck as you firmly, yet gently, grasp the opposite paw, prevents him from raising his head while you clip the nails. Should your dog still try to wiggle too much, you can also try laying him on his side. By draping yourself lightly over his body and resting your arm over his neck, you can also restrain him from rising.

Toenail clippers come in both scissor and guillotine style but, for ease of use your pet’s comfort, the guillotine style are more highly recommended. The sharp blade neatly slices off the excess toenail, whereas scissor-style clippers squeeze the nail, often causing pressure and discomfort to your pet. One benefit of scissor-style clippers, however, is when the nails are so badly overgrown that they form a complete circle. In this case, it is much easier to use a clipper with a scissor style action, rather than trying to thread the nail through a guillotine clipper.

When using guillotine clippers, it is important to remember to keep the cutting blade away from your dog and the top, or screw side, of the clippers nearest to your pet. This will help to prevent you from cutting too close to the quick of the nail, which will cause pain and bleeding. Additionally, you want to ensure that the cutting blade slides up, from the bottom of the nail to the top, since cutting the nail from side to side may cause the nail to splinter.

With good lighting, it is easy to determine where the quick is on light colored toenails. Ideally, you want to clip your dog’s toenails within two millimeters of the quick, but not any closer. Dark colored toenails, however, can be problematic; the quick and blood vessels cannot be seen in these toenails, even with bright lights shining on them. For this reason, it is best to clip the toenail back gradually, taking several small clippings and then examining each, as you go.

By looking at the clipped section of a toenail, you can examine the cut and use it to determine when it is time to stop cutting. At the first cut of toenail, you should see that there are two distinct parts of the nail, visible on the cut edge; a dark section of inner nail and a white section. As you cut further along the nail, you will be able to see a small pinkish or light gray third oval that starts to appear along the top of the cut edge of the toenail. At this point, you should stop trimming the dog’s toenails since cutting any further will injure the quick. Commonly missed, don’t forget the dewclaws that grow on the insides of your dog’s legs; never touching the ground, these nails don’t wear down like the other toenails do, and can commonly curl around and cause future health hazards.


Accidents do, occasionally, happen. If it does, don’t panic, but try to maintain a soothing, calming voice as you talk to your dog. If bleeding occurs, you can use a styptic pencil to stop the bleeding or, if you don’t have one of those handy, try dabbing a bit of cornstarch on the end of the claw. Even without treatment, the bleeding will usually stop within 5 minutes or less.

When you finish clipping your dog’s toenails, take a moment to simply pet and talk to him. It is always important to end the session on a positive note, keeping stress and excitement to a minimum. If you used the table method to clip your pet’s toenails, carefully lift him down to the floor, so there is no risk of him hurting himself by jumping or slipping. Afterward, a special treat or a romping game of fetch are usually enough to make him forgive you for the offense, and helps to positively reinforce that having a pedicure isn’t all that traumatic!


Keeping your pet’s toenails clipped prevents injury from scratching, damage to furniture, and reduces the risk of your dog catching his toenails on rugs or carpeting. Always remember to perform the task with patience and a calm demeanor, reducing your dog’s anxiety, and always be sure to give him lots of love afterward. Following these easy steps should assist you in making this a relatively easy and non-stressful procedure.

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