How to cut nails

By June 30, 2021No Comments

I’m so scared to cut my dog’s nails! There is no way my cat will allow me to trim her nails! What if I make him bleed? She doesn’t like it and she won’t love me anymore! We hear these stories all the time but nails still grow and trimming still needs to be done!
A dog’s nails can be clear/white, black or a combination of the two. Cat’s nails are typically clear/white.

Let’s do a little vocabulary first so that you understand the parts of the paw we are referring to:

  • Claw-toe nail
  • Digital pad – Squishy soft pad behind each toe nail
  • Metacarpal pad (front foot) / Metatarsal pad (back foot) Squishy soft pad that is a little further up on the leg from the paw
  • Dew claw – thumb
  • Carpal pad the large squishy soft pad behind the digital pads
  • Quick – the center part of the nail. This is the part that will bleed if you cut the nails back too far. If you allow the nails to grow longer, the quick will grow longer as well. On a clear/white nail, the quick is visibly pink.

Certain dog breeds like Saint Bernards, Great Pyrenees and even Beagles can have back dewclaws. Some members of the canine family (especially Great Pyrenees) have double dewclaws on their back legs. You will have to take special note since these “toes” never touch the ground, the nail never gets worn down like the rest of the nails and it will continue to grow. If the nail is not trimmed back it will continue to grow and curl around until they grow into your pet’s pad. Not wanting to be left out, certain cats have a genetic anomaly where they have extra digits (toes) on the front, back or both feet. These special cats are called polydactyl cats. Just like with a dog’s back dew claws, special care needs to be maintained to make sure a polydactyl cat’s extra nails don’t grow into their pads.

Always! Always! ALWAYS use positive reinforcement when training your pet (both dogs and cats). Getting a nail trim should be just as easy as it is for them to sit and stay. But they must learn those behaviors. Remember, positive reinforcement can have a negative effect as well. If your pet is struggling / pulling their paw away from you and you quit the nail trim – in their eyes they have won that battle and it will be harder the next time you have to trim nails. When your pet is struggling or pulling their paw away, continue to hold onto their paw, tell them NO in a strict/firm tone, (you can wait a minute but don’t let them go), and when they stop struggling/ pulling away, continue on with the nail trim. Then after all nails are trimmed, make it a happy time (treats, play time, one on one attention – do whatever it is that makes them happy.)

Especially when you have a puppy or kitten, teach them from an early age that it is okay for a person to touch/ hold their paws. This will get them used to being handled when it is time for a nail trim. Lick pads smeared with peanut butter for dogs or cream cheese or vegemite for cats is a great way to start nail trims for a puppy or kitten. While they are happily licking away, you can trim their nails!

Even if you rescued a dog or cat and they are not used to having their paws touched, start off slowly and for just short amounts of time, touch/ hold their paws. If they are sleeping beside you, hold onto their paws. Don’t hold on tight, just a light grasp. Again, when they realize that nothing bad is going to happen to them they are more likely to relax when it comes time to trim the nails.

Stay calm before and during the nail trim. If you are acting nervous about the situation, your pet is going to feed off of that nervousness and will be on alert and nervous along with you! These 2 nervous personalities will lead to a negative stressful nail trim.

Ok, we are ready and our pet is trained. We have the treats or favorite toy handy for positive reinforcement. Now what kind of nail trimmer should I use? There are several styles of trimmers available and it may take a little practice to see what works best for you and your pet. Make sure the nail trimmers that you are using are sharp. Replacements from time to time may be necessary depending on how often they are used. Keep in mind that our technicians are always available to help teach/show you what works for us. Schedule a nail trim appointment with us and let us know that you would like to learn. Bring your equipment and we can show you how to use it!

Scissor Style

  • Best for cats and small dogs
  • Makes the least amount of noise when trimming
  • Doesn’t work for medium to large breed dogs
  • Doesn’t work with very hard nails

Plier Style

  • Best for Medium to large dogs
  • Best for hard nails
  • Easy for beginners and professionals to use
  • Some have a nail guard to protect from trimming nail too far

Guillotine Style

  • Most suitable for small dogs
  • Cannot trim large dog nails
  • Blade is hidden and therefore quick can be hit rather easy
  • Tends to crush small nails (ie: cats)


  • Great to file and round sharp ends
  • Not good for pets with sound/noise phobias
  • Can catch long hair in the spinning wheel

HOW TO TRIM NAILS (with the scissor or plier type trimmer):

Once you have all the supplies you need and your pet, it is time to get started trimming nails.You can be conservative when trimming nails by only taking the tips of the claw off and then slowly continue to trim back. Taking just the tips and giving positive reinforcement the first few times works best. Aim for every 7-10 days to just take the very tips off the nail. If you opt to take a little more than the tip, you can tell when you are getting close to the quick because there will be a small whitish circle in the center of the nail. This small mark is the beginning of the quick. Once you see it, STOP! Cats have this as well but they are much smaller and harder to see.

  1. Secure one paw in your non-dominant hand, using your thumb and forefinger of the same hand, apply light pressure to extend one digit out away from the rest of the digits.
  2. Using your other hand, take the trimmer and place the nail between the blade pieces.
  3. Visualize the quick (pink area) if able and align your trimmer to be in front of that area. If you are unable to visualize the nail (nail is black) Imagine that the quick is wide in the wide part of the nail and then narrows as the nail comes to a point. The quick ends before the most pointy/narrow part of the nail. This is your cutting area! On occasion, an dog will have some white and some black nails. Use the amount you were able to take off the white nail as your guide for the black nails.
  4. Squeeze the handles together to clip the nail off.
  5. Repeat steps 1-3 for all the other nails.

DREMMEL – Steps are basically the same as the trimmer but you will want to make sure you stabilize the hand that is holding the dremmel. You can do this by placing your pinkie finger on the table/ floor/ whatever surface the dog is standing on.

What if I cut too far? What if s/he bleeds? Here is a little secret – all of us have at one point or another made a pet’s nail bleed when trimming. Accidents happen. Whether it was because the pet jerked the paw at just the wrong time or the quick was longer than it appeared. It happens and we have listed some things to do when it does! Cutting the quick happens. Stopping the bleeding can be a daunting task. The idea of any of the products listed below is to pack the nail bed and stop the flow of the bleeding. The end of the nail is a difficult area for the body to clot and control the bleeding. Every time a step is taken, the clot can be knocked off and the bleeding starts all over again. If you accidentally cut into the quick, don’t make a big deal over it. Don’t coddle (baby) your dog or cat at this point. This is difficult to refrain from doing. It is a natural response to want to comfort them but this reinforces the idea that a nail trim hurts.

  • Paper towel, napkin or cloth to blot the blood. Feet are highly vascular and tend to bleed….a lot!!
  • Styptic Powder or Kwik Stop are over the counter products that come in powder, gel, sticks and wipes. This is just applied to the end of the nail that is bleeding. Blot the area and then quickly apply the product.
  • A few household products including: flour, cornstarch, or baking soda can also work.
  • In a pinch or if all else fails, let your dog run in the yard – preferably the mud to pack that nail bed so that the bleeding can stop.

A few more thoughts about nails:

  • Walking your dog on hard surfaces like concrete sidewalks, helps file the nails.
  • Some cats and kittens do much better after you have wrapped them in a kitty burrito. See our article on this cool form of restraint!
  • Nail caps are an option too!

Some health risk if nails are not kept short:

  • Broken or torn nails are painful and can become easily infected. It may require veterinary care, a bandage and prescription medications.
  • When the nails are too long, an animal will change how they walk. It is painful and places unusual strain on other muscles in the body.
  • Untrimmed nails can curl and grow into the pad of the foot. Ingrown nails are extremely painful and become infected leading to more veterinary care.