By Katherine Moseley

Proper nail trims is an often overlooked but crucial element to caring for our pets. Long nails are not only uncomfortable, but can affect joint health, posture and balance. They can also make our pets more susceptible to injuries.

Just like humans, pet’s nails are constantly growing. This includes dogs, cats, guinea pigs and rabbits. These animals all benefit from regular nail trims, especially if they are not wearing their nails down naturally.

Regular walks can help keep nails worn down for some dogs, but others will still need regular trims. Things such as genetics, paw structure, conformation and nail strength are contributing factors.

How can you tell if your dog needs a nail trim?  You can hear them clicking on the ground when they walk.

If your dog’s quicks are grown out, it might be necessary to do weekly or bi-weekly nail trims to get the quicks to recede. The quick contains blood vessels and nerves and if accidentally cut it will cause bleeding and pain. When this happens, it might make your pet more apprehensive about future nail trims. Applying pressure and styptic powder can help stop bleeding. Corn starch and flour can also work. Remain calm and remember that if you are stressed, your dog will be too. Accidents happen. Dogs don’t always hold still.

The pink part on light colored nails is the quick. It is more difficult to identify the quick on a dog with black nails. Cutting the nail at a slight angle instead of straight across can help prevent cutting the quick. Cutting small slivers off at a time is preferable. Observe your dog’s behavior and if they show signs of discomfort by flinching or pulling away, you may be getting too close to the quick.

Some dogs have dew claws that are found on the inside of a dog’s leg.  Dew claws do not get worn down naturally and need regular trimming or they can curl into the pad.

Using a nail grinder (Dremel) or a file is another method of shortening nails. Some dogs are more comfortable with these tools. However, if the nails are grown out this can take longer which can lead to extra stress for the pet.

Keep the blades on your nail clippers sharp. You can have them sharpened or buy new ones regularly. If the blades are not sharp, it can cause a crushing sensation and be uncomfortable for your pet. Using a head lamp and good lighting can help you see the nail structure more clearly.

A number of pets do not like having their nails trimmed. Working with them at home can help lessen the stress for the animal and the nail trimmer. Many people think that this just involves handling their feet, but I would also encourage you to slowly condition your pet to seeing and hearing the nail clippers or nail grinder. Pair the sight and sound with high value treats, praise or play. Small steps can lead to big progress. If it becomes too much for your pet go back a step.  Keep these sessions short. You can introduce the sound by clipping dry spaghetti noodles, bamboo sticks or pencils. If you are using a grinder start by turning it on low. Just clipping one nail a day or a week is a good way to start without overwhelming your pet. Staying in your pet’s comfort zone should always be the goal.

If you have tried the steps above and your animal is still too anxious, I recommend contacting your veterinarian to see about getting some pharmaceutical support. You could also try using a scratch board. You can order one or get DIY instructions online. If you are apprehensive about doing nail trims at home, please reach out to a professional.  You can contact the Paws and Claws Animal Shelter at to get a list of local nail trimmers or to find out when our next nail trim clinic will be held.