How to cut dog nails

December 22, 2023 - 5 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Kirsten Ronngren DVM MRCVS on December 11, 2023 . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

How to cut dog nails

Dogs’ paws come in all different shapes and sizes, but every dog has nails, which sometimes need to be trimmed!

If dogs’ nails get too long or overgrown, they can make walking or running painful, or worse, split and cause an infection. Fortunately, dog owners can help their pups out by clipping their nails at home or taking them to a groomer or vet to get the job done professionally. While nail clipping seems simple enough, owners are often hesitant to do it themselves, especially if they think they might hurt their furry best friends. 

As with any aspect of good dog and puppy care, it’s worth having an idea of what to expect before giving it a go yourself. So, if you haven’t clipped your dog’s nails before, don’t worry; we’ve put together a simple guide to help you get started and avoid any mistakes!

When does a dog need its nails trimmed?

Some dogs may not ever need to have their nails trimmed, while others might need to have them trimmed regularly. As a general rule, your dog’s toe pads should be level with the ground when they stand upright, but their claws should not. When a dog’s nails get too long, and touch the ground, it can have an impact on their mobility and comfort level. 

At first, it might be hard to tell if your dog’s nails are too long. One good indicator that your dog needs its nails cut is if they make a tapping sound on hard surfaces when they move or if the nails extend significantly beyond their paws (see the image below), longer than is necessary for traction when moving.

Two dog paws sit on a green background. The left shows nails that are too long - the right shows nails at the perfect length.

The need to cut a dog’s nails will vary by their breed, their weight, and the amount of exercise they get. If a dog is constantly running around, for example, or going for walks on hard ground, their nails are likely to wear down naturally, reducing the need for a trim. Similarly, certain dogs have prominent dew claws (the little claws by their ankles), which may need trimming more frequently than nails that contact the ground. 

If you have a dog that typically needs their nails clipped, aim to check every two weeks to decide if they need attention. Your dog might also exhibit behavior, including biting on their nails, which indicates they should have a trim.

How to cut dogs nails

What do I need to cut my dog’s nails?

All you’ll need to clip your dog’s nails is a pair of pet nail clippers that are sized to your dog’s paws. If you’re unsure about which brand or size to get, your vet or a professional groomer will be able to point you to a suitable pair.

You might find that your dog doesn’t enjoy getting its nails clipped, and won’t actually let you use clippers on them. Don’t despair; instead of using clippers, you can use a nail file, or grinding tool to grind their nails down. Grinding your dog’s nails down with a pet-safe rotary tool may take a little longer, but is often less upsetting if they don’t like clipping.

How do I cut my dog’s nails?

If you’ve got your pet nail clippers, you can take the plunge and begin clipping your dog’s nails. However, there’s more to the process than the actual clipping, and if you haven’t done it before, you should start preparing days, or even weeks, before.

Preparing your dog: In the days (or weeks) before you clip your dog’s nails, get your dog used to having its paws held and handled. This will make it less stressful to them when you do actually cut their nails. It’s also worth having your pet's nail clippers around them so they can see and smell them before you actually start cutting their nails. If your dog is particularly furry, you may need to trim their toes so you can see the nail!

Picking a comfortable spot: The more comfortable you can make your dog, the easier the clipping process will be. Pick a spot in your home that you and your dog can sit or stand on safely, and have the clippers and some treats on hand. You’ll need enough space to hold your dog’s paws as you clip the nails.

Clipping a dog’s nails step-by-step: When you decide to clip your dog’s nails, it’s worth thinking about the following steps as you move through the process:

  1. Hold the paw you want to clip firmly. Isolate the toe you want to clip by putting your thumb on the pad and your forefinger on the top. Squeeze the toe slightly to straighten it.

  2. If this is the first time your dog has had its nails clipped, it’s worth trimming just the top of the nail to get it used to the sensation. Give your pup a treat immediately after you clip!

  3. Be extremely careful not to clip the nail below the quick. As a rule, this means not clipping beyond the curve of the nail. Bear in mind that if your dog has very long nails, it’s likely the quick is also longer.

  4. Once you’ve clipped your dog’s toenails, check whether their dew claws also need to be clipped. When you’re finished clipping, make sure to hand out more treats and give your dog lots of cuddles!

A diagram shows how a dog's nails look on the body

What should I do if clipping hurts my dog?

Dogs can be anxious during a nail clipping and it's not unusual for them to squirm or move about--which can cause accidents. Similarly, it can be difficult to tell where the quick is on some dogs’ nails, especially if they have dark nails. 

If you accidentally cut the quick as you’re clipping, your dog’s nail will probably bleed - and your dog will likely react by barking or crying in pain. In this situation, it’s worth having cotton, wool, or gauze within reach to stem the bleeding. If your dog’s nail bleeds heavily or doesn’t stop bleeding within 20–30 minutes, you should go to the vet to have the injury addressed.

After you’ve dealt with a nail injury, you must keep a close eye on your dog for the next few weeks to ensure the wound is healing properly. If you notice persistent pain, bleeding, or discharge, seek veterinary advice.

How much does a dog’s nail trim cost?

If you choose to trim your dog’s nails at home, you’ll need to purchase a pair of pet nail clippers, which can be obtained for around $8–$10 at supermarkets, pet stores, and online. If you prefer to grind your dog’s nails, you’ll need an electric pet nail dremel, which can cost up to $60.

Most professional dog groomers offer a nail clipping service. The price of a nail clipping will vary by groomer and by your dog’s breed and age and may be bundled with other services, such as baths and brushing, which will add to the cost.

If you choose to have your dog’s nails clipped or dremeled professionally, prices for clipping services alone start at around $10 to $30 per session.

Most veterinary practices also offer nail-clipping services.

Healthy nails, happy dogs

Healthy nails mean happy dogs and happy owners. Nail clipping and good grooming in general are important parts of a preventative approach to pet care.

By staying ahead of potential problems, you’ll reduce the likelihood that your dog will suffer accidents or injuries, develop infections, and end up needing to be taken to the vet.

But you can't control everything that happens in your pup's life. That's when a good dog insurance policy comes in handy. It can help reimburse you for those unexpected accidents and illnesses!*

*pre-existing conditions excluded. See your policy for details.


Lewis Martins
Communities marketer

Lewis has worked in pet health since 2017. Before joining ManyPets in 2021, he led content production at VetForum and PetsApp. Lewis has collaborated with some of the world’s biggest vet groups and suppliers to write educational articles for vets and pet parents. His Instagram feed is 60% dogs, 40% cats.