Basic Dog Grooming – Performing a Nail Trim

Man is cutting toenails of the dog

Being Able to Clip Your Dog’s Nails is an Essential Part of Dog Care

Performing a nail trim for a dog is a simple and easy task, but it is a task that frequently frightens pet owners. Nevertheless, checking the feet and clipping the toenails as necessary is an essential part of caring for any dog and is a basic part of good dog grooming.

Not all dogs will need to have a nail trim done. Some dogs are good at wearing the nails done and keeping them short without intervention. However, if a nail trim is necessary and is not performed, uncontrolled growth of the toenails can cause an abnormal gait and terrible pain if the nail is allowed to grow long enough to reach the pad.

Performing a Nail Trim for a Dog: The Basic Equipment

The only equipment you really need to perform a nail trim for your dog is a good set of nail clippers. However, it may also be advisable to have a styptic pencil on hand in case a nail is cut too short and starts to bleed.

Nail clippers are available in two basic styles:

  • a guillotine style
  • a bird-claw style

Both styles are pictured below. Both work well in clipping the nails for a dog, so basically user preference will determine the type chosen.

How to Perform a Nail Trim for a Dog

When performing a nail trim for your dog, it is best to try to avoid cutting into the “quick” of the nail. The “quick” is the blood vessel which runs through the nail. Cutting into the “quick” can be somewhat painful for your dog.

  • In white nails, you will be able to see the “quick” running through the nail and it will be easier to avoid. It will appear as a pink area visible through the white color of the nail. Do not cut above where the pink color starts to appear.
  • In black nails, you will need to proceed with more caution. Start by removing a small sliver of the nail from the tip. You will be able to see the “quick” starting to appear on the cut surface of the nail. It will appear as a small darker-colored dot in the middle of the nail. Once you start seeing this dot, do not cut the nail back any farther.

What to do if a Toenail Starts to Bleed While Performing a Nail Trim for a Dog

If you inadvertently cut a nail too short and the nail starts to bleed, do not panic. It happens very easily and, though it is a bit uncomfortable for your dog, it is not life-threatening or dangerous for your dog.

If the nail is bleeding, there are several options to stop the bleeding.

  • Do nothing. Eventually the bleeding will stop on its own as the blood clots. However, until the bleeding does stop, your dog will leave bloody footprints everywhere he goes.
  • Use digital pressure to stop the bleeding by holding cotton, gauze or a clean cloth to the bleeding toenail. You will need to apply firm pressure to the tip of the nail with your finger and hold the cotton or gauze in place until the bleeding stops. This is generally not terribly painful for your dog, but he may not wish to be restrained long enough to stop the bleeding successfully, especially if the sting he experienced from cutting the nail too short has frightened or upset your dog.
  • Applying a styptic pencil to the bleeding area will stop the bleeding quite effectively. The styptic pencil may momentarily sting your dog, but the pain will be fleeting and your dog will recover without incident.

Cutting a nail too short may make your dog jumpy about having his nails clipped in the future. Remember to go slow with him and give him lots of treats while trimming his nails to make the experience more pleasant.

Photo Credit: thedivahound