How to Trim Overgrown Dog Nails

A dog's nails should clear the floor for comfort.

A dog's nails should clear the floor for comfort.

That "click-click" sound coming down the hall means it's time to cut your dog's overgrown nails. It's not just for beauty's sake: overgrown nails can curl into your dog's foot pads, causing discomfort and balance issues. The longer you let them grow, the more difficult they are to trim.

Secure or restrain your dog by putting her in a sit- or stand-stay. The method you choose depends on how familiar she is with getting her nails trimmed and how well she tolerates handling in general.

Lift your dog's paw and bend the nail away from the fur or pad so you have clearance for the trimmer. Push the pad from the nail if the nail is curved under and growing into the pad.

Hold the nail up to a light if your dog has white or light nails. Look for the quick, which is the pink, fleshy part of the nail that contains your dog's blood vessels and nerves. Cutting into this area can be painful for your dog, so avoid it.

Place the tip of the nail parallel to the scissors, ensuring that the scissors are in front of the quick to prevent injuring your dog. Squeeze the handles together and snip off a small section at end of the nail.

Cut small snips from dogs with dark nails to avoid injuring your dog. Look at a dark nail straight on. You will see a small dark circle, which is the quick.

Continue trimming until the nail just clears the floor when the dog is standing upright. You may need to trim one paw at a time in short sessions to complete the job.

Finish by smoothing the nail with a file, or use an electric rotary tool to sand down the nail tips even further. The rotary tool is considered safer than trimmers and can be less traumatic for dogs that are intolerant of having their nails trimmed.

Items you will need

  • Scissors-type clippers
  • Rotary tool
  • Cornstarch or styptic powder


  • The dewclaw is the fifth nail at the top of the dog's ankle on many breeds. Because it is not naturally ground down through activity, this is the nail most likely to become overgrown and curl into the skin.
  • Most dogs don't like having their nails trimmed. Start trimming your dog's nails when she is young. She'll get used to the procedure and it will be easier as she ages.
  • Use a rotary tool on a regular basis to prevent nails from becoming overgrown.


  • Guillotine-style clippers are popular, but can crush the nail.
  • Keep cornstarch or styptic powder on hand to stop bleeding if necessary. Apply pressure to the nail, then apply the powder directly to the exposed quick.
  • Don't force your dog to submit to a nail trimming ritual; she may be afraid and this will increase anxiety. Instead, be gentle and patient, take your time and offer treats or rewards during and after the process.

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About the Author

Elle Smith has been an advertising professional for more than 25 years. Her work for ABC, CBS and Sony Pictures Television has appeared on radio, on air, in print and outdoors. In addition, Smith has more than 20 years experience in marketing, graphic arts, commercial photography and print production, and is a licensed real estate agent with property management certification in California.

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