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How To Trim Dog Nails That Are Overgrown

Trimming a dog’s nails can often be an uncomfortable experience for dog owners and their dogs, with most owners lacking expertise on how to go about this.

Fortunately, trimming is a skill that can be learned with time.

Below, we discuss why this practice should be an essential part of your routine and tips to use when trimming your dog’s nails.

Why Overgrown Nails Are a Health Concern

If your dog’s nails constantly tap on the floor every time they walk, this can lead to splayed toes, resulting in uncomfortable pressure on their legs and feet.

When left untrimmed for long, they can also cause health issues such as deformed feet and tendon injuries.

Overall, overgrown nails make it uncomfortable for a dog to walk, limiting its participation in everyday activities.

While you will likely be tempted to cut off a significant part of the nails at a go to ease the discomfort, this will only result in more harm.

Dogs have blood vessels and nerves at the center of the nail, referred to as the quick.

When a dog’s nails are overgrown, the quick also grows longer, making it difficult to clip the nails at any point.

The trick to cutting overgrown nails will be clipping the tip at a time to allow the quick to recede.

Tips for Trimming Overgrown Nails

dog overgrown nails

Get Your Dog Relaxed

Most dogs will get uncomfortable when their nails are being trimmed, especially if they have had negative past experiences with this part of their grooming.

To help your dog relax, bring out your clippers and let them familiarize themselves with them.

Give them time to investigate and sniff your trimming tools.

At the end of each session, give them a treat.

The aim is to help your dog have a positive association with your clippers by introducing a reward.

If you are using a grinder, your dog may take longer to get accustomed to the noise.

Repeat the same process and reward your pet when they get comfortable with the noise.

Keep in mind that this can take several days until your dog is comfortable or happy in front of your trimming tools.

Using the Correct Position for Trimming

The best time for trimming is when your dog is relaxed.

Doing this may require you to have someone else present to distract your dogs or help you hold or pet them.

If your dogs are small, holding them in your lap will be ideal, but ensure that you have a full view of their nails.

Once they are comfortable, lift their paw and hold it close to their body to ensure they do not pull away.

After this, gently squeeze their paw, lifting one toe at a time to separate the nail you intend on trimming.

Identify the Quick

Before trimming, first identify the quick.

For dogs with light-colored nails, the quick will appear as a darker pinkish section.

For dogs with dark nails, cut small bits on the nail at a time, and as you proceed, you will be able to spot a greyish-pink oval appearing at the top of the trimmed nail.

This will be the quick.

If you also spot a small black dot in the center of the white portion on the nails, the quick is close by, at which point you should stop cutting.

Trim the Nails

After identifying the quick, you can now proceed to trim.

Cut small bits at a time while ensuring you follow the natural shape of the nail.

This may require you to cut at a slight angle to stay in line with the shape of each nail.

Based on the color of your dog’s nails, look for the quick with each cut, with the little black dot being a good indicator of when to stop trimming.

If the nails have curled into the paw pad, wiggle out the tip of the nail from the paw pad.

Use pet-safe antiseptic to clean the pad to avoid any infection.

Try to trim in quick motions while also ensuring that you stay relaxed.

If you hesitate or are too agitated, your dog will pick up on your tension and get uncomfortable.

If this happens, take a break until your dog gets comfortable.

Offer your dog complements and treats for being cooperative to help with positive association.


Once you get the hang of it, make this a weekly routine.

If you are still new to the process, you may end up trimming one nail after several minutes, with some cases also taking a whole day in between each nail trim.

Repeat this process until your dog can walk comfortably.

Once the nails are cut to the correct length, you can also use an electric trimmer to help you get a smoother trim.

Remember that trimming overgrown nails is a gradual process, with frequent intervals helping the quick recede to allow for shorter nails in the long run.

Once you establish a consistent and comfortable routine for you and your dog, trimming will be another part of your grooming routine that you can both take part in with ease.

What Happens When You Cut the Quick

Trimming overgrown nails can often result in the accidental trimming of the quick, resulting in your dog bleeding.

Apply styptic powder to the nail to help stop the bleeding.

Cornstarch can also help if you do not have any styptic powder close by.

Give your dog complements during this process with their favorite treats also coming in handy in assisting them to stay calm.

Take a break after this to help you and your dog relax and to help them recover.

You can pick up your trimming the next day, this time being on the lookout for the quick in each nail.

While the above tips come in handy for dog owners looking to trim their dog’s overgrown nails, a groomer can also walk you through this part of grooming until you feel comfortable handling your dog’s nails.

After you get accustomed to the trimming process, ensure that you maintain a weekly schedule for nail cutting that prioritizes your dog’s comfort during the entire process.

Frequent trims will be essential in preventing any health problems for your dog, as curled nails will often cause bleeding and infections in your dog’s paw pad.

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National Canine Research Association of America