From kitty claws to dog paws: A pet parent’s guide to nailing nail trims

A dog receiving a nail trim

Trimming your dog or cat’s nails is an essential task for all pet parents. In addition to saving your floors and furniture from unwanted scratches, properly primped nails are important for your pet’s overall health and well-being.

Overgrown nails can be uncomfortable and lead to unwanted behavior and health concerns. Dogs may suffer from orthopedic issues if they’re unable to stand or walk without their toes splaying or curving due to long nails. Cats with overgrown claws may develop unwanted scratching habits — while their declawed counterparts often encounter litterbox issues among other concerns.

But what happens when your pet hates nail trims or you’re new to this important job? We’ve got your back.

Here are our tips for nailing nail trims.

Step one: Prep yourself

The first step is the most important! Before trimming your pet’s nails, acquaint yourself with the anatomy of your dog or cat’s claw including the quick — the vein that runs through the center. Nails should be cut in the direction they grow, and should never be cut shorter than the quick. Cutting an animals’ nails too short can be painful and bloody. Plus, cutting the quick can add to their aversion to nail trims, making the task even more difficult.

A graphic guide to trimming pet nails

Select your tools thoughtfully. You can find many options for trimming your pet’s nails in local pet supply stores and online. We recommend using hand clippers suited for the size of your pet. A dremmel “drill” or file can also be helpful for a dog whose nails need shaping, or sharp edges softened.

Step two: Prep your pet

You might be anxious to get your pet’s manicure completed, but remember, this isn’t a race. If you or your pet are new to nail trimming, start by just touching your pet’s feet and nails and giving them ample treats. Practice this for a few days. Yep, that’s right — no clipping, just treats. Each day hold on to your pet's paw a bit longer and a bit more firmly until you’re simulating the same pressure you’d use when cutting their nails. You can also show them the nail clippers while holding their paw. Gently touch the clippers to their nails and give them a treat with a little praise. This helps them associate nail trims with positive rewards.

Nicked the quick?

Don’t panic! Reach for some corn starch to quickly stop the bleeding. Pour a small handful of corn starch into your palm and gently press your pet’s nail into it for a few seconds.

Step three: Time to trim

Choose a time to clip your pet’s nails when they are calm or tired. After a walk or even during a cat-nap can be great times to start. Depending on your experience level and your pet’s tolerance, you may only cut one claw. THAT’S OKAY. The most important thing is to keep each session positive. We know how tempting it can be to try and power through, but if your pet is actively struggling, simply walk away. There will always be more chances!

Ask for help

Having a partner in trimming your pet’s nails can make all the difference. One person can distract and provide treats while the other carefully trims. Yes, we saw those YouTube videos with people wrapping saran wrap around their heads and covering themselves in peanut butter while trimming their dogs’ nails. But please, recruit a friend rather than turning yourself into a dog treat. You never want your face near an animal’s mouth when they are stressed or scared.

Nail trims a no-go for your doggo?

While you’re working to desensitize your pup to the pedicure process, increase your daily walks on cement and other hard surfaces, which can help to file nails little by little.

A cat receiving a nail trim from a vet

Turn to the pros

Every animal is different, and trimming your pet’s nails may be more challenging due to their size, claw color, or their overall temperament. Turn to your local vet, groomer, or AHS Veterinary Centers to help get you started and provide even more tips and tricks for cutting your pets nails. 

Like so many aspects of sharing your home with a furry friend, patience and dedication are key to successful nail trims. Follow the tips above before attempting your pet's next mani-pedi. We hope you nail it.

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