How to Trim Dog Nails That Are Overgrown

Filed in Dog Health by on December 26, 2020

How to Trim Dog Nails That Are OvergrownDo you want to learn how to trim dog nails that are overgrown? While some dogs may get their nails naturally shaved down from exercise, others will need their nails trimmed by their owner or groomer.

But don’t worry, you can learn how to trim dog nails that are overgrown with the tools and techniques discussed in this blog post.

Whether you’re a first-time dog owner or you’ve had dogs you’re whole life, it’s always good to go over the basics of trimming overgrown dog nails. I’ll go over the why’s, what’s, and how-tos of trimming your dog’s nails below.

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Why You Need To Trim Your Dog’s Overgrown Nails

With most dogs having 18 total toes, dog owners sometimes avoid cutting their dog’s nails because they don’t want to cut the nails down too short, or “quick” the dog. This is understandable, but it is important to keep your dog’s nails at a healthy length.

One reason is that when a dog’s toenails are long enough to touch the ground, the nail gets pushed back up into the nailbed with every step.

Repeated pressure into the nailbed causes discomfort, pain, and even arthritis in your dog’s feet. The joints will experience extra pressure or the toes can even be forced to twist.

Another consequence of not trimming your dog’s overgrown nails is a change in your dog’s posture. Through millions of years of evolution, dogs have used their feet to process gravity and to stand properly for the best agility.

Their toenails were always worn down, as they were constantly moving. The only time their nails touched the ground was when walking uphill.

Even though your dog is domesticated, he still has the association between nails hitting the ground and being on a hill programmed in his brain.

He may hunch forward and learn forward over his forelimbs as if he was climbing an imaginary hill. But since he’s actually not on a hill, he will compensate his hind limb posture to keep stable.

Muscles and joints get overworked, making it harder for your dog to get back up from lying down, and can make it harder to climb stairs.

Tools You’ll Need

Now that you understand the importance of trimming your dog’s nails, let me discuss the tools you’ll need.

There are two main options for trimming a dog’s nails including nail clippers or nail grinders.

1. Clippers

Dog scissors nail clipper

Dog nail clippers are a common grooming tool to cut a dog’s nails.

There are a few different clipper shapes such as ones that are shaped like scissors, pliers, or guillotine-style ones.

I would recommend scissor clippers. They offer precision and won’t put pressure on the rest of your dog’s nails. Choose the clipper size based on your dog. Most of the time, small clippers work best because they give you more control. Extra-large dog breeds are the only dogs that may require large clippers.

I also recommend plier-style clippers, named after their resemblance to a pair of pliers. They are great for beginners because they have a nail guard, so it’s easier to avoid cutting the quickly. They’re also ideal for dogs with thick nails because they have a lot of cutting force in the plier mechanism.

You can also use a guillotine-style clipper, which has a hole where you slide the nail through and it creates an exact cut. They are available but aren’t recommended because they can put pressure on the nail. The pressure often causes discomfort for dogs.

Clippers are convenient because they don’t require any setup. But these types of clippers require a steady hand, as any imbalance can result in a painful cut above the blood vessels.

2. GrindersDog nail grinder held in front of dog

Nail grinders are also an effective electric tool for trimming overgrown dog nails. They file nails down slowly, so it will take longer to get your dog’s nails down to the desired length.

Since they slowly grind down as opposed to a harsh clip, you have less chance of grinding all the way to the quick with a nail grinder. They provide a smoother finish than clippers. You can use them by themselves, or after clippers to just give the nails a smoother finish.

If you’re looking for the best dog nail grinder, I wrote an entire article on it.

Nail grinders take a little bit of setup, as they must be charged before use. They have a vibration that some dogs may not like. They can also heat up and make your dog nail’s hot, which can be uncomfortable for your dog. Be careful when using it, because it can catch on your dog’s fur and also cause pain. But many dogs are more relaxed around the nail grinder, so some owners find it’s a more effective tool.

The best tool is the one that makes your dog less stressed. Whichever tool you choose, be sure that you’re in control of the grooming session, and make sure you praise and give your furry friend treats for his or her good behavior! I compare dog nail grinders vs clippers more in depth in another article.

3. Styptic Powder or Alternative

When you are first beginning, you may accidentally cut the quick. First, remain calm because your dog may become stressed if you overreact. It’s not ideal, but it does happen.

One of the most effective ways to stop the bleeding is with styptic powder. It helps clot the blood and prevent infection.

Kwik-Stop is a highly trusted styptic powder brand.

You will either dip the nail of your dog into the styptic powder or there will be an applicator.

Alternatively, some other common items used to stop bleeding include cornstarch, flour, or baking soda.

    How to Trim Your Dog’s Overgrown Nails

    Finally, the part you’ve been waiting for! Use these three simple steps to clip your dog’s nails quickly, cleanly, and effectively.

    1. Touch Their Paws

    Get your dog used to you handling their paws. Bring your nail trimming tool around them and touch them with it first so they get used to it. If you’re using a grinding tool, turn it on around them and let them hear the sound several days or weeks before you use it. Give your dog treats and praise while you do this, so they will associate good feelings with your trimming tool.

    2. Make the Cut

    Once you’ve decided whether to use a nail clipper or nail grinder, you’re ready to prepare to make the cut.

    This is the step that gives owners the most worry since they want to avoid cutting into the quick-causing bleeding.

    First, hold your dog’s paw without squeezing.

    If your dog has lighter nails, you should be able to view the quick through the nail itself. You can even try shining a light through it.

    If your dog has darker nails, you will need to cut cautiously and conservatively until the quick is revealed.

    If you’re using clippers, cut the nail quickly at a 45-degree angle. Cut a little bit at a time to avoid cutting the quick. You should be able to see a white ring around a black dot in the middle of the nail. If you don’t see the white yet, continue to cut until you do.

    If you’re using a nail grinder, first use scissors to cut any long hair back to avoid it getting caught in the tool. Grind until you see the white ring around the black dot.

    Keep in mind that once you cut to the quick, it will take time for the quick to shrink back over time after it gets exposed to air.

    As long as you keep up with trimming their nails, the quick will eventually shrink back, so your dog’s nails are not tapping on the floor anymore.

    Here are two good videos that help show the proper way to cut overgrown nails- one is more educational with diagrams while the other is a real-life trimming using both a clipper and a grinder:

    3. Rewards

    Always remember to reward your dog after nail trimming. If it’s the first time you’re trimming their nails and they’re a little nervous, give lots of praise and affection throughout the process. This will make it easier to trim their nails in the future, as they will be excited to do it.

    Repeat this process every two weeks to keep your dog’s nails short.

    More Tips

    – If you have a high-energy dog, exercise them before you cut their nails. If they are tired and content, it will be easier to trim their nails.

    – Some dogs have nails that show the quick. Once toenails become very long, they can sometimes become insensitive and leave more separation between the living tissue and the nail. If yours does, use this as a guide for trimming.

    – It may sound obvious, but always trim your dog’s nails in a well-lit room. Dark rooms account for many clipped quicks.

    – If you wear glasses, wear them while you clip your dog’s nails.

    – If your dog is acting fearful or nervous around the trimming tool, this may be because their toes are sensitive from their long nails. Do your best to get through this phase, as once the nails are cut to the appropriate length, pain should subside. But remember you shouldn’t trim your dog’s nails while they’re moving or squirming, as a moving target makes it easier to hurt your dog.

    – If your dog is nervous, try starting the trim on their hind toes as they may be less sensitive.

    – There’s no shame in going to the groomer to get your dog’s nails trimmed if your dog continues to show severe anxiety around trimming tools.


    Whether you use a nail grinder or nail trimmer, you can learn to effectively how to trim dog nails that are overgrown.

    Use these tips to make it a stress-free, happy time for you and your furry friend!

    Please leave any questions or comments below!


    Comments (14)

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    1. Sherene says:

      I buy every thing to use on my dog but I’ve run out of options to groom him and cut his nails he growls whenever I try to cut his nails due to the fact I accidentally cut his nails wrong is there anything I could give him to put him to sleep for a few minutes

    2. Debbie says:

      Fantastic video, the vet techs don’t do it this well, nor my dog groomer. Thank you!!

      • Jeni Carithers says:

        What if the quicks have grown out too long

        • Todd says:

          For that situation, I would speak to your groomer or vet for assistance. Your dog’s nails may need to be cut slowly over time rather than all at once in order to allow them to recede.

    3. Joan says:

      Thank you so much for this
      My dogs nails are overgrown and the quick is very long
      Every other resource has just said “keep cutting to the quick and they’ll recede” but when I look from the outside, it looks like they’re already to the quick. I’ve never been told to look from the bottom of the nail to make sure I’m actually to the quick (I was not)
      Excited to finally start meeting progress on cutting her nails back!

    4. Casper says:

      Great videos. Another thing I love about grinders is as you go slowly, they heat up a bit. Just enough that your pup will feel the warmth near their cuticle so you know when to stop hence avoiding filing into their quick area. Just my two cents worth

    5. Mary Moore says:

      Really good video thanks! I cut my dog’s quick once and it really effected her now she snaps sometimes.

    6. Rebecca says:

      That was the best video I have seen for trimming dogs nails. I now know the correct way to not only hold the clippers but the dogs foot and nail as well. I love the different ways you show to trim the nails. I’m lucky my big boy Lucky has clear nails so I can see his quick. I am going to try the “under pad” method. Lucky hates his nails being cut so I do it when he’s in a deep sleep and snoring. Thank you very much for making this daunting task less intimidating for the dog and owner. I feel much more at ease doing this now. 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

      • Todd says:

        Hi just to clarify, I did not make the video, but I’m sharing it because I thought it would be helpful. I’m glad it helped you!

    7. Sally says:

      Finally ‼️ Understanding I can actually see where the “quick is! No one has explained it this way before. I now have hope that I can do it myself. Thank you so much!

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