When and How to Cut Your Dog's Nails


Just like human nails, dog claws grow constantly. How often a dog's nails need to be cut will depend on the breed and lifestyle, which can change with age.

correct dog nail claw lengthMany dogs naturally wear their nails down by walking and play, especially if the walk involves hard surfaces. An inactive dog may not wear their nails down. Similarly an older dog will often favour grass and softer ground and will prefer not to walk on hard surfaces, so their nails will not naturally wear down as much either.

It is therefore important to keep your dog's claws well trimmed at the correct length. If they get too long it can put pain and pressure on the toes and paws, which will ultimately put strain on the legs. Long claws are also prone to splitting and infection.

Correct length for a dog's nails

If a dog's nails are too long, you will hear them clack when the dog walks on hard surfaces. Deciding if your dog’s nails are too long is quite simple. The claws should not protrude over the pad and should not touch the ground when standing.

The quick

You can cut your dog's nails at home. This is particularly easy if your dog has clear or light coloured nails. In these cases you can see the quick inside the nail. The quick is the blood vessels and nerves that supply the nail. Knowing where the quick is will help you to trim to just before that point. The general recommendation is to cut approx 2mm away from the quick. But if a dog has black or dark claws it can be difficult or impossible to see the quick and this will make nail trimming more difficult. You may prefer, in these cases, to try filing your dog's nails or to have your vet or dog groomer trim them for you.

Cutting your dog's nails

how to cut dog nails

Purchase a specially made implement for the job of cutting your dog's nails. There are several styles of nail trimmer available. Guillotine nail clippers are often the easiest to use and work well for toy and small breeds. Plier dog nail clippers with a scissor type action are also very effective and especially suit larger breeds or if the dog has strong, thick nails. Look for a claw cutter with sharp stainless steel blades and a comfortable handle with plenty of grip.

Each clipper will vary as to how it should be used. Carefully read the instructions specifically for the clipper you have purchased. When you cut the nail you must be decisive and make a smooth, quick squeeze while holding the nail cutter steady.

The claws on a dog's rear feet are often shorter and require less frequent trimming than those on the front feet.

distract your dog with a lick mat

Don't forget your dog's dew claws. These are on the inner leg. As they are located slightly higher up the leg, they therefore do not touch the ground and do not wear down naturally like the rest of the claws.

After trimming with nail cutters you can either file the nail smooth or simply let the rough edges smooth themselves away over time.

A great way to get your dog's claws cut without them causing too much of a fuss is to distract them. We love the LickiMat Splash Dog Lick Pad. Its innovative curved shape means less mess as the licking will be contained inside the lick pad. Simply spread it with something tasty, suction it to a wall or the floor and let the licking begin. Your dog will be distracted, allowing you to get on with the job at hand.

Cutting dark claws

The problem with dark nails is that you cannot easily see the quick. Cut dark claws in several small cuts to reduce the chance of accidentally cutting into the quick. As you cut, keep checking the end of your dog's nail. As you cut further along, look out for a dark spot in the centre of the newly clipped edge. This dark area is where the live quick starts.

Some other handy hints for cutting dark nails:

  • Try shining a torch or bright light towards you and through the claw.
  • Try looking on the underside of the nail where the quick is often more visible.
  • Bathing can make the quick easier to see and also makes nails easier to cut.
  • Applying baby oil will serve the same purpose.

If you cut the quick

Don't panic. If you accidentally cut the nail too short and it starts to bleed, hold some tissue tightly to the bleeding. Alternatively, use a styptic pencil, styptic powder or styptic pads to stop blood flow. Even without treatment, the bleeding should stop within about 5 minutes. If your dog licks the wound it will slow the healing and clotting process and bleed for a bit longer.

If your dog's nails are long

The longer the nail the longer the quick. If your dog's nails are long it is better to cut a little at a time because the quick will also be long. Cut a little bit from each claw and then wait a few days or a week for the quick to recede before cutting again. Once you have the claws at a sensible length then cut monthly or as required.

Trim your dog's claws regularly

Most dogs do not like having their nails trimmed. It is therefore a good idea to get your dog used to having their paws handled at a young age if possible, or at any age by gentle handling and praise. Take things slowly. You don't have to do all the claws in one session.

Keeping your dog's nails trimmed is important. Schedule it into your diary if you are likely to forget. Make a foot inspection part of your usual health routine with your dog. Apart from the pain of long nails, your dog could get infections, broken or ingrown nails and other painful conditions. So with just a little bit of effort and know how, you can keep your dogs feet in tip top condition.

By Jenny Prevel

© D for Dog www.dfordog.co.uk
This article belongs strictly to D for Dog and we do not authorise the copying of all or any part of it.

Stephen Binks
01 June 2015  |  18:34

I found your advise on dogs nails very good but in my case the dogs nails are so thick it hurts him to cut them. So the only solution was go to my vet & get him sedated with cost £50

Steve Attfield
01 June 2015  |  22:46

Hi, There is another way to trim their nails if its too thick or the dog doesn't like the sharp cutting action of the clippers. I use a battery operated Dremmel with the sanding attachment which is a circular cylindrical shape. You must use it no more than three strokes on each nail then progress to the next nail. This is to ensure that the friction caused does not create heat and give the dog discomfort. They generally prefer to be done by this method in my many years of experience. Hope this helps` and saves you a rip off fee of £50.

Joan Cheney
08 November 2018  |  14:22

That was good advice ! That is what I do . Have not had any problems either ! Thanks for sharing

Terra St Rose
06 August 2022  |  2:01

I inherited a 15 year old lab with toenails over an inch long. Poor baby. His owner had been quite ill for the last two years and the caregivers would feed the animals but nothing else so they have been neglected unfortunately. I found the clippers made the poor dog Howl but the Dremel let me takeoff a little tiny bit every two days and itís working very well. True it will take me a month but then he will be much more comfortable.

03 December 2016  |  23:14

Get a plug in style nail grinder, solved a 4 year battle for me, now she sometimes falls asleep while doing them, thinks it's cuddle time.

11 April 2019  |  15:12

Very good advice my dogs are very dificsut to do vets in my vets won't sudate them I am getting them used to having me holding there feet so that is a start next thing will be cutting nails with the electric disc sander . Will need to try when dogs are asleep .Thanks

24 June 2015  |  6:07

useful blog...thank you

20 July 2015  |  20:14

Great advice and very true.

23 July 2015  |  20:28

While I was away my friends to my dog to have his nails clipped I found out after that my dogs feetwere bleeding on and off for nearly 1 hour is this normal for them to bleed that much his nails have not been the same since he has black nails

D for Dog
24 July 2015  |  14:04

I have not heard of this happening before. Much too much may have been cut off in one go, is all I can think of. They shouldn't bleed for that long if just nicked on the end. My only other though might be if the dog has a blood clotting issue. You may want to ask the vet about that, just in case. My gut feeling though is way too much nail was cut off in one go.

09 November 2018  |  13:19

this happened to me and bought in local shop a barber stick which I held to the claw for a couple of minutes and it did the trick. hope this helps.

Sue Archer
06 August 2015  |  17:34

Does it hurt the dog at all when nails being clipped

D for Dog
06 August 2015  |  22:12

As long as you don't cut the quick, cutting a dog's nails won't hurt them any more than cutting our own nails. Some dogs don't like the feel of the clipper as it squeezes down on the nail so always make sure your nail clippers are sharp for a quick, clean cut.

12 December 2015  |  14:39

We have a special needs dog that doesn't do well with having his nails clipped. We discovered if you distract the dog with peanut butter on a small cutting board for him to lick, you can clip the nails with no problem.

20 January 2016  |  12:16

Brilliant idea! My 18mth rescue saluki hates having his feet done as sometimes I have to trim the fur too and I've been trying to think of a way to distract him with peanut butter, can't believe I didn't think of a chopping board! :-)

David Dundas
15 June 2019  |  20:30

Please make sure the peanut butter used does not contain any Xylitol (a sweetener) as it is highly toxic and frequently fatal for dogs as it causes the liver to fail and there is no antedote.

Terra St Rose
06 August 2022  |  2:06

I had no clue about the xylitol. Thank you so much. Neither I nor my animals get chemicals like that but itís really helpful to know. Good grief & people eat that?

Tracy Hale
28 January 2016  |  20:49

Found this very helpful. I was a bit nervous to cutting my dogs nail. After reading this I did it and looked for the quick which to be honest didn't know about. Thankyou for your information and help

22 October 2018  |  0:18

Why peanut butter ?

05 March 2021  |  6:55

Many dogs (including my own) love peanut butter, but you could use any smear-able treat. Something that will keep them in one spot with their head raised so you can get to their paws easily

31 January 2016  |  11:15

Thanks l have a black Labrador so found all the comments useful.

05 February 2016  |  16:41

dogs generally do not like having their nails clipped, and much of the time these days clipping is unnecessary - whether the nail tips touch the floor or not is irrelevant to the dog - how else do they wear down if the dont touch the ground. If they grow past that point, then that's when they need clipping; otherwise you will be subjecting the dog to repeated clipping. And guess who is the main beneficiary.

20 February 2016  |  20:22

An_Older_Vet - that point was made perfectly clear in the article!

12 April 2017  |  11:19

Well my daughters dog has black nails which are long as a result the nails have been wearing down to the quick along the bottom and not the tip
And I think this affects him after long walks so I intend to try a weekly file and hope they are correct in saying the quick will reduce allowing me to shorten nails because I think this would correct wear to pads - think of a woman trying to avoid touching floor with freshly painted toenails - i will update results

22 December 2019  |  7:18

Hi Iím glad you said this because I thought my dogs nails were too long but reading this I realise there not
She is out everyday on long walks through woodland for up to two hours so I think they must be at the natural length

12 March 2016  |  21:54

Thank you for a *very* well written, clear, comprehensive and informative article.

A W Howell
21 June 2016  |  1:56

Is the pic you show at the beginning of your article the right length? I am a pet sitter, and I have seen a lot of different lengths on different breeds.I have a Goldendoodle with black nails that have become too long. I was told I could have his nails trimmed every 2 weeks until they get to a proper length. Is this a good idea?

D for Dog
21 June 2016  |  9:22

That's a good length, yes. And yes, trimming long nails every 2 weeks to get them to the correct length is a good idea.

18 July 2016  |  9:58

My dogs nails are about the same lenght like those pictured at the beginning of your article but I can still hear them clack when she walks on our wooden floor (it sometimes wakes me up in the night...). Is it safe to cut it shorter? Thanks

D for Dog
18 July 2016  |  10:19

Hi Tom, you can cut them as short as the dog's quick is. If you feel you are getting close to the quick, be very careful and just take off a tiny 1mm bit at a time.

18 July 2016  |  14:10

Thanks for your answer. How long would you say it takes to get them to look like this?

D for Dog
18 July 2016  |  14:29

I am sorry but I am not sure why anyone would want to achieve that. It doesn't look good for the dog at all. The nails have almost been amputated. I do not recommend you do that. Cut them to a natural and useful length for the dog, don't maim them.

27 April 2017  |  5:34

Thank you for the thoughts on nail trimming and best article for dog nail clippers

Patricia Bell
25 November 2018  |  8:37

Thanks for all the info and comments. We have a terrier with thick dark claws. This blog was very helpful!

07 September 2017  |  0:53

this article gave me the confidence to trim my dogs front claws which are black and very long after just one session he is walking better. I had to be firm with him but by the second paw he was more relaxed. He gets a good walk everyday and I will trim some more in two weeks. Many thanks!

03 December 2017  |  18:00

The best thing I have found to distract a dog that hates having their nails clipped is to either freeze a jar of baby food (make sure your getting a food that is safe for dogs to eat) or by filling a small (baby food sized) jar full of peanut butter and freeze it. The dog will lick away at the jar and you can keep a few in your freezer for easy access. This also works great at the vet to keep them distracted while they get their temp taken, shots, etc.

Connie Ray
20 January 2018  |  4:50

Do not freeze glass jars ...or you will end up with a handful of broken glass when you take it out with warm hands ...make sure to transfer to a plastic container before freezing... for your and the dogs sake ...the scar on my palm can attest to this ... good tips btw ...tyvm

09 February 2018  |  7:04

Baby food dont come in glass containers anymore. At least not the ones i purchase.

08 December 2021  |  3:11

Most of it comes in plastic containers, but there are some that are still sold in glass jars still. I have a nine month old and I shop in a lot of different stores, so I'm very confident in my response.

Breeze Miller
13 August 2018  |  1:23

My husband & I own an Australia Shepard, who is about 7.5 years old. My hubby had her when I met him, but he's so afraid to cut her nails, because most of them are black & he can't see the quick. Now, on her rear left paw, the outermost toenail is way too long & I'm afraid it's getting worse, because we noticed her limping here & there with it. Is there any way or any where I can send someone a pic of the toenail & get some more advice about what us wrong? I've never seen a toenail do this before & I think it may be because she's trying to chew it off. My husband started trimming her nails almost 2 weeks ago now, & we were about to trim them some more this week at the recommended 2 week intervals, but now we're BOTH scared it may be time to go to the vet! 🐶🐾💔😔

25 September 2018  |  15:42

I have found to distract a dog that hates having their nails clipped is to either freeze a jar of baby food (make sure your getting a food that is safe for dogs to eat) or by filling a small (baby food sized) jar full of peanut butter and freeze it. The dog will lick away at the jar and you can keep a few in your freezer for easy access. This also works great at the vet to keep them distracted while they get their temp taken, shots, etc.

21 January 2019  |  23:00

I learned alot about my dogs (&his nails)....very great, information ....

26 January 2020  |  5:27

Thank you all for the good advice and tips on dog care.

22 March 2020  |  3:03

I saw somewhere on the internet a guy cut four holes for a dogs legs in duffel bag and hung his dog in doorway and was trimming his dogs nails like that lol .

08 January 2021  |  13:32

I took my dog to the groomers to get his nails clipped and she puts them in a sling to stop them running away or pulling their feet away

06 January 2021  |  23:59

Thanks for the great advice especially like many here who have a dog with dark nails. Occasionally I had found the quick.Although the dog quickly let me know by moving her paw, dabbing her paw in flour on a rag quickly stops the bleeding.

TED Turley
09 March 2021  |  22:09

Hi, my longhaired dachshund (Bertie) has dark claws but after a few weeks he is now more relaxed whilst having a claw trimming session!
Many Thanks for all comments.

Shirley Band
10 January 2023  |  15:12

Next door has a small dog his owner walks with him all day on a lead in doors. He has extremely long nails that curl up although he is a small dog he is very snappy, any ideas how to get his nails cut safely.