Vet Q&A: How do I cut my dog's nails safely?

by PDSA | 24 May #VetQ&As

Maintaining your dog's nails is a vital part of taking care of their health and wellbeing. Many dogs will need them trimming from time to time, so it's important to know the benefits of keeping them trimmed and recognise when they need doing.

Just like us, dogs’ nails continue to grow throughout their life. Ideally, when you walk your dog, hard surfaces should wear down their nails naturally and maintain a good length, but sometimes nails are not worn down as quickly as they grow, especially with dogs who are walked on softer surfaces. As a pet owner, it’s good practice to check that they aren’t growing too long routinely.

If nails get too long, they can cause issues like snagging, splitting, or even growing into the pad, which can be painful and lead to bleeding and infections.

 

How do I know my dog's nails are too long?

A good way of finding out is to hold your dog's paw flat on the palm of your hand. As a general rule, if the nails touch your hand, they may be slightly on the long side. You might also hear them clicking on solid surfaces as they walk.

If their nails are becoming a problem, you may also notice your dog licking or chewing their paws, which may suggest that they're causing them some discomfort. If you notice any signs of painful claws, you should take your dog to the vets before attempting to cut the nails yourself.

 

How do I trim my dog's nails

Before you start, it’s important to know the anatomy of your dog’s nails. The ‘quick’, which is at the centre of the nail, is a fleshy area with blood vessels and nerves inside. So, when cutting, it’s important to avoid this as it can bleed a lot, be very sensitive and painful. If you are unsure where the quick could be, it’s always best to get professional help or advice from your vet.

Try to make nail trimming an enjoyable experience through reward-based training. It's a good idea to get your dog used to having their paws handled from an early age to make nail trimming less stressful for both of you.

  • Use dog-specific nail clippers, which you can buy from a vet or pet shop. If you have a nervous dog, you might want to try using a file.
  • You need to hold the paw firmly yet gently. This can be quite stressful for some dogs, so ensure you are taking great care and stop if your dog is getting upset.
  • When holding the paw, flex the pads slightly to give you better visibility of the claw.
  • Start with just taking the tips off, then double-check again where the ‘quick’ is before deciding if they’re short enough or if a little more needs removing. Longer nails can have longer quicks as well.
  • Position the clippers over the claw, leaving a good length between the ‘quick’ and the point you’re going to trim, approximately 3-4mm, so you don’t make your dog’s nail bleed. If you do catch a nail and it’s bleeding, ring your vet and ask for advice.
  • Check all your dog’s nails, including the dew claws, which are located further up their leg on the inside, they can be on both the front and the hind legs. They’re not always obvious, so they can easily be missed and may start to curl around back into the pad, which can be very painful and an infection risk.

 

What should I do if my dog's nail starts bleeding?

Whether they’ve caught it themselves or you’ve clipped too far down the nail, you need to make sure you don’t leave the blood vessel exposed and bleeding.  Nails can sometimes seem to bleed a lot, which can be very upsetting and worrying to see, but is unlikely to cause problems for a healthy dog.

Although it may look scary with all of that blood around, keep everyone calm around you, so your dog doesn’t worry.

Ask someone to contact your vet straight away for advice. Meanwhile, you’ll need to try and stem the bleeding. Firstly, you’ll need someone to help you to hold your dog while you apply a bandage.  If you’ve got a pet first aid kit, then that would be very useful. Find a sterile and non-adherent dressing and apply it directly on the nail, applying pressure with your hand, then use a bandage to wrap over the dressing and nail, then around the paw and secure it with a piece of tape or by tying a bow with the bandage material.  If the blood starts to come through the dressing, don’t remove it; just add another bandage layer over the top until you can get to your vet.

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