PDP Exclusives by Rebecca

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pet Tips: Nail Trims

Brooke, here, with a really awesome post from our good friend Brandi. Brandi is usually our go-to gal when it comes to animal care. Being a groomer for a few years in a past life, I know how difficult it can be to trim nails, and so we asked Brandi to give us her professional step-by-step process!

Hi everyone! My name is Brandi and I’m here to share my knowledge on all things pet related. I majored in Animal BioScience at Pennsylvania State University and have been working as a veterinary assistant for 13 years. I currently share my home with 4 dogs and three cats and though it is chaotic at times, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Grooming is an essential part of pet ownership so I was not at all surprised when a couple of the Riveters here at Modern Rosies asked me to write a post on how to trim a dog’s toenails. Keeping a dog’s claws at a reasonable length is a priority for most pet owners for a number of reasons, but they never attempt to learn how because they are terrified by the possibility of causing their dog pain. This is a valid concern because it is VERY easy to cut too far especially if your dog is squirming or you get distracted. It WILL happen, but there is NO need to panic if you’re prepared! Save yourself a trip to the groomer or vet’s office.  YOU CAN DO IT!!!!!!!


You will need:

  • A holder (Unless you’re experienced or have a super laid back dog, they will NOT sit still while you do this!)
  • Nail trimmers (The two types I use are the guillotine and the scissor. I use the guillotine trimmers on my small dogs and the scissor trimmers on my large dog. Choosing trimmers is a matter of personal preference, just be sure to choose trimmers that are comfortable for you AND appropriate for your dog’s size.)
  • Nail file (This is completely optional, I just prefer to file my dog’s nails after cutting so there are no jagged edges left behind. If your dog won’t allow you to use a file, you can always walk him/her on concrete to help wear them down.)
  • Silver nitrate applicators or styptic powder (If you don’t have access to silver nitrate, styptic powders are available at most pet stores. Time, a little pressure and cornstarch work great too!)


Please keep in mind that there are many ways to hold and/or restrain a dog. The techniques I am recommending are ones that I feel would work best for someone that has little or no experience with proper restraint. I’ve been doing this for so long and my dogs are so used to it that I’m able to sit in the floor while they lay on their back in my lap and they just let me clip away! I’ve even caught them snoozing a time or two!

A great way to passively restrain your dog is to simply place them on a table. I suggest using a table that can be easily cleaned and that you don’t mind putting your critter on. If putting your dog on a table isn’t enough to calm them down you may have to lay your dog on their side. Your holder can then stand behind the dog’s back, lean over the dog and grasp the legs that are resting on the table, front leg in one hand, rear leg in the other. Your holder does not need to exert any force (unless your dog is struggling); just the simple act of holding the “bottom” legs prevents the dog from standing up.


If you are using scissor trimmers you will want to place them at a right angle to the nail and simply squeeze the handles together when you’re ready to cut. If you’re using guillotine trimmers make sure the screws on the trimmer are facing the dog and the cutting blade is facing you. Place the nail through the stationary ring and squeeze the handle to advance the cutting blade. It is best to cut top to bottom (or bottom to top) NOT side to side because the nail could splinter.


I’m sure you’re all aware that there is a vein running through the center of the nail called the quick. If you cut too far into the nail, you will “quick” your dog, the nail will bleed and your dog will feel pain. It’s very easy to see the quick in a white nail; therefore you can usually trim them with one cut. It is best to cut within about 2 mm of the quick and at a 45 degree angle. Black nails are not so simple. With black nails I find that it’s easiest to make a rough initial cut and then “shave” off a bit at a time until you begin to see the quick. To do this, it’s best if you can look at the nail straight on (which is why I put my pooches on their backs). The outer portion of the quick will appear as a small black or grayish circle in the center of the nail (it will be white or pinkish in dogs with white nails). When you see that circle or dot appear quit cutting. Repeat this for each toenail and be sure not to forget the dewclaws if your dog has them. Now file away the rough edges and you’re DONE! Don’t forget to give your furry friend lots of praise and a yummy treat! (You can give yourself a pat on the back too!)


  • A dog’s nails should be trimmed once or twice a month, depending on how quickly your dog’s nails grow. 
  • Some people prefer to use a Dremel tool to grind their dog’s nails down instead of cutting them. This is a great method as it is usually well tolerated by the dog and produces better results with less bloodshed. Do NOT however, invest in other TV offer systems. You are MUCH better off with a Dremel.
  • When trimming a puppy or a kitten’s (or other small furry creature) nails, you will probably find that it is easier to use a pair of human toenail clippers. Just turn them sideways and cut the nail where it starts to curve.
  • When you get a new puppy, spend a little time everyday playing with their feet. This helps them get used to their feet being handled.
  • Remember that even with no treatment, a nail that has been quicked will usually stop bleeding within 5 minutes. Stay calm and your dog will do the same.

Much thanks to my “old man” Loki for being a patient
assistant and allowing me to photograph his highness

Brandi lives in West Virginia with her two boys, and her awesome hubby.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Brandi! Luckily, my little JRT doesn't require nail trims, but people ask me for advice ALL the time! I'll send them here next time!