Clipping Dog Nails

What is the most unexpected frustration for a caring dog or cat owner?   I would say clipping of nails.

These small hard objects on your pets feet are designed to function when they short.  When they are long – they catch on carpet and clothing,  and change the way your pet walks.

We  get asked to do the nail clipping after nail clipping has been attempted – without great success.   It is not that the human cant clip nails – far from it.  

The 3 most common questions we get asked are:

  1. What point on the nail do I clip to?
  2. How do I clip the nail?
  3. How do I get my dog to co-operate with nail clipping?

So let me answer these questions.

Where on the nail can I clip?

Nails can be pale colour or dark.  On a pale nail, you can see where the pink live nail is (the “quick”) and the white dead nail portion.

The nail below shows this junction – you need to leave 2-3mm of white nail portion to avoid cutting the live quick

With a dark nail (photo beneath), it is necessary to look at underside of nail.

You will notice that there is an outside edge that is often oval shaped (sort of).

The top edges represent the dead nail.  You cant clip any further than the lowest portion in centre.

This may make more sense if we show you in real life – with your dog.  Once you have been shown once, it is easy to judge the correct area to be removed.

How Do I Clip the Nail?

The most comfortable way to clip nails I find is:

  1. Use scissor action nail clippers (I find them better than guillotine action or Dremel type burs)
  2. Cut from back to front and NOT side to side (side to side seems to squash the nail more, causing discomforture).  By that I mean the nail clippers have their edge moving from pad side of nail through to front portion to slice off dead nail

I want to point out some WRONG information about nail clipping.  This image below from internet has in point 5, information that will NOT set right expectation for your dogs future.

Trimming or grinding a nail close to the quick will NOT shorten the quick.  The quick consists of blood vessels and nerves, and expecting that this will recede on basis of clipping the dead nail in front of this shorter, is unfortunately both illogical and incorrect.

Picture of Dog nails with WRONG information about clipping



How do I get my dog to co-operate with nail clipping?

The anxiety that many dogs experience with their feet being handled and nails clipped is very real. If your dog is relaxed about having nails clipped – congratulations!   This section is not something you need.

Expecting anxiety to disappear quickly with just further handling and time, is not realistic.

Using treats is – for some dogs – sufficient distraction to allow them to cooperate. For some dogs it may be only 1- 2 nails for each session so their anxiety doesnt become too much.  The principle is to provide calm assurance and treat to reward the required behaviour – giving treat or “telling them off” when they resist or panic is not going to resolve the nail clipping problem.

I am mindful that I write from a veterinarians perspective – I see the dogs that are anxious or even aggressive with nail clipping.

However for such dogs, use of sedation provides comfort and eliminates that anxiety.   It becomes an event where they are able to  safely and effectively have their feet handled and nails clipped and avoid the reaction of panic and avoidance that is otherwise seen.  The goal of sedation based nail clipping is to “get the job done” but also avoid the negative reinforcement training that is occurring if an anxious dog is forced to endure nail clipping by force.   Worth considering?