How To Trim My Pet’s Nails

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How To Trim My Pet’s Nails

Non-active dogs and cats require regular toenail trims to prevent ingrown nails and mobility issues.  Here’s how to do it correctly. (Note the cover photo is misleading, the clippers should be held more at the 6 o’clock position instead of the 9 o’clock position as shown.)


Active Pets Trim Their Own Nails, Less Active Ones Need Your Help


Outdoor walking and running serve to naturally trim an active animal’s nails, but pets that have limited exercise need to have their nails trimmed regularly.  Nails that are not trimmed regularly, either manually or through exercise, can grow long enough to curl back upon themselves and puncture the pet’s skin or cause mobility issues.  This is especially true for obese pets, hyperthyroid cats, and dogs that have dew claws (the ‘thumb’ of the dog, located further up from the other toes on paw.  If you have a pure breed dog, this may have already been surgically removed).  If your pet has excessively long nails, it is may be that there is a health issue causing the problem, so please call us to address both the nails and to examine your pet.



To Trim Your Pet’s Nails, You’ll Need:


Before We Start Trimming, A Quick Anatomy Lesson


Before you cut the nail, you need to understand how it’s built.  Picture a cone of nerves and blood supply extending out of the tip of the dog’s toe.  This blood and nerve supply is called the ‘quick’.  Now imagine that another cone of keratin, or the dead portion of the nail, covers that cone. When you cut a dog or cat’s nails, the goal is to trim off the top portion of the keratin cone without cutting into the cone of nerves and blood vessels.  Cutting into keratin doesn’t hurt, but cutting into the nerve and blood base does.  Additionally, pressure exerted onto the nail by the trimmers is likely to cause the pet some level of discomfort.  To minimize this, always hold the trimmers perpendicular to the dog’s foot to minimize pressure on the nerve bed of the nail.

Fortunately, this dog has opaque nails, so it’s easy to see where the quick ends (here, it appears a light coral pink) and the trimmable portion of the nail begins (here it looks a dull white). Remember that the closer you get to the quick, the more likely the patient is to feel the pressure of the clippers when you clip the nail and react.


How Do I Trim My Pet’s Nails?


  1. Prepare for accidentally cutting into the pet’s quick by opening the Kwik Stop and pressing a few of the cotton swabs into the powder.  Set these within reach in case you need them.



This experienced veterinary nurse has dumped a portion of the Kwik Stop into the lid of the container. If the patient jumps during the procedure, he or she will only knock over a small portion of Kwik Stop instead of the whole bottle. Also, if the nurse needs more, she can dip into the portion that’s in the lid and not worry about contaminating the whole bottle with blood from the patient.


  1. Stand behind your pet and extend your pet’s front leg forward by cradling it under your non-dominant hand.



2. Press a toe between your thumb and forefinger to extend the toe forward and push out the nail so you can visualize it more clearly.


Pressing on the back of the toe will extend the nail forward so that it’s easier to trim.


3. Take the clippers in your other hand, hold them perpendicular to the nail, and make a cut to the nail tip.


Trimming perpendicular to the foot of the patient reduces pressure on the nail and chances that the patient will feel pain.


4.  Repeat the above steps until all the nails are trimmed.


How Can I Cut My Pet’s Dark Nails Without Cutting The Quick?


The dotted line marks where the nail trim should be made. Look for the part of the nail where it starts to taper to a point.

In pets with dark nails, look at the nail from the side. It will look uniformly thick as it extends from the nail bed outward and then have an angled, tapered edge where the nail meets the ground.  It is typically safe to cut anything outward from where the tapered edge begins.



What To Do If I Cut The Quick Of My Pet’s Nails?


If you cut into the quick, your pet is likely to wince and the nail will bleed.  Take one of the cotton swabs covered with Kwik Stop and apply it to the tip of the nail.  Use a bit of pressure to assist with clotting and to make sure that the Kwik Stop gets into the cut.  Kwik Stop usually acts within 30 seconds or so.



The tip of this swab is covered with styptic powder (Kwik Stop). The nurse is using the swab to both apply the powder and to apply pressure to the cut to help it to clot


The trimmed nail with styptic powder applied. It is only necessary to apply styptic powder if the nail bleeds.


Cutting into a pet’s quick is painful.  Repeatedly cutting into the quick will make your pet fearful of getting his or her nails trimmed. Please stop our office, we’ll be happy to give you a lesson.

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Posted on

September 18, 2018