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    How to Safely Trim Your Dog’s Nails

    Authored by Tractor Supply Company

    Dogs give us so much joy and companionship. They make us smile. They help us on the farm. They provide protection and therapy. So doing our part to keep them happy and healthy just makes sense.

    Trimming your dog’s nails is an essential part of keeping your pooch healthy. Trimmed nails are a clear sign of your dog’s good health and hygiene.

    Reasons to trim your dog’s nails

    As a dog owner, you probably know a lot about the proper way to feed and exercise your dog. But you may not know all that much when it comes to grooming and dog grooming.

    A challenging grooming task for any dog owner is nail trimming. Nail trimming can be an anxiety-ridden event for both dog owners and dogs. No one likes it—not you, not your dog—but it is essential that you (or a professional) regularly trim your dog’s nails. 

    Overgrown nails in dogs are more than just unsightly. They can lead to deformities and pain. 

    A long toenail can catch on a carpet and split or rip open, causing your dog a lot of pain, and, very possibly, leading to veterinary bills. Long nails leave your dog susceptible to injuries such as tendon injuries. They also make walking and running difficult and painful for your dog. This can be a problem especially for older dogs who may already have difficulties walking. 

    In extreme cases, the nails can curve and grow into the dog’s foot pad. When a long nail hits the ground as a dog walks, the pressure puts force on the foot and leg structure. Over time this can cause the paw or foot to deform. Keeping your dog’s nails properly trimmed will avoid unnecessary vet bills and will keep your dog healthy and happy.

    What you’ll need to trim your dog’s nails

    When it comes to trimming your pet’s nails, there are a few things to know before you get started. 

    First, a dog’s nails are very hard, and they’re easy to cut. 

    Second, some dogs have black nails naturally. This can make seeing where you should stop cutting rather difficult. Other dogs have white nails or a combination of black and white nails. Unless you suspect an infection or injury, this is all normal. Generally, although black nails make nail trimming more difficult, they are really nothing to worry about.

    Third, when cutting your dog’s nails, the most important part is trying not to cut the “quick” of the nail. The blood vessels and nerves that supply the nail reside in the quick. This is the area that you do not want to cut into because it will hurt your dog and it will bleed. (More on that later.) Knowing where the quick is will help you to trim to just before that point. Generally, the recommendation is that you trim the nails approximately 2 mm away from the quick. It can be more difficult to see where the quick is if your dog has dark or black nails. In this case, you may want to have your dog’s nails trimmed by your vet or trimmed professionally. 

    Before you get started, it is a good idea to have everything ready. There are a number of tools you can use to trim your dog’s nails. These include dog nail trimmers, grinders, scissors, and guillotines. A good pair of nail clippers is a reliable choice but use whichever tool you are most comfortable with, or whatever works best for your dog. 

    You can avoid having to cut your dog’s nails if you use a nail grinder. 

    There are two types of clippers: guillotine trimmers and dog nail trimmers. Guillotine trimmers work much more effectively than nail clippers. In fact, guillotine trimmers are more accurate and reliable than nail clippers for trimming a dog’s nails.

    You can cut your dog’s nails either under or behind the nail bed. It is also a good idea to have some styptic powder on hand to stop the bleeding in case you cut your dog’s nails too short. 

    Start by making your dog comfortable and happy. You can do this by giving him dog treats or food. Taking the time beforehand to condition your dog or puppy to have its nails trimmed is by far the best approach. Begin by gently holding your dog’s feet so they get used to having their paws handled. It’s also a good idea to get your dog used to the tools you will be using to trim their nails before you need to use them. Praise, dog treats, and taking it slow can help ease your pup into nail trimming.

    If you mistakenly cut the nail too close and it bleeds, you can coat the paw with styptic powder before continuing on with the nail cutting.  

    Depending on the size of your pet’s paw, you may want to use either a nail file or Dremel (grinder), to grind down the nail. You want to make sure there are no hairs in the way when you begin nail trimming. Dremeling may be better as it is easier to remove any unwanted hairs. In either case, make sure that the Dremel you use is sharp and will not get caught or cut by the nail clipper or trimmer. 

    Now that you understand how important it is to trim your dog’s nails and know what tools you will need, let’s discuss when you should cut your dog’s nails and how to do it.  

    When and how to cut your dog’s nails

    Dogs come in all shapes and sizes. And each breed has its own grooming requirements. For example, the grooming needs of a poodle or Komondor are far different from those of a greyhound or hairless Chinese crested. But no matter whether your dog has long dreadlocks or no hair at all, all dogs need to have their nails trimmed regularly to maintain good health and hygiene. 

    So when should you tackle nail trimming?

    The answer to that question depends on how quickly your dog’s nails grow. To some extent, most dogs will naturally file their nails down a bit simply by daily activities that may include walking on hard surfaces. But not all dogs are city dogs. Many dogs spend a lot of time indoors or on soft surfaces like grass or farmland. Like human nails, a dog’s nails are constantly growing. So you need to keep an eye on them to determine when it is time to clip them. However, a good rule of thumb is to cut your dog’s nails every three to four weeks. Some people clip them when they are long enough to reach the floor. You can visually check your dog’s nails to determine this or listen for the sound of your dog’s nails clicking on the floor as she walks. Ideally, you should be able to slip a piece of paper between your dog’s nails and the floor. If you can’t, it’s time for a trim.

    To get started trimming your dog’s nails, pick up your dog’s paw and place your thumb on the pad of a toe and your forefinger on the top of the toe on the skin above the nail. Make sure none of your dog’s fur is in the way. To extend the dog’s nail, push your thumb slightly up and backward on the pad while pushing your forefinger forward.

    Hold the clippers at a forty-five-degree angle to the dog’s nail and clip each nail carefully. You don’t want to accidentally cut into the quick. Be sure to stop before you reach the pink part of the nail if your dog has white nails. For black nails, stop clipping when you no longer see a whitish interior.

    If you accidentally cut your dog’s quick, use a styptic powder or polish to stop the bleeding. It is also a good idea to take small snips at the nail rather than taking off large chunks, in order to avoid cutting the quick. 

    If your dog has long nails, try working with a couple of nail clippers to cut the nails smoothly. Most dogs have a long nail that is located about 1" to 3" above the inside of their front feet (and sometimes the rear feet). This nail is called a “dewclaw.” Because they do not reach the ground, dewclaws can easily become overgrown. When trimming your dog’s feet, don’t forget to also trim the dewclaw.

    If your dog is squirming around and whining or pulling his foot away or shows other signs of being very uncomfortable while trimming his (or her) nails, take a break. Come back to it when your dog is calm and ready to try again. Alternatively, you can try grinding his nails instead of clipping them. 

    After cutting your dog’s nails, you should file them. A nail file is easy to use for this. File the nails lightly until there are no ragged or sharp edges.

    At the end of the day, the point where nail trimming becomes fun and rewarding is when your pet is comfortable and relaxed with you when he is ready for a nail trim.

    How to stop dog nail bleeding

    The worst part about trimming your dog’s nails is the possibility that you could cut your dog to the quick —literally. The quick, is the part of the nail that contains all the blood vessels. If you accidentally cut the quick, it will be painful for your dog and it will most likely begin bleeding. This is one of the main reasons why dogs, and the people who love them, hate cutting nails. 

    The most important thing for you to do if you should cut your dog’s quick is to stay calm.

    In most cases, you can just use nail styptic powder to stop the bleeding. Styptic powder is a blood coagulant. All you have to do is apply the powder to the tip of the quick where it is bleeding. Then take a clean, damp paper towel and gently press down on the cut surface until the bleeding has stopped. In most cases, the bleeding will stop immediately. If it has not stopped bleeding after five minutes, call your veterinarian. (Be aware, however, that the styptic powder or if using it in pencil form, can sting a bit when first applied.)

    If your dog’s nail is only partially bleeding, simply trim the nail. If the bleeding does not stop, then apply the styptic powder. Again, for any serious bleeding (i.e., bleeding that does not stop after five minutes), call your veterinarian.

    Other methods to stop the bleeding of a cut nail include using potassium permanganate crystals or silver nitrate obtained from your veterinarian. For a homemade remedy, try a mixture of cornstarch and baking soda, or cornstarch alone to stop the bleeding.

    File each nail so that the tip does not have any ragged edges. Keep in mind, however, that if you have used styptic powder, it will create a seal to stop the bleeding. If you file off this seal, the nail might begin bleeding again. Therefore, when you file, be very careful and file the nails lightly.   

    If your dog’s nail has a bluish tint, unless you suspect infection or an injury, you may trim it. If the nail is black, then you should use styptic powder. You can also make use of clotting powder on the nail bed before you actually start cutting your dog’s nails. This helps stop the bleeding from spreading underneath the nail.

    For dewclaws, make sure that the nail is completely dry before you cut it. This can sometimes mean that you need to work with a couple of paper towels to keep the claw dry.

    Keep your dog happy and healthy

    Nail trimming may not be the most fun thing you do with your dog, but it is extremely important to maintaining his or her health. Dogs are more than just our friends. They are family. So why not give your dog the best possible care?

    Tractor Supply makes caring for your dog easier with our wide selection of dog supplies. From grooming needs, to toys and dog beds, we have everything you need for your best furry friend! Subscribe to our autoship program and receive regular deliveries of food, treats, flea & tick preventatives, supplements and more, all while saving you time and money.