Nail Care for Dogs & Cats

Oct 24, 2018   Tracey Aston   Grooming

Like our nails, dog's nails continuously grow and need proper grooming to keep your pet's feet healthy. It's a good rule of thumb that your dog's nails should be trimmed when you notice they are about to touch the ground.  In the wild, your dog would naturally wear down while traveling over rough and varied terrain. However, domesticated dogs are different and even with regular walks, it's normally not enough to keep your dog's nails warn down to a safe length. Even if your dog does wear his own nails down during walks, the dew claws, if your pet has them, will still need trimmed.  If left untrimmed, your dog's nails can grow too long and can cause many issues for your pet. The most common issue is your dog slipping on hardwood or ceramic floors and possibly injuring themselves. Overgrown nails can cause serious injuries as well, like posture issues, which exasperates joint pain and arthritis.  When the nail is too long, it can cause an abnormal posture which results in excessive weight shifting to the legs and overloading the joints. Overgrown nails also pose the risk of being ripped or broken during play and even in extreme circumstances, curling and becoming embedded in the paw pads of your dog's feet. For this reason it's critical to your pet's health to include proper nail care in your grooming routine.

Some dogs are very sensitive to their feet being touched. It's best to start gently handling your dog's feet when they are a puppy,  getting them used to you touching them and looking at their feet. If your dog is overly sensitive to their nails being trimmed, you can try starting out by simply holding your dog's paw in your hand or giving a gentle massage to get them used to touching their feet.  While handling and massaging their feet, give them praise and treats to start equating this as a positive experience. 

While starting out you may only be able to get one or two nails done to a time and that's fine, the more you work with your dog and his feet the easier it will get. Make nail trimming a part of your monthly grooming routine, so it becomes a part of their life and therefore more of a known and comfortable experience.  If you do notice that your dog is getting overly excited or aggressive or showing signs of distress, such as panting, drooling, trembling, wheezing, tail tucking, or growling it is best to have their nails trimmed by a professional groomer.  

The two most common tools for trimming nails are clippers and grinders. There are two types of nail clippers, the scissor type and the guillotine type. Both scissor and guillotine clippers basically work the same way, the end of the toenail is placed inside the hole and when you squeeze the blade is lowered slicing off the end of the nail. Some things to consider – the guillotine clippers are bulkier, harder to handle and hold comfortably and are more likely to pinch your dog's nail or paw. Some scissor type clippers have a nail guard which only allows a small amount of the nail into the clipper. There are pros and cons to these types of clippers. The pro is the nail guard lessens the chance of clipping too far down the nail. However, the con is that it's a very slow process and the dog could get anxious or impatient while waiting for each nail to be slowly cut down. It is of the utmost importance that you buy the correct nail clipper size for your dog. The electric grinder works by applying the grinder to the toenail and slowly moving back and forth to evenly remove and grind down some of the nail. When using an electric grinder, be very careful the dog's hair is not getting caught in the spinning mechanism. A good groomer trick is to put an old pair of panty hose or stockings over the feet, only allowing the nail to show. This alleviates the chance of the hair getting caught or pulled.  Electric grinders are best for the upkeep of shorter nails or to take the sharp edge off after a clipping with a scissor type clipper. 

Always be as gentle as possible with your pet, but you need to firmly hold the dog's toe that is being trimmed, so they don't get injured by pulling their foot and ripping the nail. Don't trim at a blunt angle, but try to maintain the existing curvature of the nail. If your dog's nails are overgrown, avoid taking off too much at once.  As nails grow, so does the quick, the pink area within the nail that contains the nerves and blood vessels. If trimming light colored nails, it's much easier to see the quick, which is the pink line that can be seen by looking at the nail from the side. Dogs with black or dark colored nails are much harder to see the quick, as a rule, do not trim past the natural curve of the dogs nail.

Grinding tools work by placing a small grinding tool on the dog's nail and slowly going back and forth to grind the nail down. Some dogs prefer this method, while others are afraid of the noise. It's best to work within your pet's comfort level. Grinding tools work best when the dog's nails are already short. If you do choose grinding, be careful that the dog's toenail is not getting too hot while grinding them. While using an electric grinder, you will be able to notice when the grinding is getting too close to the quick by looking at the nail from underneath. If you notice the dark circle inside the nail is getting bigger and thicker, it's getting closer to the quick. 

If you do accidentally hit the quick, end the session immediately and apply styptic powder or clotting powder to the bleeding nail tip. Flour or corn starch can work in a pinch if styptic powder is not readily available. Dog's nails bleed a lot, but they will not bleed out from cutting the quick. Try your best to remain calm, as your dog will pick up if you are frightened and it will remember this for next time.  

Cat nails are much different than dog nails. The most obvious difference being cats have retractable nails and their nails shed. Don't ever use an electric grinder tool or guillotine type clipper on a cat's nails. While cats need scratching posts, ideally several of differing heights, it's a common misconception that cats trim their own nails with scratching posts, they do not. Cats use scratching posts to stretch their muscles, and clean and sharpen their nails but this won't file them down.  As with dogs, cats need to have a regular nail trimming schedule and will gain more confidence and comfort if nail trimming is part of their routine.  To trim the nails of a cat, make sure the cat is comfortable and easily accessible, possibly by sitting them on your lap. Gently apply pressure to the paw pad, massaging  forward to push the nail out and gently clip the end of the nail. In cats, the quick doesn't grow out nearly as far as with dogs, meaning there is less chance of nipping the quick. Don't be alarmed if the nail splinters some, as mentioned above, cat nails shed and this is part of the process. We are staunchly against declawing a cat, so if you are having issues trimming their nails, we recommend nail caps as a last resort. However, even if the cat puts up a fight at first, they will gain more comfort with the process with a bit of patience and time.


Some pets will have no problem with their nails being trimmed and others will put up an all-out fight! Work with your pet slowly, by giving them praise and slowly work up their confidence while getting their nails done. If you feel more confident, have a groomer show you the proper way to trim your pet's nails before you do it at home. This will ensure you are calm and confident and it will be a positive experience for your pet!

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